THEME: “Psychological Well-being: The Bedrock of Nation Building”

Public Lecture delivered by Dr Erica Danfrekua Dickson on 20th August 2021@ Kofi Drah Hall, University of Ghana

The Chairperson,

Invited guests

GPA President, and team

The Psychology Week committee


Colleagues, the Media, Ladies, and gentlemen

I feel honoured to be selected on this occasion to be the mouthpiece of my colleagues, to speak on the theme “Psychological Well-being: The Bedrock of Nation Building”.  Ghana is all that we have, and it is in our best interest to contribute our expertise as a profession that has lots to offer. A secure and well-developed Ghana would be the gain for all and would improve our sense of psychological wellbeing too.

Before I delve into psychology’s potential contributions to nation-building, I would like to explain what psychologists do and define psychological wellbeing for the benefit of the general public. Your average Ghanaian’s understanding of psychology is “of a person who is trained to read minds”.  Further, most people know of Clinical and possibly Counselling Psychologists and nothing more. Psychologists concern themselves with the science of understanding mental processes, human feelings, thoughts, actions/behaviours, interpersonal relationships, and their relation to the milieu within which they operate. They observe, collect data, evaluate, and interpret within the domains mentioned.  Per their training, they assess and evaluate using scientific methods and translate research findings into policies and practice in various subfields. Besides clinical and counselling subfields, there are numerous other subfields of psychology including developmental, child psychology, educational/school, industrial/organizational, social, community, health, neuro, sports, forensic, rehabilitation, agricultural psychologists, to name a few.  By these branches alone, one can tell that there no sector that cannot use the services of a psychologist.

Psychological wellbeing is about lives going well. It is a combination of positive feelings and functioning effectively.  Individuals and communities who have good psychological wellbeing, therefore, are happier, more capable, confident, well supported, satisfied with life and such positive outcomes including positive health (Hupperts, 2009). That is what we all wish for and what would drive this country forward. Well-being creates wealth.

Who understands the provision of psychological wellbeing better than psychologists?  Psychologists are skilled at identifying problems, assessing, formulating, or conceptualizing operational pragmatic interventions, monitoring, and evaluating these interventions. 

I hope this public lecture reaches decision-makers (both political and otherwise), administrators of the nation and stakeholders of ministries departments and agencies of various sectors. The scope of areas to which psychologists can contribute is vast and endless. I have, therefore, decided to limit my submissions to a few of these.  The human resource capital of a nation is its most valued resource. I would, therefore, begin with from that angle.

Child Development

Any serious nation needs to invest in its children. Child psychologists concern themselves with the development of the mind and behaviour from prenatal to adolescence. Their focus is not merely on how they physically grow but on their mental, emotional, and social development. They take cognisance of the cultural and socioeconomic context in which these children develop. In this age where the social pressures of social media bear down hard on our young, child psychologists are essential to understand the influences that combine and interact to make our children who they are or have become.

The recent shock of children who killed another child in pursuit of quick wealth is a clear example of how degenerate our society has become.  Can we the nation progress if we have many more of such dangerous children in our society?  What needs to be done?  Child psychologist who would be supported to research the risks, and drivers of such behaviours would contribute the information gained to improve parenting, education, child-care, and other areas beneficial to children. They can prescribe culturally relevant interventions that can help us further our long held positive cultural values to impart to our children while remaining contemporary. The Ministry with oversight on children should be interested in such research that would enhance social protection of children.

Education/School psychology

Psychology and education are closely related. Education is the modification of behaviour in a desirable direction or a controlled environment while psychology is the study/science of behaviour. To modify behaviour, it is essential to study the behaviour.  The question is, how many of our teachers are grounded in psychological principles of behaviour change or modification?

Teachers who are practitioners of applied psychology must be taught psychology in-depth by the experts as it relates to behaviours, attitudes, and cultural values so they can imbibe them in the next generation. Our culture and its values can be preserved by indigenizing our practice of applied psychology through teaching. We would not have to fight so hard Western influences should we use this approach in educating our teachers and by default our children.

