This counsellor creates zen zones that are becoming crucial to children’s mental health

 
 
 

Let’s face it. Psychological help is a luxury for most people. Judy Strickland recognised the need for affordable services while providing support at church. So in 2004, she founded Hope House Counselling Centre from her lounge in Cape Town, offering therapy sessions on a donations basis. Working with volunteers, the NPO has since helped close to 11 000 people across the Western Cape. Strickland is now turning her attention to one of the country’s most vulnerable groups – children. 

After running substance abuse treatment programmes in schools, Strickland started delving into the root of the issue. Children are exposed to domestic abuse and gang violence in their communities. Distressed, they’re unable to concentrate in class and are at risk of perpetuating the harm around them. Teachers often kick disruptive learners out of lessons. Using trauma-informed training, Strickland helps educators understand and acknowledge their students’ experiences instead. “Healing children’s trauma is what will ultimately save us from the cycle of abuse,” she says.

Strickland has worked with 120 teachers so far to establish zen zones where children are able to calm down and ease back into class without feeling rejected. “The most crucial lesson one can learn in school is that we’re accepted,” she says. Strickland plans on expanding her programme to parents and students in order to foster supportive communities. While professional help is seldom available, we can all play a part in healing by improving our responses to our own mental health and that of others. “Recognise that people have been through trauma, and treat them kindly, with empathy,” Strickland advises. “Everybody deserves the best life possible.”