An Interview with Joseph Kalisa – Re-imagining Practice: Drawing Inspiration from Community Practitioners’ Responses to Adversity

After the country was shattered by genocide against the Tutsi, they were many orphans, widows, children born of rape, fear, ongoing struggle, physical and emotional wounds, fractured communities, and families, and more than 120,000 people in perpetrators of the genocide, international organizations, and practitioners from around the world flocked to Rwanda, armed with models and practices that had proven successful in other contexts.

But Rwandans had different ways of doing things rooted in their own culture and traditions. They had tried Western models and found them not to fit not only in healing but also in social justice. Local ways of responding to these issues were very much needed. A team from Dulwich Centre together with Jill Freedman and Gene Combs started coming to Rwanda in 2007, when they came, they came to learn. The Ibuka counsellors spoke intensely and expressively of grief and pain and this would intersperse that talk with laughter, singing, jokes and dancing. These were really different ways than the conventional way of speaking about hardships and trauma. In a conversation with Jill Freedman and Gene Combs, Joseph speaks about growing up in this community of practitioners and himself. He speaks about witnessing this way of practice and how he’s been able to get inspiration as a young practitioner to support the people he meets in practice. He speaks what it means for his generation of practitioners.


Author biography
Joseph Kalisa is a licensed clinical psychologist and narrative therapy practitioner. He is interested in the intergenerational transmission of resilience, survival skills and resistance after genocide as well as collective approaches to mental health. He works at Dulwich Centre Foundation and Geruka Healing Centre and the University of Rwanda as well as being a clinical tutor at the University of Melbourne. Joseph has co-edited with other Rwanda Narrative Practitioners a book called “Land of a thousand stories: Rwandan Narrative Therapy and Community Work”.

Published on November 19, 2023

This Post Has One Comment

  1. franklinchoi

    Joseph, thank you for sharing the local knowledge from the Rwanda community. I was inspired when you mentioned that it would be more helpful to respect the elder women’s knowledge about “maggots” in therapy, instead of relying on the colonial model and individual pathologies, such as hallucinations or trauma. You have allowed me to witness the power of experience-near practices— They are not only healing, especially to the effects of genocide, but also create more alternatives for healing. Perhaps I will find a song or dance to learn more about the Rwanda community’s skills and knowledge of persevering their traditions despite the challenges of modernisation.

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