Educational psychologists support schools and families with children who are experiencing barriers to learning such as learning disabilities, bullying, self-confidence etc. Ghana has a no child left behind /inclusive policy but are we practising this?  How long does it take to identify children with learning challenges who need educational support or special education in Ghana? Dickson et al. (2020) found that the average age at identifying neurodevelopmental disorder in Ghana is 8.97 ± 3.94 (5 -12.91) years compared to 2-4 years in other jurisdictions. Early identification and applied psychological interventions have been shown to positively change the trajectory for such children.  Given the necessary support, such children become useful citizenry and their handicaps are reduced. Our schools do not have educational psychologists who can assess to identify the barriers of learning for children and work with parents, teachers, and therapists to intervene and break down these barriers.

Guidance and Counselling psychologists in schools are almost non-existent. Many children are forced into a strait jacket of reading either science, general arts, or visual arts right from junior high school. At this stage in their development, they have no clue of their strengths and weakness and what vocations they would do best in.  Although the education ministry takes cognisance of guidance and counselling, professionals of this practice are not employed for their expertise.  The service has trained teachers in basic or rudimentary skills who are supposed to provide these services. This is a mere representation of what the actual must be.  According to Aseidu-Yirenkyi and his colleague (2019), 60% of “counsellors” in some Ghanian schools are untrained and in 53.3% of the sampled schools, there was no space where these untrained counsellors can engage with the children.  The father of Guidance and Counselling in Ghana, Prof. Pecku (1991), has spoken against the practice of using paraprofessionals as guidance counsellors because this is a specialized area.  Professional Counselling/School psychologists are uniquely trained to support students and teachers’ psychological wellbeing to enable learning. They are well versed in identifying children with emotional problems, assessing them, and providing interventions. They can develop individualized education plans and collaborate with parents and teachers on behaviour modification interventions. Their presence curbs some psychosocial problems before it causes damage to the children and the society. This generation is bombarded by so many determinants of mental disorders e.g. bullying, parents separations, toxic home environments to name a few, that this aspect of school life is properly addressed. The use of para-counselling teachers who double as teachers is a shot in the foot. Pretending to be providing a service would not produce the needed results if we do indeed find it necessary.

Health Sector

The well-being of individuals and communities is the capital that any country needs to function.  There is a wealth of contributions that psychologists can contribute to the health sector of Ghana.

Clinical, Health and Counselling psychologists can improve the health and wellbeing of Ghanaians. Like most countries, Ghana’s top ten diseases leading to death have either lifestyle or behavioural connotations. These are Malaria, Lower Respiratory Tract Infections, Neonatal Disorders, Ischaemic Heart Disease, Stroke, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Diarrhoeal diseases, Diabetes, and Road Traffic Accidents (GBD Compare 2018, Ghana).  This makes the profession crucial in addressing these issues. Disease prevention, promotion of wellbeing, and interventions for health problems are within the scope of psychologists. Our professionals use evidence-based interventions for mental health disorders and other medical conditions. Overweight and obesity which is a risk factor for many diseases including cancers is as high as 19.3% among Ghanaian children (Akowiah & Kobia-Acquah, 2020) and among adults 42.5% (Ofori-Asenso et al., 2016).  Psychologists in other jurisdictions have successfully rolled out Weight Management Programs to save this ubiquitous risk factor. Studies show that diet and exercise alone achieve less impact on weigh management compared to these behaviours undertaken in combination with Cognitive and Behaviour interventions.  Medication adherence counselling and motivation strategies to ensure good health are the expertise of counselling, health, and clinical psychologists.  Rehabilitation following injuries, admission to intensive care units and strokes are some of the areas in which psychologists can play a role in improving patient quality of life.

Prevention of diseases and disorders either at individual or group/community levels and ensuring treatment compliance would reduce the healthcare cost at the national level and save the country funds that can be channelled into the development of amenities.  It would reduce the workload on the limited health practitioners, cause reduced waiting time in hospitals and increased contact time between health practitioners and their clients. Psychologists have played an integral role in public health initiatives, contributing research information to service provision and health policymaking.  Lifestyle modification in most non-communicable diseases is about behaviour change.

