Webinar recap: CRS’s “Singing to the Lions”

The 4Children team presented on “Singing to the Lions” this morning in an OVCSupport.org webinar. In their words: “Singing to the Lions: A facilitator’s guide to overcoming fear and violence in our lives is a training manual based on proven psycho-therapeutic interventions that help children and youth overcome fear and violence in their lives. Dr. Jonathan Brakarsh will discuss the background and philosophy behind Singing to the Lions. Dr. Lucy Steinitz will give an overview of the curriculum’s content and lead participants through a sample activity.”

The guide can be found here.


CRS developed Singing to the Lions in hopes of creating a program that could be implemented on a large scale in low-resource environments to improve the lives of people affected by violence and trauma. It’s an integration of the author’s work as a counseling psychologist in Zimbabwe, pulled together from evidence-based programs and his own experiences. (Although the guide does not cite origins/sources for its activities.)

The guide is supposed to be “universal” and transcend cultural contexts, and provides ideas for local adaptation. For example, the lions in Singing to the Lions represents fear, but the lions can be replaced with snakes or other local symbols of fear by the facilitators.



The objectives of Singing to the Lions are to…

  • teach children self-calming techniques
  • change children’s negative views of themselves
  • decrease social isolation
  • identify ways to overcome violence and fear by breaking large problems into small steps
  • give children hope and goals for the future.

Singing to the Lion does this in a three-day workshop (or, alternately, as six 3-hour modules) for around 20 youth (ages 11 and up). Breaking the modules into shorter sessions is highly discouraged.

The supplement to the guide contains basic instructions on how to train facilitators. There are no requirements for the qualifications of the facilitators. Facilitators can be trained in three days.

Singing to the Lions guides participants through a number of activities to teach coping mechanisms and principles. For example:

  • Children draw a tree. On one side of the tree they write the bad things that have happened to them; on the other, they write the good. All the children hang up their pictures next to each other: now the trees have become a forest, which is much harder to destroy than a tree.
  • Children are taught to “change the channel” when they are overwhelmed with negative thoughts – they should practice “switching” to positive thoughts.
  • Children gather sticks or stones outdoors that represent their problems. Together, the children throw the stones away.

Other activities teach children how to not blame themselves for what is not their fault,  to reach out to other people for support, and to utilize breathing techniques to calm themselves when overwhelmed with anxiety.

The tool also should enable facilitators to identify children who need further one-on-one counseling.


So far, Singing to the Lions has only been piloted with one group, as one workshop in a larger project.

It comes with a built-in M&E tool of 20 simple true/false questions (e.g.: “When I get scared, I focus only on all of the horrible things that can happen”). In Sierra Leone, CRS saw 46% “correct” questions at baseline rise to 77% at endline, and 95% three months later.

The supplement also points to more rigorously validated measures of psychological well-being that could be used in an evaluation. However, so far, no evaluation of this kind has been done. In fact, Singing to the Lions has only been implemented once as a pilot, although a larger training-of-trainers is in the works and they are also trying to make a more rigorous evaluation happen.

CRS has made the tool publicly available in hopes that any group who wants to can implement it.


I think these sorts of approaches are great introductions to emotional self-awareness. Singing to the Lions is certainly not a cure-all–some people do years of individual, intensive therapy and still struggle to overcome trauma or recognize their self-worth–but in contexts where children have never been told before that their feelings are valid, or that their experiences are not their fault, this workshop can be a great first step. Another great component is that one of the sections equip children to voice their concerns about violence to their community leaders, attempting to break the cycle of violence in the community.

However I also think there are at least a few other similar programs out there that have been already evaluated with positive results. Specifically, Singing with the Lions is fairly similar to Teaching Recovery Techniques (which already has a lot of evidence behind it). It will be interesting to see more results come out about Singing with the Lions in the future.

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