Child Abuse features again and again in our headlines, telling just part of a much larger, darker story. We explore the power of counselling to counter the tragic and long-lasting effects of child abuse. 
“Baby Jamie – Mother charged with murder” – Times Live

“Reiger Park toddler disappears” – Citizen Newpaper

“School class is offered counselling after bus tragedy” – Umhlobo Wenene Radio report

“Pink Ladies” group reports a child goes missing every 5 hours in South Africa” – News24


With child abductions, gang violence and rampant substance use making the news on a regular basis, we need not question what the negative effects on children are. We know for a fact from years of close observation – that a child’s innocence, feeling of safety and trust in the world has been radically shaken. After even one traumatic event, a child can be left with nightmares, be afraid of sudden noises and struggle to trust others. But when these events start to repeat, in a community that is soaked in these social ills our children need direct and urgent support.


So now, community organisations are joining with Hope House Counselling in calling for attention to be paid to the mental health of younger generations. Hope House Counselling is a loud voice sending out this please that the psychological and mental health of children be placed high on our priority list.


“Not only do many children experience abuse and violence directly in their homes and communities, but they are also exposed to trauma through the loss of friends and fellow school learners,” says Judy Strickland, founder of nonprofit organisation Hope House Counselling Centre. “Too few children have access to counselling services, where they can speak about and process their experiences, fears and concerns.”


The fallout of exposure to violence, abuse, loss and drug use can include impaired educational development, high levels of school drop-out rates and a greater risk of the development of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.


Place counsellors in Schools

More community-based counsellors are needed, particularly within schools, says Strickland; “Children are very vulnerable to feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger and confusion – many feel powerless to express or address this. They can benefit hugely from the support that a counsellor can provide.” Counselling is a safe place where negative emotions can be expressed, with the fear of punishment or hurting another person. Counsellors are trained to field and direct negative emotions in a way that helps them to be both expressed and then processed.
Bringing Play Therapy to Children

Mental Healthcare policy in South Africa has acknowledged the need for more community-based counsellors, particularly within schools, but the system remains under-resourced. “Counselling children requires a real commitment and an understanding of creative forms of therapy, such as play and narrative work, as well as experience working within local communities,” says Strickland. Hope House leans on play therapy heavily when reaching out to young children. Play is the language of the child. When language and stories are used as the medium for connecting with children, they often shut down and cease communication. However when play, narrative games, clay technique, dolls houses, puzzles and sand trays are used, its phenomenal the impact these games and methods of play can have on the child and their ability to communicate often difficult stories.


Children suffer from mental disorders too

Research conducted by the Child Guidance Clinic at the University of Cape Town recently showed that too little is being done to understand the extent or effective treatment of mental illness and distress in South Africa, with a dearth of studies on effective treatments for young people. Current statistics suggest that 16% of South Africans experience anxiety disorders, 13% report substance abuse and 10% experience depression – the number of children who make up this number is unknown.


But there is is hope – through Hope House Counselling Centres

Hope House Counselling Centre has been offering donation-based counselling services to the Cape Town community for 13 years. Through three centres in Bergvliet, Kuils River and Blaauwberg as well as in schools across the city, Hope House’s counsellors see people from as young as three years of age. People seek their services in times of grief, depression, conflict, trauma, addiction and suffering. Parents or children who are looking for counselling services can contact Hope House on 021 715 0424 or visit

Thanks to Emma Proctor of  Be-cause Integrated Communications, this blog was adapted from an article she wrote.