Psychology was recognized in Ghana as a health profession less than a decade ago (2013) and it has not been fully assimilated yet. Presently, some of the psychiatric facilities have no psychologists. Few regional and district hospitals have psychologists, usually clinical or health psychologists. Yet, the application of behavioural principles to a broad range of medical problems and collaboration between psychology and medicine have been established to contribute to improving health outcomes, reducing mortality and improving well-being generally. 

Psychologists can contribute to policies and laws that would ensure the well-being of Ghanaians.   Osafo et al. (2017; 2015) have established that a significant number of suicidal behaviours are attributed to psychosocial risks resulting in psychological distress while a few are due to mental disorders in Ghana.  Recent data released by Ghana Health Service indicates that a total of 417 attempted suicides have been recorded in the first half of this year alone.  As a nation, we have held on tightly to the colonial law that criminalizes suicide.  To build a nation, we cannot afford to punish persons in distress instead of healing them to contribute to their communities. 

As psychologists, we have not been passive in this aspect. We have lobbied lawmakers, advocated, educated, sensitized stakeholders, but are yet to see the necessary change.  We have been proactive in providing service as we did earlier this year with the Ghana Police Service when they had a series of suicides in the spate of a few weeks. We were able to avert some suicidal time bombs in the service.

During the initial stages of COVID-19 outbreak, psychologists were not invited to the table. Again, we were proactive and invited ourselves to the table and delivered our expertise. We initiated interventions such as free tele-counselling services for Ghanaians, training of human resource, security services, the NCCE, health staff on how to provide psychological first aid and make referrals to experts to ensure the psychological wellbeing of the populace. We made significant contributions to COVID-19 media campaigns.  In short, we delivered when it was most necessary.


Industrial-organizational psychologist study individual, group, and organizational dynamics in workplaces. They are, therefore, able to determine how well the dynamics of work correlate to productivity, efficiency and other such variables that benefit workplace.

The importance of industrial psychology is largely rooted in these practitioners’ ability to quickly assess an organization, identify barriers to productivity, efficiency, the safety and wellbeing of employees and develop a plan to remedy related problems. They develop evidence-based procedures for hiring for good fit, training, and retaining employees to optimize workplace efficiency and worker satisfaction. They ensure the psychological well-being of organizations as a whole.

Many I/O psychologists have been subsumed into human resource work because their role has not been recognized by formal organizations and are therefore do not have the opportunity to practice their profession (Oppong, 2013). 

That said, Ghana’s work force is largely informal. How can we understand better the dynamics in this the informal sector to support their psychological well-being and productivity?  Some psychologist understanding this dynamic have conducted some indigenous industry researched. For example, Asamani (2017) studied rice farmers in southern Ghana. He found that religiosity, safety behaviour, safety culture and hazards exposure influence safety performance (injuries, accidents, work-related health issues) of Ghanaian rice farmers. That, farmers are exposed to a plethora of health and safety hazards, resulting in health challenges, physical injuries and sometimes disabilities. Asamani recommends that the Labour Act, 2003 of Ghana, (Act 651) be applied to all workers and employers, in both formal and informal sector to ensure health and safety. He suggests that conventional irrigation farms scheme managers and agriculture extension officers be equipped with knowledge and competence to offer health and safety training to these farmers.  Similarly, Acquah-Coleman (2018) found that there are psychological factors that influence the adoption of agricultural innovations. He recommends that extension officers should encourage farming entrepreneurship, innovation adoption and improved production by appealing to farmer motivational profiles.  These two colleagues have tried to indigenize I/O to explore the needs of the informal industry in our country.

Where adequate funding exists for further research the agriculture, trade and works ministries could engage I/O colleagues to diagnose the problems in these sectors.  They can then proffer relevant interventions that would move the country forward. 

