Therapeutic Approaches

1. Our Approach

PHOLA work is largely founded upon Narrative Therapy and Imbeleko principles that seek to centre the knowledges and skills of those who are affected by problems. All counselling projects undertaken by the organisation emphasise working in close partnerships with those affected by problems in seeking solutions.   Phola’s work is largely collective and collaborative practices that support people who have experienced hardships to come together and be supported to work through these issues together.

PHOLA core principles include:

  • Use of culturally sensitive therapeutic interventions
  • Collective collaborative practice
  • Partnership with those affected by problems to seek solutions

What is Narrative Therapy

Narrative Therapy is respectful, non-blaming approach to counselling and community work it centres around people as the experts of their own lives. It views problems as separate from problems and assumes people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments and abilities that will assist them to reduce the influence of the problems that they encounter in their lives.

Narrative Therapy can also be said to be about rich story development. It offers working methodologies that involve re-authoring or re-storying people’s lives. It gives people who have gone through significant hardships the opportunity to actively participate in redefining their lives and stepping into a different territory of identity where they do not have to be defined by the problems that they have faced.

Imbeleko Approach to Therapeutic practice

The word Imbeleko has important cultural connotations within African societies. Taken literally, it refers to a blanket made of animal skin which is used by mothers to carry babies. In a deeper sense, it symbolises protection, love and the knowledge and skills that African communities have to nature and protect their children and those who are vulnerable. In recent years Ncazelo Ncube Mlilo used the Imbeleko concept to describe her therapeutic work which seeks to deepen understanding of cultural ways of responding to trauma, vulnerability and psychosocial distress experienced by different groups of people who have experienced significant hardships.

There is growing realisation that problems faced by people cannot be resolved unless their cultural context is understood and those affected by problems are meaningfully involved in seeking solutions. Peoples traditional and cultural ways of healing themselves should be prized. Views that local knowledge is primitive, unsubstantiated and un-intellectual and therefore inferior to western science should be questioned. The intention of Imbeleko counselling work is not to promote cultural and traditional healing practices as the all-embracing solution to every mental health and psychosocial challenge but to acknowledge and value healing knowledges that have worked in our communities and include them in therapeutic practices.

PHOLA seeks to grow more side by side with those affected by problems and create culturally sensitive therapies that re relevant, appropriate and responsive to the challenges faced by individuals, families and the communities that we work with.

2. PHOLA Counselling Tools And Methodologies

The Founder and Chief Executive Officer(CEO) of PHOLA Ncazelo Ncube Mlilo is a Narrative Therapist, Psychosocial and Mental Health Specialist known internationally for her work which focuses on developing counselling tools and methodologies which are culturally sensitive. PHOLA uses these tools developed by Ncazelo and other Narrative Practitioners to offer structured counselling and mental health services to people in communities. The organization also offers training for psychosocial and mental health practitioners locally and internationally on the methodologies.

PHOLA envision the promotion of the use of culturally sensitive therapies.


COURRAGE methodology takes women and others affected by violence, crime and abuse through a ten (10) session process that allows them to separate from shame, guilt and psychological distress resultant from effects of traumatic experiences. It helps women and others to celebrate their survival and distance themselves from a painful past. They are supported to envision the kind of future that they want for themselves. COURRAGE is a ground-breaking project that was developed in partnership with women to support women experiencing distress. The methodology has been used broadly to respond to effects of trauma with different groups of people seeking counselling.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life is a story telling approach to counselling developed by Ncazelo Ncube-Mlilo in collaboration with David Denborough to support children affected by HIV and AIDS. The methodology is now used in mental health and psychosocial services in different parts of the world. It helps people to talk about the stories of their lives in ways that make them stronger. It focuses on the second stories of people’s lives (good and positive stories) which give people hope and encouragement and support them to tackle the problems of life. Tree of life is used in several countries including the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, Nigeria, South Africa, Russia and many other contexts.

Narrative in the Suitcase Project

This counselling project is for working with children and others on the move. This includes refugees, migrants and others who have had to leave their homes or countries of birth and live in a foreign land or far place. The methodology helps such people to reconnect with their values, hopes and dreams and important people in their lives as they pursue their dreams in these new places. They are enabled to tell the stories about their journeys/movements form their perspectives and are given opportunities to develop messages that they want to share with their communities to improve their quality of life in the places where they reside. This brings hope, a sense of purpose and direction for people on the move.

Desired impact and outcomes

Phola seeks the following impact and outcomes in its work:


  • Culturally and context-relevant knowledge and methods
  • Innovations which emerge from ongoing community work
  • Locally, nationally, regionally and globally: for practitioners to use Phola’s methodologies to build on the resilience and hope of communities who are suffering

Outcomes for individual children and young people 

  • Ability to cope with adversities
  • Increased resilience
  • Well-developed psychosocial life skills
  • Increased confidence and hope in the future
  • Ability to make informed choices

Outcomes for women 

  • Increased knowledge about where to access to rights and services
  • Positive outlook on life
  • Well-developed plans for the future
  • Improved coping
  • Well-developed sense of self-worth and hope for the future
  • Self-help skills
  • Leadership skills

Outcomes for men 

  • Increased involvement in family life
  • Ability to express feelings and emotions
  • Increased respect for women and girls
  • Change of attitude with regards to traditional gender norms and practices

 Outcomes for communities

  • Safer communities
  • Hope for the future
  • Increased care for vulnerable people including women and children
  • Decrease in incidences of violence, crime and abuse