African-Centered Wellness Model

The African Centered Wellness Model© created by licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya is based on the belief that African Americans have difficulty conceptualizing and dealing with the word “mental” and consequently tend to shy away from services based on that construct. Nonetheless, within the African American community constructs such as “wellness” are not difficult to embrace.

Thus, within the African Centered Wellness Model© all mental health issues can be conceptualized within the cultural context of varying degrees of wellness.

Specifically, the African Centered Wellness Model incorporates African centered values with wellness in various life-areas including social wellness, physical wellness, emotional wellness, cultural wellness, intellectual/academic wellness, spiritual wellness, vocational wellness, financial wellness, and emotional wellness.

In both assessment and treatment, African centered values are reinforced as culture/community- based strengths that promote wellness. These values incorporate some of the traditional African principals (the Nguzo Saba or seven principals) often associated with the Swahili concepts of Kwanzaa and include: Nia (purpose) as a value that supports vocational/occupational wellness; Umoja (unity)-supports social wellness; Kuumba (creativity) –supports cultural wellness; Ujimaa (cooperative economics)- supports financial wellness; Imani (faith) – supports spiritual wellness; Busara (practical wisdom) – supports academic/intellectual wellness; Kujichagulia (self-determination) – supports physical wellness; Ujima (collective work and responsibility) supports emotional wellness; and Murua (respect) is the hub of the wellness model—a value on which all African American cultural wellness stands.

Additionally, other areas of wellness may be impacted such as spiritual wellness in that the child may have a decreased sense of faith or hope; and emotional wellness is affected in that the child may have problems expressing her feelings appropriately (uncontrolled emotional outbursts, affect dysregulation or inability to access her/his emotions). In turn, her ability to participate in school- academic wellness– may be impacted and will be indicated by a decrease in the child’s academic performance, ability to concentrate, focus, or complete tasks. Likewise, one’s vocational wellness (sense of purpose) and financial wellness may be impacted such that children may lose interest (or find no interest) in discovering what they want to be when they grow up. Problems in the area of vocational wellness may be seen in an older teen’s inability to sustain part-time employment or in a youngster’s decreased willingness to earn money by performing age-appropriate tasks. In fact, many children (especially those impacted by trauma) may have a sense of hopelessness about the future and a sense of having a foreshortened future- stating that they do not believe that they will live long enough to grow up to find a job. Problems in this area may also be noted when children over-spend, shoplift or steal rather than delaying gratification or working for desired tangibles.

Finally, depressive symptoms may impact a child’s cultural wellness, decreasing her/his sense of belonging, efficacy and ethnic identity. This area is assessed utilizing models regarding Stages of Ethnic Identity Development such as Cross’ Nigrescence Model. Likewise, depression may result in issues around shame and self-worth that may be so severe that a child may have a negative sense of who she is or a diminished value for her cultural self. This is also impacted by oppressive reaction syndromes posed by explicit and implicit bias conditions such as aversive racism, stereotyped threat, racial discrimination, and the invisibility syndrome. The American Psychological Association’s Report on Ending Discrimination confirmed that the psychological consequences of social rejection, exclusion and discrimination can be similar to those of physical assault.

In conclusion, depression impacts Murua (respect and balance) so that clients experience a sense of disequilibrium in their daily functioning. The purpose of intervention, then, is to restore Murua- balance and a sense of respect for the life areas that create and sustain healthy development.