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Abstract

This paper contextualises counselling within a broader historical formation that links disclosure to healing and deploys confessional technologies to incite disclosure and awareness of the mysterious substance of the self. Foucault’s argument that sexuality was the privileged arena for using confessional technologies to ‘produce’ the truth of the self is particularly relevant in light of the diffusion of counselling practices in Africa in the wake of the HIV epidemic, particularly with their emphasis on inciting appropriate sexual behaviour. Examination of the historical assemblage of counselling practices shows how they articulate what the self is, the nature of truth and a politics of language. This paper focuses on the genealogy of four key assumptions that express this confessional reason. These are that: (1) people can be ‘empowered’ to have control on their own lives by working on themselves, (2) secrets untold become pathogens,(3) the ability to heal requires that one first overcome personal illness, (4) the experience of sharing secrets is cathartic and healing. The genealogy intertwines four strands: that of the Unconscious as revealed by Freud and his followers, attempts to treat shell-shocked veterans of World War I, group psychotherapy and participatory research after World War II.

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