Friendship Bench

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The Global Pandemic has changed all our lives. That’s been a stark reality for Dr. Dixon Chibanda of Friendship Bench, an organization that trains Grandmas to provide talk therapy from benches in the hearts of their communities. Not only did he have COVID-19 himself, he also had to deal with the loss of colleagues (“when there are only 15 of us [psychiatrists] in Zimbabwe that has a profound impact”) and the challenges of pivoting his organization to support more people, safely – at a time when it’s never been more needed.

Taking talk therapy online, Friendship Bench created Community Minds to be a global community, sharing research-based insights and teaching people to be active listeners so we can better support each other’s mental health.

“Being present, really listening – those are skills we can all learn,” says Dixon. “And that can have a big impact, especially right now. People have a need to connect with people. Being listened to and heard can give people hope. And that’s the first step to improving mental health.”

So, as Mental Health Awareness Month puts supporting each other top of mind, how can we help, and where do we start?

  1. Share a story:

“When you want to be there for someone, but you don’t know how to start, start with stories. Every human being has the ability to tell stories – and the best stories are personal. Sharing a story is the best way to connect with someone.”

  1. Have Empathy:

“I use empathy as the entry point in all my work. Empathy is all about making people feel respected and understood. That’s the foundation of therapy – and good friendship.If you look at our grandmothers, the most successful are the ones who master the art of conveying empathy.”

  1. Listen actively:

“Today, we’re stuck in our bubbles with our gadgets, and we don’t really listen. When you have an opportunity to listen to someone, it can have a profound, transforming effect.Be rooted in the present moment. People can tell by instinct if you’re paying attention. A practical way to know if you’re doing it right, is your ability to summarize and feedback what you’ve heard: “If I heard you correctly, this is what you’re going through … Am I correct?” It’s very powerful to feel and know that you’ve been heard.”

  1. Find the right words: “Mirror what you hear – particularly words that are emotionally loaded. The person with the lived experience expresses it best, so give back what you hear and use the words they use.”
  1. Be present: “Just being available, just being there for somebody can make all the difference. When people feel listened to, they find hope. When we can connect with another human being, we can have hope. Then we can start to work and move forward.”

Interested to learn more about Dixon’s approach to supporting your own mental health, so you are better able to support others? Read more.

Inspired to learn more about Friendship Bench, and the impact and importance of therapeutic conversations and connections?

Watch Dixon’s TED talk

Looking for other ways to get involved?