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For Ibifubara, all roads lead to one place; healing. Although the last-minute change on her JAMB application form is what landed her in psychology, it is obvious from our conversation that regardless of title or specialty, her dream has always been to help people.
Document Women got to speak to Ms. Davies about psychology and mental health – not only does she take us through her enthralling journey to becoming, but she also gives insight into how we can tackle the rising mental health problem in Nigeria.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Ibifubara Davies, I’m a psychologist, research analyst, writer, and Youtuber living in Lagos, Nigeria. I grew up in Port Harcourt and moved here after university to work. I am the founder of Nunguhealth a psychological service that offers mental health support and resources to people who need and want them. I enjoy reading, swimming, playing table tennis, telling stories through different mediums, and creating content.
Just to clarify, what’s the difference between a psychologist, a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist?
A psychologist specializes in the study of the mind and behavior and the treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. A psychotherapist is someone who provides therapy for clients. It’s an umbrella term for professionals under the psychology practice that provide therapy – some psychologists don’t. A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, study, and treatment of mental disorders. You usually find them in hospitals and they can prescribe medication and conduct other medical treatments.
Thanks for clearing that up! Have you always wanted to be a psychologist?
I’ve always wanted to be a doctor – I even put the idea in the heads of my parents and everyone around me – a cardiologist to be specific. I’ve always been fascinated with helping people heal from emotional trauma, and I used to think the heart was the gateway for emotions, not the brain. When I got into secondary school and figured it out, I moved my interest to neurology then finally psychology. Literature got in the mix in secondary school when I started representing the school in essay competitions and debates. I had a teacher who told me I had a thing for the arts and of course, because I read a lot, Mr. Effiong (the government teacher then) tried to lure me into art class. I decided to be a science student in literature class and I loved it. My literature teacher Mr. Jegede encouraged me a lot and when I won the best student in literature in SS2, I knew applied science wasn’t for me and behavioral science was more my jam.
And was there any specific moment or person that inspired you to become a psychologist?
My friends Jessica and Ogochukwu. They wanted to be psychologists but their parents sadly didn’t let them. When they said it in school, I decided to do my research as I had only heard about psychologists in books, I had never met one. The closest was my guidance and counselor in school which didn’t do a good job if I do say so myself. So, I started reading and reading till I decided that it was what I wanted. I changed my JAMB course from Medicine and Surgery to Psychology a day before JAMB without anyone’s permission (if you’ve met me, you’d know this is on brand). My father alongside other family and friends disapproved, but I didn’t care because my mind had been made up. I think the fact that they were pushing against it even gave me more ginger. Actually, I’m sure. My mother however was a darling and said as long as it made me happy, I could do it. Again, I didn’t need anyone’s approval, but it felt good that she was on my side. I was going to proceed to be a psychiatrist but loved psychology so much and here I am.
There is a gap between finishing a course in school and practicing that course as a career. Can you tell me about this gap? How did you transition from graduate to self-employed psychologist?
My first internship in the psychology world was at the neuropsychiatric hospital Yaba, where I worked for a few months. During that time, I trained under close supervision to provide group and individual counseling to patients. I particularly enjoyed working at the child and adolescent ward and learnt a whole lot during that period. I contemplated going back but let’s just say I don’t think I can beat the system yet. Next up, I got to work at an NGO where I got fired after two weeks because my heart was not in the job. It was not a psychology organization but it was an interesting period.
I later joined Stand to End Rape organization as a volunteer Psychologist where I received extra training and learned a lot of what I know today about being a therapist (thanks to Amanda Iheme). There, I got to practice what I had learnt from all the academic training I had gotten in the past. In that time, I also worked briefly at the Lagos Solidarity with Girls and Women in Distress (SOLWODI) a non-profit organization that assists women affected by human trafficking for sexual exploitation, arranged marriage, and domestic violence. I provided psychosocial support to the women affected here in Lagos who had recently come back into the country. All these happened between 2020. I started Nunguhealth in June 2020. At this point, I had gotten enough training to begin my journey as a self-employed psychologist.
