Even in first-world countries, it can be difficult to access mental health care – but in developing countries like Zimbabwe, it was nearly impossible…

At least, until 2006.

That’s when Dixon Chibanda, a psychiatrist from Zimbabwe, started a unique experiment: he started training grandmothers to deliver free talk therapy.

The therapy acts as a supplement (or even replacement) for traditional treatments. This offers support to locals without access to traditional mental health treatment.

Since then, Chibanda and his team have trained more than 400 grandmothers throughout the country. They typically meet their “patients” in parks, where special benches have even been built specifically for the purpose.

A special bench for “grandma therapy” in Zimbabwe. Image source: The Friendship Bench

 

Cool! So… what do they talk about?

Pretty much anything! This “talk therapy” sits somewhere between traditional therapy and a casual conversation with grandma.

The grandmothers were initially trained in classic psychology techniques. However, they discovered that blending their own culture into the therapy was even more effective. In other words, they simply acted natural. Patients enjoyed this approach. It worked!

The grandmothers use a unique mix of Chibanda’s methods and traditional Shona concepts, which focus on opening the mind and strengthening the spirit.

Chibanda’s team eventually published a report on the experiment in 2016. The results were positive… they found that “granny time” reduces symptoms of depression! We knew that already, but it’s nice to have research behind it.

And now they’re headed on a world tour…

The world has taken note of these compassionate grandmothers… and they’ve even been asked to spread their wisdom elsewhere!

Chibanda and his team have consulted many countries, including the US. In fact, New York City plans to run an experiment too! New York City will use home-grown talent, recruiting both senior citizens and youngsters this time.

We think this is great. Not only is it an innovative way to provide mental health support, it also offers critical insight into alternative therapies.

As it turns out, a little time with grandma isn’t just enjoyable (and often delicious)… it’s medicine!

Learn more from The Friendship Bench.