Prioritizing Mental Health

Panzi’s holistic approach goes beyond physical healing, and ensures that survivors receive personalized therapy and access to support networks in order to help cope with and overcome their trauma.

Addressing Stigma

Psychosocial support is the second pillar in Panzi’s holistic healing model. Survivors in the Democratic Republic of Congo suffer emotional trauma and psychological damage from the rape and violence they experienced. Rape is highly stigmatized in Congolese communities, and survivors often lack the support of family members or friends. Survivors find comfort and support in each other through different therapies (individual therapy, group therapy, behavioral therapy) offered at Panzi Hospital and Foundation.

In addition to the serious and complex injuries that many victims suffer as a result of sexual violence, the psychological consequences of the violence can be even more damaging.  Victims who enter Panzi show signs of depression, extreme fear, eating and sleeping disorders, self-shaming, self-destruction, and self-harm. They often face social exclusion from their community and have difficult relationships with their loved ones. 

At Panzi, psychosocial care is an integral part of the holistic healing process as it complements physical treatment. Psychological interventions at Panzi aim to help survivors feel safe again, trust others, and develop a sense of self-esteem and love for their bodies. They also aim to re-establish relationships with caregivers and peers, provide a healthy living environment, and give them a sense of belonging to their community. 

Personalized Solutions

Psychosocial care begins with a meeting with a psychologist to identify needs and plan specific treatment, which is carried out individually and in groups. The individual component aims to provide victims with psychosocial support or tailored therapy, as well as counseling for family members to prevent marginalization. The group component aims to provide complementary therapeutic services that connect survivors with others in a similar situation. 

To do this, Panzi offers specific programs such as drama, music therapy and occupational therapy (e.g., flower arranging, knitting, sewing and basketry). These activities help to process experiences and provide relief and a sense of worth. Focusing specifically on the music therapy program, it offers support and healing from past traumatic experiences. This workshop is facilitated by a psychologist and a professional musician with the goal of creating and recording songs together. These songs are then broadcast on the radio, on social networks and produced during community concerts. Music therapy seems to be a way to dissipate the stigma that can be caused by sexual violence.

Thus, survivors are brought together to express themselves, tell their stories, and seek solutions for themselves and their communities. The Panzi Foundation, through a variety of creative approaches, enables survivors to bear witness to what is often beyond the realm of possibility.

In music therapy, survivors are able to write, perform, and record songs about their experiences, emotions, and future hopes and dreams. This becomes a form of catharsis and helps them bond with their sister survivors with who they collaborate with. This photo is courtesy of our music therapy implementing partner, Make Music Matter.

Common Threads
Survivors can also elect to participate in art therapy, including embroidery projects Survivors work together in cohorts — or circles — to design, sketch, and sew scenes that depict their experiences or feelings. This photo is courtesy of our implementing partner, the Common Threads Project.

Physical expression is an important part of healing. At Panzi, survivors can participate in dance classes, self-defense courses, and other activities that help them reconnect with their bodies and reinforce their personal control and autonomy.