Working Paper 207

Pioneering Psychotherapy: knowledge-, class- and meaning-making in Uganda

Julia Vorhölter 

Department 'Anthropology of Politics and Governance'

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 207

This working paper summarizes the main findings of my Habilitation project (2015–2021), which studied the recent popularization of psychotherapy and related practices, disciplines, and discourses in Uganda. I analyze why, how, and with what effects psychotherapeutic discourses and practices have started to proliferate in Uganda since the late 1990s, who can and wants to access them, and how the rise of psychotherapy both reflects and contributes to changing imaginations and experiences of suffering and well-being, especially among upper-middle-class Ugandans. Drawing on fieldwork among therapists in Uganda, I look at psychotherapy from three different angles: as a form of meaning-making and care, a form of knowledge-making and governance, and a form of class-making. This multimodal approach challenges assumptions that either simply dismiss psychotherapy as a neoliberal form of (self-)governance, view psychotherapy as un-African, or ignore the growing socio-economic diversity within African countries when thinking about mental health care. Instead I argue that in Uganda psychotherapy is not just an externally imposed medical approach to improve global mental health; rather, it relies on psychological knowledge co-produced by local practitioners. While deeply entangled with neoliberal ideologies, psychotherapy also offers new ways of critically reflecting on capitalist modernity and new imaginations of care.

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