Tell me about Nungu Health
Nunguhealth came to life during the lockdown. People needed help, we were home, I wanted to help, and I did. There wasn’t any dream or big push to start. However, I started earlier than I had initially planned. I planned to start 2 years from now but I’m glad I didn’t.
Starting a practice is hard work but I have friends who are psychologists that helped along the way. The name part was easy, Nungu means countenance and in psychology, countenance is an important part. Also, it’s my mother’s name and I wanted to somehow thank her for her support when people said I’d be broke and have no job.
I had worked with different mental health-related organizations where I learnt a lot about running one, and I felt I had the knowledge and expertise to begin. I am still learning each day and I plan to hire more people to work with me soon.
What was your biggest challenge in creating your practice?
Learning about taxes, savings, investments, and the business aspect to be honest. In Nigeria, things aren’t straight forward so you have to find someone that is honest and can look out for your business to help you with all that. And of course, I didn’t have money at that time so it was tough learning stuff I could have easily hired someone to do. So, yeah my biggest challenge was figuring out the business of psychology.
Let’s talk about how we perceive your profession in this part of the world. What are some stereotypes that you have had to deal with?
People think psychologists should be perfect and have no issues. People think we should put up this perfect image on social media and in life generally, and if they mistakenly see you doing something human-like, you lose this halo they’ve attached to you.
A lot of people still believe there are no job opportunities, and you’ll be broke. While the job gap is still wide in comparison to other professions, there are still opportunities and we need more people to help with the mental health crisis as the few of us that practice cannot do it alone. The ratio of psychologist to client is not the best.
Another stereotype is that when you see us, and we advise you, then all of a sudden you’ll be okay. I mean when you go to the hospital and take medicine, it takes a while to kick in. It’s the same here, it takes work and determination, and time to get better with therapy.
There is also the fact that people still think we only give help to people that have severe mental illnesses, meanwhile, everyone whether you’ve been diagnosed or not should see a psychologist at least once.
So far, the funniest stereotype I’ve had to deal with is people thinking older psychologists are automatically better than younger ones. I’ve had people say things to me that I’d rather not mention and insinuate that I am not good at my job because I am younger and it sucks.
How do you think we can make therapy more accessible for Nigerians?
As much as I hate to say this, the government has to be heavily involved and willing to create more mental health institutions for the people. We can’t have one or two general psychiatric hospitals in each state. The workers are overworked, the infrastructure needs to be reexamined and there is a need for more mental health workers in the country.
If the cost of living continues to get worse, private mental health professionals will be unable to provide good mental health care to people at affordable rates so that has to be fixed too, again another government institutional problem. Therapists offering sliding scale options is also a good way to make it accessible to people who can’t afford full rates due to lower resources. Also, if we can get more people to study and work as mental health professionals, there’ll be different price ranges for people and this means more options for Nigerians.
Community-based mental health practices are good in this part of the world. People in communities are used to community-based healing and might not be open to one or one therapy without being comfortable with things like group therapy. If we can start with group therapy and support groups, people will embrace the idea of help easily when it’s time for one on one therapy. We can get community leaders involved and introduce it to them first and this will help them understand therapy and further explain to their people in the way they can accept it.
As a psychologist, what is the one thing you want everyone to know about therapy?
Everyone needs it.
Ibifubara is also the supervisor and facilitator of OBODO, a mental health support group founded by Amanda Iheme. OBODO holds 5 different support group meetings every month for people dealing with depression, anxiety, body image, grief, and for teenagers.
Nigeria has a mental health problem, and worse, Nigerians have poor knowledge and perception of mental health. The work that Ibifubara Davies and other mental health professionals in Nigeria are doing, remains an invaluable contribution to mental health in Nigeria, and to say that we need more people like her would be the understatement of the century!