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A counsellor with a ‘dramatic’ touch

By | February 7th 2010

The cool wind blows making the chimes clink to make a melodious sound.

Birds join in to make a calming harmony. The front of the wooden terrace –– an extension of an old English styled house –– faces a beautifully manicured garden, surrounded by trees and dashes of flowers.

The owner, Shibero Akatsa-Darby, 49 who has an obvious love for serene outdoors, is at the terrace, with a steaming cup of tea.

Shibero is at her home in Karen, Nairobi.

The counsellor with her daughter.

The setting, she says, is not a coincidence.

"It is soothing. The 21st century life has become too hectic and stressful," she says almost in retrospect.

Her sister died of stress related stroke in her 40s.

"I understand too well what stress can do," she says as though to introduce her work.

Shibero uses psychodrama in counselling, ‘de-stressing’ or for people who just need to take it easy’.

"For ages, art has been used for catharsis and that’s what this is all about," she says.

Psychodrama attempts to create an internal restructuring of dysfunctional mindsets with other people, and it challenges the participants to discover new answers to some situations and become more spontaneous and independent.

high stress levels

Being a mother of an 11 year-old daughter, she says, she knows only too well the challenges women and children go through everyday.

"The 21st woman is caught in a vicious circle. She has to juggle between work, children, career development and intimate relationships, sometimes riddled with domestic violence," she says.

The art teacher says the pressure causes burnouts and self doubts that if not checked can cause anxiety and depression.

Shibero cites a research she carried out in 1998 where she found out that 22 per cent of women in Nairobi suffer from anxiety and depression.

"With the social, economic and political changes, that number must be higher today,"’ she says.

Children too have been caught up in the rat race she calls the 21st century stress syndrome.

"Children are in a lot of stress. Unfortunately, the adults are too busy to notice and the child seeks other means of calming down," she says.

Parents have become too busy and gadgets like TV, mobile phones, Iphones and technology like Internet has taken over.

Most homes are experiencing unhealthy relationships and break ups. Consequently, the child seeks love and attention from other sources," she says.

She cites such issues as some of the reasons there are rising cases of teenage sex, drug and alcohol abuse.

"The pressure to excel academically shoots stress levels up," she says.

She says children are silent victims because it is hard to tell a child in stress as they bottle up their emotions.

"After all, adults are dealing with their own stress. A child’s stress goes may go unnoticed and it grows to clinical depression which may lead to suicide," she says.

The mother of one says parents should watch out for violent behaviour, mood swings, emotional outbursts and refusal to go to school as some signs of stress.

The sad situation, she says, is that teenagers can easily access anti-depressants.

A trained psychotherapist and counsellor, she works with children from five to 18 years to help them cope with stress.

"The programs are designed in such away that the children bring out their issues, and then act them out. They work out in groups and they improvise and the beauty of performing arts is that everyone gets to participate," she says.

Shibero says drama is used to get children to get in touch with their bottled up emotions.

" I allow them to shout, scream or jump up and down to show let out their anger. Such actions are not allowed in the home setting," she says.

Experimental workshops

She runs her programs on Saturdays. "When schools break, we have holiday clubs I started in 2005. The greatest moment is seeing a child who came in timid and meek transform to being outgoing, confident and ready to face the world," she says.

The process is similar for adults.

"Women are the worst hit by depression, given even the physiological trauma like post natal, menopause and also rape," she says.

Shibero holds what she terms as ‘experiential workshops’.

"This is letting the women get in touch with their emotions. I prefer to work in groups, because there is power in sharing, hearing that someone else is going exactly through the same experience. Apart from healing, it helps them relate with other people which also helps me see how they relate while at the outside world and under stress," she says.

Shibero also holds one on one sessions from her home though she says groups or workshops are better because role playing is more cathartic.

She has been at it from 1992, and she has quite an experience.

"I don’t claim to be an expert in psycho analysis, but my psycho-drama is proven method to deal with stress and depression," she says.

Shibero believes people are stronger than they think, and everyone should strive for personal development by building on their strengths.

Training life skills

"The only person who can only make decisions for you is you," she says.

Her interest to use art as for catharsis and therapy started at University of Oregon, US where she was a student.

"I did a double major, Theatre Arts Communication and Psychology and Anthropology," she says.

After graduation, she came back to Kenya and worked as a management consultant.

After a while she went for further studies in Britain to study clinical psychotherapy, Transaction Analysis, and family relationship counselling.

Besides counselling, Shibero teaches children dance movement and choreography and music.

She teaches acting to women wishing to horn their acting, communication and public speaking skills.

Shibero says most people sell themselves short.

"Everyone can live to their full potential if they so desire. One way of doing this is by striving for personal development," she says.

And that is why she has designed her programs in a way that they will develop in children life skills that she defines as ‘problem solving and decision- making’.

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