Sociotherapy in Rwanda is practiced in sociotherapy groups (socio-groups) of on average ten to fifteen people. The groups meet for approximately three hours a week, for a period of fifteen weeks. The meetings are held in a place that the members consider as safe, and which is located in their direct living environment. Locations can vary between a school, a church, an office, a private sitting room, a place under a tree, or an open field.
Two trained sociotherapists guide the groups through the sociotherapy phases of 1) Safety; 2) Trust; 3) Care; 4) Respect; 5) New life orientation; 6) Memories. Throughout the journey the following principles are applied: Interest, Equality, Democracy, Participation, Responsibility, Learning-by-Doing, Here-and-Now.
It is the dynamic complexity of principles and phases as a whole that facilitates a participative process of sharing ideas, making new decisions and adapting one’s behavior. It enables participants to utilize the wisdom of the group to change their own lives and the lives of family and community members. In all phases, the sociotherapy participants are encouraged to take care of each other and try - in consultation with each other - to solve their present problems. This enables them to think about the future again in constructive ways. Throughout the socio-sessions, participants acquire a new understanding of issues affecting their feelings, thoughts and behaviors. As a result, conflicts are solved, interpersonal reconciliation takes place and different forms of social justice are achieved.
In contrast to many other healing and reconciliation programs in Rwanda, traumatic experiences are not immediately discussed and addressed. Instead, attention is first paid to actual daily life problems - such as poverty issues, family conflicts, health problems, alcohol abuse, and mistrust towards neighbours. Once a level of safety and trust is established in the group, participants gradually share personal problems and their causes, often relating to their individual history. The phase of care proves to be the phase in which the healing of people’s social and individual distress starts to take effect. When a person understands that he or she is safe and can trust his/her fellow sociotherapy participants, that person starts socializing with them and is able share his/her problems.
Some other unique characteristics of the community-based sociotherapy approach are:
The program acknowledges that ongoing capacity building of sociotherapists is needed. This capacity building is facilitated through periodical follow-up trainings throughout the full three years, exchange meetings at both sector and district level, and monthly intervision (peer-supervision) sessions. A structural feedback system has been established by the field staff. During all these regular meetings, sociotherapists have the opportunity to share their challenges and discuss possible solutions amongst themselves and with CBSP staff.