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Tree Of Life

As a parent or professional, have you ever wondered how you might reconnect young people to their tradition and cultural values, in a way that makes them feel empowered and not spoken down too? Do you feel to some extent that you have strayed away from your own culture and tradition in order to conform to so called “mainstream norms”?

As a professional and parent I have been guilty of following trends and mainstream norms considering them to be more progressive, but are they?

In this blog I will describe an activity that will embrace the positive and protective aspects of tradition and culture to empower both ourselves and the young people under our care using the Tree of Life as a structure to grow from.

I have the privilege of being trained as an Advanced Tree of Life Practitioner by South African clinical psychologist, Dr Ncazeo Ncube Mlilo. I have used the Tree of Life everywhere from the rainforests of Uganda, rural Gambian communities, to the working class of Bermondsey and Peckham, right through to the Dulwich aspiring middle classes, and everything else in between.

The Problem with Mainstream Therapies…
For many years I have used therapies underpinned by an individualised problem-focussed psychology, that separates itself from the cultural and traditional norms of the client. Traditional family and cultural values are at best relegated, and at worst seen as part of the problem.

The end result is conflict between the professional and the family, with the young person being caught in the middle.

Young people sometimes foster a sense of embarrassment for their own culture, therefore any benefits of therapy can be eroded because they are a poor cultural fit on home ground.

Strengthening families. A therapy that endorses culture and tradition.
I embarked upon a search for a therapeutic model that might be used in either a health, community or family setting, with therapies that were resilience focussed and culturally resonant.

Dr Nczalo Ncube Mlilo’s Tree of Life was one such therapy, and a much needed therapeutic bridge over the stormy cultural divides.

Dr Nczaelo uses the term “Imbeleko “ (a blanket used to carry infants) to capture the importance of acknowledging traditional protective factors within a culture

Every culture has an Imbeleko…

The Tree of Life Structure.
The actual drawing of the tree is an illustration of a person’s roots, important skills and values, people’s dreams for the future and influential people in their lives, both living and dead. Collective strengths are summarised before addressing challenges arising from life’s difficulties. The resilience of participants are illustrated in their trees and told as second stories. Second stories are encouraged before the telling of the problem story…

Rising above challenges and telling second stories.
When I used the Tree of Life in United Kingdom, I experienced the challenges of a problem focussed client group who wanted expert solutions and sometimes families who had forgotten how to talk to each other. Overseas I was regarded as an outsider with no respect for indigenous cultural norms. Communities and people can be mistrustful of one another, but I have a second story to tell.

Often the drawing of the tree is an icebreaker. As the parents/carers/communities and young people help each other through the challenges of tree drawing, they learn vicariously that they are a resource for one another, and furthermore that it’s okay – you don’t have to be an artist!

I acknowledged the challenges of people owning their own solutions and working with people outside of their own culture, but also invited people to look at the value of sharing with me and one another and drawing sustenance from existing roots and skills.

People are willing to dig deep for their second stories when the problem focussed narrative shifts. Be prepared to feel emotional during the Tree of Life experience. Not out of sadness, but gladness as family/community/team members share their dreams, special memories and cultural pastimes, and recognise you as an integral part of their second story.

The Tree of Life Workshops

For information and bookings contact Judy on 07973619614.
Bespoke Tree of Life Workshops will be considered on request.