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Sankofa Theory & Practice

Introducing a new, culturally-grounded and evidence-informed approach to therapy, counseling, wellness, and community-based services developed by Dr. Shelly Harrell and inspired by the African indigenous wisdom of Sankofa.



The webinar series is an introductory overview of Sankofa Theory & Practice. It will emphasize resources for "helpers and healers" (therapists, counselors, community-based service providers, wellness professionals, program developers, group facilitators, etc.). However, anyone with an interest is welcome. 

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Sankofa Theory & Practice is a comprehensive and integrative approach to psychoecocultural interventions inspired by the Akan adinkra symbols of Sankofa. Dr. Shelly Harrell describes it as an integration of her over 3 decades of practice and scholarship as a psychologist. She has been incorporating elements of the theory in her work with clients and applied research for many years. However, the current synthesis came through her as a transmission in the form of a spiritual, cultural, and conceptual "download" after her sabbatical travels to Ghana, Senegal, Cuba, & Costa Rica in 2022. Thus, Sankofa Theory & Practice is both "new", and not new at all.

The main premise of the theory comes from the African proverb associated with Sankofa: "it is not wrong to go back and retrieve what you have lost or forgotten". The wisdom message of Sankofa highlights the value of reclamation, retrieval, and revitalization. The inevitability of disconnection (e.g., lostness, fragmentation, disharmony, confusion) in our lives emerges from multiple sources including historical and collective traumas, experiences in our personal-familial-social lives, as well as the ongoing daily assaults and challenges to wholeness, harmony, and humanity. Sankofa compassionately calls us into healing through the power of RECONNECTION (to our own bodies/minds/hearts, to others, community, culture, the natural world, Spirit).

Sankofa Theory & Practice is comprised of an "ecosystem" of conceptual resources to guide programs and practices including The 7 D's of Disconnection, The 7 Domains of Interconnectedness, the 7 Modes of Connectivity, the 7 Reconnection Processes, and the 7 Healing and Liberatory Pathways. The ecosystem resources reflect, not only the deep wisdom of Sankofa, but the broader collectivist-communal- interconnected worldview characteristic of Africa and the diaspora.

Our mental health and counseling professions need alternatives to the Eurocentric theories and therapies that dominate and determine the services we offer. Sankofa Theory & Practice STARTS with African wisdom and cultural resources to inform its conceptual grounding and methods of intervention. Other informants include indigenous, liberation, and community psychologies, contemplative pedagogy, mind-body and embodiment practices, stress/trauma studies, resilience research, interpersonal neurobiology, and humanistic-existential-experiential therapies.

The wisdom of Africa and the diaspora is a healing gift to humanity and the world. Thus, while Sankofa Theory & Practice centers applications to Black persons and communities, it is highly relevant to those who experience marginalization, stigmatization, dehumanization, or are impacted by oppression in any of its forms and intersectionalities. More broadly, Sankofa Theory & Practice is an offering to all who resonate with its principles and practices.




An Africultural (African-centered) orientation grounds its point of reference in the underlying cultural ways of being/knowing/living that are rooted in indigenous African contexts, and expressed in multiple forms via the cultural wisdom, knowledge systems, spiritual beliefs, and rhythms of life throughout continental Africa and the African diaspora. An Africultural orientation reflects a collectivist-communal-interconnected worldview that shows up in conscious and unconscious, socialized and ancestral, ways and patterns of being, bonding, belonging, believing, behaving, and becoming. 

Dynamics of disconnection

Disconnection is a core process underlying distress, dysfunction, and disorder. Understanding its harms and wounds is necessary for the work of healing, transformative change, and the promotion of optimal functioning. Assessing the different ways that disconnection is experienced and expressed, and exploring the role of disconnection in the root causes of individual, community, and societal problems/challenges is critical. The dynamics of disconnection are particularly important in understanding the nature of oppression-related stress and trauma. Transforming harmful disconnection through reconnection and interconnection is the work of Sankofa.

Healing power
OF reconnectioN

Reconnection is the essential energy of Sankofa. Reconnection is the ground of liberation. We root to rise. We need to process where/what/who we have come from in order to be active agents in where we are going, what we are becoming, how we are evolving. What we need for health, healing, and transformative growth is available within us, above us, below us, around us, and has come before us. Sankofa invites us into reconnection and interconnection so that we increase our capacity to access and utilize these personal, relational, ecological, cultural, and spiritual resources. 

Our Learning Community

The Sankofa Study Circle & Practice Community aims to co-create an intentional and communal space of learning and development for healers and helping professionals (and students!) who resonate strongly with Sankofa Theory & Practice. The vision is to provide opportunities for studying, experiencing, healing, and growing together from the ground of Sankofa Theory & Practice.

Poster at the National Multicultural Conference & Summit in Santa Fe, NM

Dr. Shelly Harrell and members of her Culture, Wisdom, & Resilience research lab recently shared a poster on Sankofa Theory & Practice at a major conference in the field of psychology. Check it out below and note the QR Code for additional resources.

Poster Citation: Harrell, S.P, Henderson, I.S., Meng, C., Reyburn, L., Smith, B., & Williams, R.. (January, 2024). Sankofa Theory and Practice: Centering the Alchemy of Reconnection in our Healing Interventions. Poster Presented at the National Multicultural Conference and Summit. Santa Fe, NM.


Citational Justice Note: Black women are not sufficiently cited. If you would like to talk about or share content from this poster, please cite accordingly. 

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