The Friendship Bench is a brief psychological intervention delivered by supervised lay health workers who have received training in problem solving therapy and behavior activation. It consists of up to 6 structured 45-minute sessions delivered on a wooden bench within the grounds of the clinic in a discrete area. They are given by supervised lay health workers, known as ‘grandmother health providers’, who have received training in problem solving therapy - a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) geared to improve an individual's ability to cope with stressful life experiences.
This study has involved more than 550 patients with anxiety or depression, all aged 18 or over, at 24 randomized primary care clinics in Harare. Patients at 12 control group clinics were given standard care while those in the treatment group at 12 other clinics received Friendship Bench. After six months, all participants were then re-assessed using locally validated questionnaires for depression and anxiety; the Shona Symptom Questionnaire (SSQ), the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) and the Generalised Anxiety Disorder scale (GAD).
With CDN $1 million in funding from Grand Challenges Canada, the Friendship Bench Programme has since been scaled-up to 72 clinics in the cities of Harare, Gweru and Chitungwiza (total population 1.8 million). To date, over 27,500 people have accessed treatment.
The innovation integrates an existing income generating project (zeeBAGS) as an additional intervention component.