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Northwestern University

Publication Date

Fall 2012

Program Name

Senegal: National Identity and the Arts


Mental illness is a malady that affects roughly 2.3 million people in Senegal ("Statistics by Country” 2012), but the wide and sometimes opposing range of healing practices suggests that the attitudes surrounding mental illness are still largely contested. This is especially true in Senegal’s capital, where advances in medicine in big city hospitals are growing while ties to traditional beliefs and practices remain strong. Alternative therapies, such as art therapy, provide an opportunity for practitioners to explore different techniques for treating the mentally ill while still integrating elements of the local culture. It is precisely this integration that this paper aims to study, along with how art therapy works within the African context in order to be beneficial for its patients. With the information provided by both the artists that lead art therapy workshops, and the psychologists that supervise them, this paper will highlight the importance of cultural context when structuring healthcare programs for the mentally ill, since the beliefs that are deeply rooted in Senegalese tradition impact the entire way in which Senegalese citizens understand and respond to mental illness.


Art Therapy | Civic and Community Engagement | Community Health | Family, Life Course, and Society | Mental and Social Health | Other Public Health | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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