Lisa Ndejuru uses storytelling to help put mental pieces back together


Lisa Ndejuru

As a psychotherapist in Montreal, Ndejuru has heard a lot of them. But the first story she had to unravel was her own: as the daughter of Rwandan refugees, she struggled to put a narrative to her own family history.

“What’s in the silences? There’s so many silences,” she laments. “People don’t talk about these things.”

Ndejuru had so many questions: about her roots, her family’s story, and what that meant for her own identity, as she carried the weight of her parents’ expectations.

For people from communities that survived colonization, she said, there’s also a lot of questions about their history. Were their ancestors weak? Did they fail, because they “lost” and were colonized?

Those are the kinds of stories that Ndejuru digs into.

“It’s about healing from those stories that we inherit. It’s about making sense of the silences … and making meaning for ourselves,” she said. “Crafting the kinds of lives that we want to live.”

Ndejuru knows something about inheriting stories. In addition to her work in mental health, she has been researching spoken

Black Healing Centre

history, including the Rwandan tradition of oral storytelling.

“The idea is that they should remind people who they are and where they come from,” she explains.

People still craft their identities with stories, she said. As Ndejuru sees it, many mental health struggles come not just from traumatic events, but how we characterize them after the fact — “the stories we tell ourselves,” she says.

Samanta Nyinawumuntu, the founder of Montreal’s Black Healing Centre, has seen first-hand the impact of Ndejuru’s work. The pair worked together to found collective care circles, where Black women gathered for communal sessions led by Ndejuru.

That approach to healing is common in Black communities, said Nyinawumuntu, “but it hasn’t necessarily made its way into institutions to become ‘legitimate.'”

Those institutions themselves can themselves be a barrier to Black folks seeking care, Nyinawumuntu said.

Ndejuru said she encourages people to start this kind of healing work on their own.

“Even if you go and see a specialist or an expert, they’re not going to do it for you,” she said. “No, you are working on your own story.”

Without your own impetus, it won’t happen, said Ndejuru.

“I think that people … need to take back that piece.”