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An award-winning psychology centre in one of Nelson Mandela Bay’s most impoverished townships is making a dramatic difference to hundreds of lives – and highlighting the critical importance of a multidisciplinary approach to health care in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela University’s on-campus Missionvale Community Psychology Centre (MPC) not only dispenses a valuable service to indigent patients, but gives psychology students a unique opportunity to practise their clinical skills on a community-based training platform, said centre leader Dr Jennifer Jansen.

“The MPC (allows) students to learn from, with and about one another, across a variety of disciplines in one university, while also addressing the surrounding community’s needs.

“A transdisciplinary mental health platform contributes to outreach, service training and engagement.

“Collaborative relationships in the community are broadening, because of the intermediary role the centre is playing, thus bringing the proverbial ‘town and gown’ into more effective contact with each other through outreach projects.”

Dr Jansen was awarded an Engagement Excellence Team Award at Nelson Mandela University’s Research, Teaching and Engagement awards on Thursday evening for the innovative work being done by her team.

The MPC’s focus reflects a multidisciplinary approach to health, which is the University’s driving ethos behind the opening of South Africa’s tenth medical school in 2020.

Students were able to learn in a practical setting, engaging with the community and forging relationships with professionals in other fields, patients, schools and institutions.

The centre’s programme reflects a “shift in focus from, primarily, only psychology intervention to a multidisciplinary one that adds psychiatry, psychometry, occupational therapy, social work, advanced psychiatric nursing, and registered counselling,” said Dr Jansen.

Healthcare treatment therefore became a “dynamic offering for health professionals and an immediate benefit to the patients” – in effect, a one-stop shop.

A major motivation behind the creation of the MPC was that over 370 schools in the Nelson Mandela Bay area have little or no access to school nursing or psychological intervention, which are vital health services.

A 2015 Mandela University report on the Missionvale area highlighted serious challenges facing the community and warned that the mental health impact could be higher than average, owing to high levels of violent crime and adverse living conditions.

The fact that the centre was situated in the “heart of the community” was significant, both for the team and its patients, as research on the ground could reveal areas of ongoing concern and contribute to regional, national and global understanding of health issues, and how a multidisciplinary approach could assist.

Jansen said that the MPC’s successful P-project, launched in January last year, was the result of identifying key areas for assistance, such as psychological support for teachers, skills and knowledge on psychological issues for learners and the need to identify leaders in both schools and in the community so that they could become equipped ambassadors in their community.

“This is a team project aimed at providing psychological support and leadership skills via psycho-educational workshops and programmes within the schools to identify leaders and support them through workshops to enhance their leadership skills.

“The ‘Ps’ in the P-project stand for: Providing Preventative Programmes that Promote Proud and Proficient People. The project encapsulates community projects that aim to support individuals and groups.”

Apart from psychological counselling and psychotherapy for groups and individuals, the centre also provided other services, such as marriage counselling or couples’ therapy, family therapy, parent and teacher support, trauma counselling, career counselling, play therapy and counselling or therapy for gender-related issues.

Dr Jennifer Jansen (left) and the Missionvale Clinic P- Project Team

Contact information
Dr. Jennifer Jansen
Missionvale Psychology Centre Clinic Manager
Tel: 0415041333