The history of Shape of Emotion

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The development of Shape of Emotion started with a problem that needed solving. It began in the under resourced school space and has grown into serving a much wider audience.

Where it all began

During late 2016 and early 2017 Matthew and Chantal, the co-founders of 5th Place, experienced the pervasive trauma present in the school system, particularly in under resourced schools in impoverished neighbourhoods in South Africa. Poverty, unemployment, violence, abuse, and neglect are daily realities for many of these school going children.

Children suffer from anxiety and stress caused by factors out of their control and come to school in a perpetual state of fight / flight / freeze. The fight / flight / freeze response disconnects the brain from the ability to think and the capacity to learn is greatly diminished.

Schools in under-resourced areas suffer the additional burden of not having access to enough social workers and counsellors to assist with the emotional and mental health challenges faced in these environments. The teaching bodies are incapable and unresourced to deal with the trauma that permeates the community that the school is at the centre of.

Pooling resources, experience and knowledge

At the time both Matthew and Chantal were working primarily one-on-one with adults as an EFT therapist and executive coach, respectively. Numerous scientific research studies show the efficacy of EFT across a wide variety of mental health issues and trauma. Matthew’s work with EFT offered a potential way to address the issue of trauma in these under resourced communities, but for one thing:

The size of the problem.


Just how big is the problem, exactly?

South Africa is a traumatised nation with a mental health system in disarray. Historical inequalities, high unemployment rates and poverty on the one side and a shrinking economy, a collapsing infrastructure, corruption and crime on the other are a breeding ground for a ballooning mental health care crisis. Stress, burnout and ill health costs the South African economy R40 billion annually.1 IOL. “Work Stress Costs SA R40 Billion.” IOL Business Report, January 6, 2017.

With over 17 million diagnosed anxiety disorders2IOL. “Mental Health a Serious Issue in South Africa.” IOL, July 25, 2017. out of a population of 58 million and a generous statistic of 23 psychologists for every 100,000 people3Office, PsySSA. “Shortage of Psychologists Hits SA | PsySSA.” Accessed December 11, 2017., the scale of the problem is such that traditional one-on-one therapy, even if there was budget, can never attend to the overwhelming need.

Defining the solution

In response to this mental and emotional health crisis and the experiences in the under-resourced school environment, Matthew and Chantal set about researching ways to take their adult work and transform it. There were three goals:

The work needed to assist children and not just adults. Children process emotions differently to adults.

The solution had to work with groups, not just one-on-one, given that children show up in groups, usually classes.

It had to be proudly South African and African, to tackle and solve the specific trauma problems experienced both locally and on the continent at large.

Developing the solution

Combining their experience, knowledge and resources, Chantal and Matthew spent a year researching, developing, testing and refining what is now known as Shape of Emotion. Together they experimented, questioned, trialled, researched, debated and tested how the goals above could be met. They worked with many groups of people including teachers, university students, children, adults, individuals in high-stress jobs and fire trauma victims in Knysna.


Shape of Emotion is born

In February 2018 a pilot workshop was presented by Matthew and Chantal to a group of their peers. This group consisted of a psychologist, a reflexologist, an addiction coach, two business women, a yoga instructor, a health coach specialising in allergies, a Body Stress Release practitioner and a social activist and facilitator.

At the end of the workshop, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. What Matthew and Chantal had developed in Shape of Emotion worked, it was accessible, flexible and could be used in a variety of ways. It also met all three of the goals as outlined above.

Over the year that followed, Shape of Emotion was introduced to a range of audiences and contexts to further test and establish its versatility and scope.

Shape of Emotion solutions

Today, Shape of Emotion solutions exist for children and young adults, organisations wanting support for their staff, and individuals seeking well being for themselves and others:

  • Taster talks
  • Educational talks on the importance of attending to one’s emotional health
  • Workshops - teaching the basics of Shape of Emotion
  • Curriculum from self care to train the trainer
  • Emotional Fitness Classes - online or on site
  • Emotional Fitness Classes+, a mini workshop and extended version of the Emotional Fitness Class
  • One on one sessions for “big” issues
  • Coaching for emotional resilience and stress management


  1. IOL. “Work Stress Costs SA R40 Billion.” IOL Business Report, January 6, 2017.
  2. IOL. “Mental Health a Serious Issue in South Africa.” IOL, July 25, 2017.
  3. Office, PsySSA. “Shortage of Psychologists Hits SA | PsySSA.” Accessed December 11, 2017.

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