Trio brings GCU counseling expertise to Africa

GCU's Dr. Anna Edgeston and Dr. Catherine Mueller-Bell (center of back row) celebrate with children at the Africa Impact Project soccer match in Zambia during a trip to share information on counseling education.

For Dr. Anna Edgeston, who grew up in Kenya, a mid-May trip with Grand Canyon University Clinical Mental Health faculty to nearby Zambia brought her joy.

It was the first place her father was a missionary, but she had never visited.

“Africa is my heartbeat,” said the Assistant Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and associate professor of Graduate Counseling.

Since joining GCU in 2019, Edgeston's goal has been to spread counseling education across Africa to communities that do not have access to counselor education because of various injustices.

Dr. Ang'elita Dawkins presents information on counseling at a conference in Zambia, backed by Dr. Anna Edgeston and Dr. Catherine Mueller-Bell.

She joined associate professor Dr. Catherine Mueller-Bell, who has made seven trips to Zambia, and online full-time faculty Dr. Ang’elita (Angel) Dawkins in presentations at three conferences.

“It was soul-filling in so many ways. There is such a high level of joy that exists among the people, despite the suffering,” Edgeston said. “When you are mixed up in that, it overwhelmed me with joy.”

Zambia ranks near the bottom of the world in both food scarcity and education and has suffered deeply from HIV/AIDS. Mueller-Bell said there are more than 1.6 million AIDS orphans, many of them living on the streets.

It is one of the reasons African nations have not focused on psychology and counseling as much as case management through social work.

“But they have discovered more and more of the need to treat the roots of the problem, which requires counseling,” Edgeston said.

GCU's Dr. Anna Edgeston, Dr. Ang'elita Dawkins and Dr. Catherine Mueller-Bell (from left) celebrate the birthday of Phoebe Chanda, founder of The Phoebe Foundation Africa.

Mueller-Bell and husband Mark Bell have been partnering with Christian nonprofit The Phoebe Foundation Africa and its leaders, Chris and Phoebe Chanda, for 12 years and witnessed the injustices of poverty that left a counseling void.

“But they have incredible resources through their churches that have ignited a wave of compassionate care,” said Mueller-Bell, who is chair of GCU’s Global Justice Counseling Committee. “The churches have started this wave of compassion and trauma-informed care that we are just contributing to.”

During counseling conferences organized by the Phoebe Foundation in Ndola, Lusaka and Livingstone over seven days, the GCU trio addressed more than 200 people from various agencies, including pastors, diplomats, civic leaders, police, teachers and clinic workers.

“They were highly influential people with boots on the ground. Those conversations were powerful,” Edgeston said. “The biggest thing was bringing people together to collaborate.”

The influential leaders who came together are trying to create safe spaces to be vulnerable, Mueller-Bell added.

“They’ve already excelled at being resilient. What they are trying to create is a place to weep, a place to heal, because they have been through so much,” she said. “They have amazing joy and love, but they have incredible scars and wounds that they are trying to figure out how to heal. There is a wave of passion going, and it’s inspiring to be any part of that.”

Addressing the global mental health crisis across the world is one of Edgeston’s passions, especially suicide prevention. She shared information on prevention to decrease rates of suicide in Zambia.

Dawkins presented counseling skills to better help those facing these challenges.

“There was a lot of interaction, how to use these skills (such as active listening) even in a light-hearted situations that can translate to the heavier and darker situations people are facing,” Dawkins said.

Dawkins offered a metaphor of why counseling works. When you try to open a shaken soda bottle, it will explode. How do you prevent it? Usually the response is to not shake it up. But there's no avoiding shakeups in life, so the main way to prevent it is to open up and gradually release the pressure.

“Counseling can’t always change the situation,” she said. “But we give them a space where they can gradually release that pressure. And it gives them an opportunity to look at things they can control and how they can be empowered as they navigate the challenges in their daily lives.”

Dr. Ang'elita Dawkins, Dr. Anna Edgeston and Dr. Catherine Mueller-Bell (from left) serve food to more than 100 children at Bethel Church International in Zambia.

For these communities, it’s key to create a space for release that can prevent the explosions of violent behavior or suicide.

“They were making connections and asking, ‘What are we going to do differently?’” she said.

Edgeston said the faculty brings back much to GCU.

“Human flourishing is one of the four aspects of who we are GCU,” she said. “For me, human flourishing of our faculty and myself ais important as well.”

The trip allowed faculty to create a vision for others but get to know one another more than during interactions on Zoom.

It also confirmed the need for yearly regional or international trips through the Global Justice Counseling Committee to increase counseling education around the world.

“Not only are we impacting others, we are impacting our own growth and development about who God intends for us to be,” Edgeston said. “Now we get to move into another level of involving students to impact and give them that true experience, to mentor and train them and give them these skills as well.”

It can also broaden their students’ perspective here.

“We talk about this global citizenship and it’s not just across the waters,” Dawkins said. “The same way we have learned from our Zambian friends, we can implement that here with people at home that are of different cultures and nationalities. We bring those things back that help the communities we live in with a global perspective.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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