I/O psychologists are relevant to solving the problems of the high prevalence of industrial actions/strikes in Ghana, and the longstanding perception that Ghanaian workers have the wrong work attitude and poor customer service are but a few of the areas that can be explored and tailored interventions provided.  

Transport/Road Safety

Ghana’s roads are unsafe. The top ten causes of death in Ghana include road traffic accidents. Indeed, this year the Police Motor Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) reports, that 1,250 persons have died and 1, 309 have sustained injuries between January and May 2021. This is more than the COVID-19 deaths since the outbreak in March 2020.  Various factors have been ascribed for the carnage on the road. Oppong (2021), an I/O psychologist, researched into one such reason for such accidents. He explored commercial vehicle drivers’ understanding of road hazard communication designs (road signs) as they exist and found that only 50% of the sampled drivers comprehended the designs which meet 67% of International Organization for Standards acceptance criteria. He went on to design culturally adapted symbols for 10 symbols that failed ISO acceptance but were significantly better understood by the drivers. Oppong looked at a Ghanaian problem and has proposed a solution which is best fit for us and may save lives on the road. It may not conform with ISO but it can save lives. The Vienna Convention on road signs and signals encourages developing culturally relevant signs so that statement may not be needed. This pragmatism is what psychology can contribute to nation building. 

National Disasters

Ghana has seen many disasters, challenging and traumatic experiences.  The NADMO has been kept on its toes managing the physical needs in most cases.  This is well and good. To borrow the words of the GPA national president in a recent GPA support program, “what is a bed to one who is traumatized and unable to sleep and what is food to the one who has lost their appetite because of psychological distress to want to eat”.  The NADMO does not recruit counselling or clinical psychologists at their various offices who can engage with victims of such critical incidents to meet their psychosocial needs. Nor is there a psychologist on the board that oversees the running of the NADMO. 

In its usual proactive approach, our professionals have stepped up when news of such incidents have been put out by the media.  We were there for the missing Takordi girls, the bank collapse, the Melcom disaster, the Atomic gas explosion, the June 3rd fire/flood disaster, the Apam drowning, to name a few.

These critical incidents can leave a scar on victims for life and their productivity suffers. Psychological First Aid (PFA) ideally must be established immediately following crisis.  The lack of a proper system to handle the psychosocial needs means that GPA must mobilize within days to extend itself.  This is not expedient. As professionals, we have undertaken to write a handbook for the psychosocial management of disasters in Ghana which should help other countries with similar context as ours.  This would be our contribution to disater management in Ghana.

Law Enforcement and Justice System

Law enforcement can benefit from using psychological insight every step of their operations, dealing with offenders, victims, eyewitnesses, and juries. Psychologists have shown that crimes are an interacting system between victims, the offenders, and societal roles.  From the point of predicting criminal behaviours, profiling, investigating crimes through to prosecution, requires some knowledge of human behaviour. The narration of a statement by a suspect or victim is often laced with psychological dimensions and bias to favour self. A police officer without clear understanding of such may be misled.

Forensic psychologists apply psychological theories to criminal investigation to understand the psychology of criminal behaviour and the treatment of those who have fallen foul of the law throughout the justice system. They help in proper profiling of criminals based on psychological traits. They may support the work of judges, lawyers, mental health evaluations, correctional institutions to provide information upon which fair decisions can be made. Are such psychologists needed in Ghana? Definitely. In 2015, Charles Antwi was convicted for attempted murder of the sitting president. With the benefit of a psychologist, it would have been clear that he was mentally unwell during the investigation process.

The Ghana Police Service deals with domestic issues that usually need counselling psychologists and, in some cases, clinical psychologists.  Even before they refer to these professionals, service personnel must have a good understanding of human behaviour to investigate unbiased and make appropriate referrals

In Ghana, Kwaakye Nuako (2019) reports form her research child victims of sexual abuse experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress, had suicidal ideations, and sometimes attempted. They cope in both active and nonactive ways.  resulting from the abuse. They also coped in both active and non-active ways. She shows that child victims who were to lead to seek justice were worse off than those who did. Beyond the child victims, caregivers of the children and even professionals in the criminal justice system experienced vicarious trauma from listening to such cases. These findings indicate that counselling, clinical, and forensic psychologists are needed in the criminal justice system for provision of holistic interventions.

