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The Friendship Bench is a tool for positive mental and emotional health used in various settings. It is used as a psychological intervention to address depression usually by trained lay health workers.
In Zimbabwe, the Friendship Bench approach to therapy uses listening and "problem-solving therapy" (PST) by trained lay-counselor grandmothers. When seeking mental health care is stigmatized or resources are not available—Zimbabwe has just 12 psychiatrists for 14 million people—the Friendship Bench offers what so far seems to be an effective and simple option. Depression is referred to as kufungisisa, “thinking too much," in the Shona language. A strategy in this peer-to-peer support model include co-production practices and skill building such as the way participants make bags out of recycled plastics during therapeutic sessions.
The Project Bench is also often used as psychological intervention in places with high prevalence of people with HIV. The psychotherapy sessions, which focus on problem-solving therapy, is delivered the Friendship Bench framework.
In a school setting a friendship bench may also be known as a buddy bench, and is a special place in a school playground where a child can go when they want someone to talk to. Friendship benches may be distinctively different from other seating in the school and may be specially designed by an artist or with the help of the children themselves. They are rainbow-colored and were originally created by C.R Plastics, a Canadian company that creates recycled plastic outdoor furniture. Such benches are situated in open and well-traveled areas of the school so that any child using the bench will be noticed quickly.
When a child feels the need for a friend to talk to, he or she can show this by using the friendship bench. Other children and staff will recognize this as a sign that some help, support or comfort is needed and will come to talk with the child.
The friendship bench is a means by which a child can seek support without the need to rationalize their feelings or to seek out a particular member of staff or special friend. Because the bench is in the day-to-day environment of the school it can be used at any time and for any reason—from seemingly trivial matters to more serious concerns—and encourages children to ask for help when they are troubled.
- "The Friendship Bench Training Manual". Mental Health Innovation Network. 2015-03-30. Retrieved 2019-10-28.
- Ridgwell, Henry. "Zimbabwe Tackles Mental Health With 'Friendship Benches'". VOA. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
- Mberi, Ranga (2017-04-14). "Harare's park bench grandmas: 'I speak to them and feel a load is lifted off my heart'". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
- Bhugra, Dinesh; Bhui, Kamaldeep; Wong, Samuel Yeung Shan; Gilman, Stephen E. (2018). Oxford Textbook of Public Mental Health. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 496. ISBN 9780198792994.
- Stein, Dan J.; Bass, Judith K.; Hofmann, Stefan G. (2019). Global Mental Health and Psychotherapy: Adapting Psychotherapy for Low- and Middle-Income Countries. London: Academic Press. p. 76. ISBN 9780128149324.
- Buddy Bench, CBC Saskatoon, March 24, 2016. Retrieved 2016-04-05
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