Nigeria Needs a Stronger Psycho-Spiritual Support System: Founder of Catholic Entity

Fr. George Ehusani (2nd from left), flanked on the left by Fr. Andrew Otu (Head of Department of Spiritual Theology), on the right by Fr. Cajetan Ani (Editor of the Pastoral and Spiritual Theology Journal, published by Catholic Institute of West Africa - CIWA), and one other participant at the Symposium on "Psycho-Spiritual Integration" at CIWA in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 24 May 2022. Credit: Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA)

Everyone in Nigeria needs psycho-spiritual support owing to the country’s political and economic instability that has plunged the population into depression and other forms of mental challenges, the founder of the Psycho-Spiritual Institute (PSI) has said. 

Fr. George Ehusani who founded the Catholic entity that specializes in psycho-trauma healing told ACI Africa that all Nigerians have been affected, one way or the other, by what has been described as a genocide, high levels of poverty and unemployment as well as political tension that has spread to all corners of the West African nation.

“All over Nigeria, there is tension. Violence has spread everywhere. People’s relations have been kidnapped. Friends and families have been murdered. People are aggrieved because of rising cases of unemployment and poverty,” Fr. Ehusani said in the Thursday, May 26 interview.

He added, “One way or the other, everyone is affected by the ongoing instability in Nigeria and everyone needs therapy.” 

The Nigerian Catholic Priest said that the mere thought of what is happening in Nigeria scares even those who have not had a personal experience with the militants who are wreaking havoc in various parts of the country. 


Credit: Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA)

“It scares us to hear about attacks in the media every time. A day hardly passes by without hearing of an attack, a kidnapping or murder. People who hear about these things are affected. Priests, Imams, Pastors and people taking care of victims of violence in camps are all affected. The general public getting bad news every day is affected,” he said.

In Nigeria, PSI enrolls all experts who interact with victims of violence and various forms of abuse. These include the security personnel, health experts, religious leaders, social workers, and psychosocial experts.

More than 400 experts in Nigeria have successfully completed the training, which was started six years ago and takes a week of in-class training and another six weeks of practical experience.

In the May 26 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Ehusani said that everyone who handles people who have undergone a traumatic experience needs to be equipped with skills to handle the victims.

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“The police, for instance, need to know how to talk to rape victims, and others who have gone through any form of traumatizing experience. Here in Nigeria, you find a police asking questions such as ‘what were you wearing when you were raped’ or ‘what did you expect after visiting the man’s house’. This is not the way to talk to a rape victim,” the founder of PSI said.

Credit: Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA)

“All the victim needs at the first encounter with the police, a counselor, a spiritual leader or anyone they go to after undergoing a traumatic experience, is company, not judgment. It helps to just touch their hand and to show that you care,” Fr. Ehusani said.

Established in 2012 by the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation in collaboration with Mission Aachen, PSI trains experts in Psycho-Spiritual Therapy and Christian Counseling for English-Speaking African Countries. 

The Catholic entity is a response to “an urgent need” to offer professional psychological and spiritual care to the increasing number of Clergy, women and men Religious, and lay pastoral agents who now and again find themselves in difficult life situations of an emotional and psychological nature, “but who often do not find adequate support”, according to information provided on the institute’s website.


While PSI is a short course, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, on the other hand, offers a two-year Master’s program for experts who graduate and psychotherapists. 

Since its inception in 2012, seven cohorts have already graduated from the Master’s Program, which is now offered at the Nairobi-based Marist International University College, a Catholic institution of higher learning affiliated to the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Apart from Nairobi, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation also has offices in the Archdiocese of Abuja, Nigeria.

In Kenya, the Institute has enrolled students from troubled parts of Nigeria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Burkina Faso, among others.

Graduates proceed to provide psycho-spiritual support to victims of attacks in their respective countries, Fr. Ehusani says.

PSI provides a master’s degree in psycho-spiritual therapy, where many Priests and women and men Religious are trained to become experts in giving psychological and spiritual support to people who are suffering in the mentioned countries.

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Credit: Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA)

Fr. Ehusani told ACI Africa that the plan, since inception, was to offer the Master’s program in Eastern Africa, in Southern Africa and in Western Africa. Owing to insufficient funds, however, the two-year program has only picked up in Nairobi.

The Abuja-based Catholic Priest who is the Executive Director of the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation said the Master’s program, which requires students to stay at the institution through the entire two years, is costly, and that not many Religious Congregations can fully support their members through the program.

“We have always wanted to have many campuses across Africa. But at the moment, we only operate in Kenya. The course is very expensive since it requires our students to stay at the institution. They stay together, eat together, pray together and grow mentally before they graduate,” Fr. Ehusani told ACI Africa during the May 26 interview. 

He added in reference to the course, “We acknowledge that it has only healed people that can help others to heal. And each one of us has some underlying issues from which we need to heal. Therefore, our students are taken through the healing process before anything else in the training process.”

At the campus, students are also linked to personal spiritual advisors and counselors who they talk to often. They are also organized in a support group where they embark on a spiritual journey together, Fr. Ehusani said, and explained, “The program is structured in a way that it has to be in-person. It cannot be completed online, hence the high cost.” 

Fr. Ehusani recently hosted a symposium on Psycho-Spiritual Integration at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where he explained the importance of integrating psychotherapy into spiritual care on the one hand, and integrating spirituality into psychotherapeutic care on the other.

At the end of the Tuesday, May 24 symposium, participants who included lecturers and students from both the Port Harcourt and the Obehie campuses of CIWA, expressed their desire to have the two-year Master’s Program offered in Nigeria as well.

Fr. Ehusani recognized the dearth of psycho-spiritual therapists in the West Africa country, saying, “Even here at CIWA, where there could be hundreds of students, there is only one counselor. This one counselor is not enough to handle the psycho-spiritual needs of the entire student population, let alone staff. Again, the counselor is not trained to handle all aspects of psycho-spiritual care.”

The award-winning Catholic Priest said that different psycho-spiritual therapists deal in different areas, including trauma healers, those who handle alcoholism, drug abuse, industrial needs, and forensics, among others.  

He said that with Nigeria experiencing a rising number of mental challenges, the country needs “thousands” of trained psycho-spiritual therapists, including Priests to listen to confessions.

“There are people who commit the same sin over and over again and it only requires a Priest who is trained in psycho-spiritual therapy to understand that such people have some form of addiction and to give them relevant support,” Fr. Ehusani said.

The challenge, he said, includes lack of awareness on mental challenges, and lack of adequate funding of initiatives that focus on mental health.

Credit: Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA)

“Here, we have numerous foundations that support HIV/AIDS, heart conditions, diabetes, and many others. But very few foundations support the depressed, alcoholics and people suffering from substance abuse,” Fr. Ehusani said.

He underlined the need for integrating psychotherapy into spiritual care, saying, “It is difficult to cure a person’s mental wellbeing if you don’t look at their spirituality as well.”

“About 100 years ago, a lot of scientific research was done by the Church people in monasteries. It was in the context of religion that the soul was taken care of until scientists began to isolate themselves from the Church,” the Nigerian Catholic Priest said.

He added, “Today, experts recognize that spirituality plays a big role in a person’s mental well-being. Many who ignore this aspect find themselves confused between a patient’s psychological and spiritual needs.”

“At the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, we have realized that spirituality and psychology can be studied together,” Fr. Ehusani told ACI Africa during the May 26 interview.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.