Our penitentiaries have been reported to be non-reformatory.  Indeed, some ex-convicts narrations shows that they rather sharpen their vices. Without proper psychological interventions of individuals incarcerated and the systems, we may be breeding more criminal behaviours than reforming.

Psychologists employed in the law and criminal justice system would contribute a lot into causing transformational change to bring well-being to our communities and a sense of security.


The Olympics has just ended and some nations who are relatively unknown for anything particularly significant or considered a world force were flying their flags high. Ghana had a not-so-great showing.  We cannot be listed when sports are mentioned, not even in football which has becomes a past glory.   Sports psychologists are specialists who have the skill to work with sports persons, assessing them and supporting them appropriately to keep motivated and driven, to put out their best performance abilities. They equally support coaches and the technical team that provide service to sports persons.  The ad hoc practices of engaging persons when sports events are due, instead of being an integral part of the daily function does not help.  If this posturing does not change, Ghana may have to continue talking about the good old past sporting showing.


Climate change threatens the well-being of people and communities. As a science that deals with human behaviour, Psychology has contribution to understanding and addressing this ongoing problem that most do not take seriously.  Consumer behaviour to limit emissions and the determinants of these behaviours can be studied by psychologists in our context.  It has been shown that psychological barriers (named dragons of inaction) to climate behaviour change are significant in the fight against climate change.  These “dragons of inaction” or psychological reactance include limited cognition, ideologies, comparisons with others, sunk cost, discredence, perceived risks and limited behaviour. These variables are to be researched by psychologists to add to the understanding and interventions that should mitigate emissions. Ghana can then contribute its quota to this global fight to keep us living.

If we can do so much to improve our nation, what is the way forward for us.  

  1. In agreement with Oppong (2018), we need to apply a strategy that adopts a problem-centred research posturing to address Ghanaian problems.  That we adopt concepts in local Ghanaian languages into our psychological vocabulary and understand the relevance of these concepts to our actions/behaviours. We must indigenize psychology research and practice to make it acceptable and productive to nation building. That is advise to us as a professional fraternity.
  • That psychologist would venture into decision-making spaces and use their knowledge to affect varied sectors and effect changes that would build this nation.
  • That policy and decision-makers should engage with psychologists to help in proper diagnosis and intervention development for the varied sectors instead of importing interventions that may not have fit for our context or even cultural acceptance. Invitation for psychologists to help must not be done as an afterthought but instead they must be roped in at the conceptualization phase such as happened in COVID-19 management. 
  • That psychologists should share our research findings with the relevant stakeholders whether or not they funded the research.  What is the use of these findings if they are not going to be used to better lives? Stakeholders must also keep an open posturing to engage with psychology researchers and to gain from the knowledge created.


If we had the whole day here, it still may not be enough to elaborate on what the psychologists can contributions to building our nation.  Well-being is not merely the absence of unhealthy states.  Ensuring individuals can reach their full potential as can be contributed by developmental, child, guidance and counselling psychologists to our children is a good foundation.   Ensuring that our lives are mitigated form extreme hardships of life and living and that where traumatic incidents occur, we are supported to cope, recover and build resilience through psychological growth is our contribution to our nation.  Ensuring that Ghanaians are productive is not above I/O psychologists to contribute their knowledge for policies and changes that should move this country forward. Our contribution cannot and should not be limited to therapy rooms or individual therapeutic sessions. Instead, Ghana should receive the “therapy” it needs through engagement with our problems, diagnosing proper interventions. I do not doubt that GPA is now firmly grounded and ready to contribute its knowledge and expertise to the building of Ghana.  If we can touch all these areas mentioned, Ghanaians would be in better psychological wellbeing to contribute meaningfully to the building of our beloved nation. 

Long Live GPA,

Long live Ghana

Thank you.

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