Our Therapeutic Model

Dan Hughes

Dan Hughes is the founder of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy.
He came to visit our project in November 2016. This was Dan’s first trip to Africa and we were so excited that he was able to witness first hand, the impact his model has on such abused and traumatised young people.

“About 30 years ago, in the early 1980s, I struggled with the reality of not being able to make a difference in the lives of children who had been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents. My initial efforts had been to help their parents in raising their children. I often failed for many reasons and I wanted to know why.”

Dr Dan Hughes Visits Rafiki Mwema

Dan Hughes rediscovered attachment theory and became convinced that the children he was trying to help had great difficulty developing a secure attachment with their foster or adoptive parents. Attachment theory shows how important it is for children’s development that they be able to turn to their caregivers for comfort and support whenever they are in distress. The children who he was trying to treat would not do that.

So in the late 80s, he began struggling with how to use this incredibly rich theory that helped Dan to understand the horrible impact that being traumatised by your attachment figures has on all aspects of your development.

Dan developed an initial model of treatment called Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP).

How it works

DDP can help children who have been hurt and/or neglected within their families in their early years. Children can be traumatized by these experiences and find it difficult to feel safe and secure within their new families. This is sometimes called developmental trauma.

It is not unusual that the experience of being parented in the present reminds children of the way they were parented in the past. Even though they are no longer being hurt or neglected the children feel as though they are or think that they might in the future.

This means that children struggle with normal, healthy parenting. The children are afraid of ‘parents’. They develop a range of ways to manage these high levels of fear.

Parents find it hard to manage the child’s behaviour. The parents also find it hard to connect emotionally to their children.

These difficulties are best understood as:

  • Difficulties in attachment; the children find it hard to feel safe and secure with their parents.
  • Difficulties in intersubjectivity; the children find it hard to give and take in relationships.

These difficulties are most obvious in the children’s strong need to experience control in their relationships. Controlling behaviours provide a fragile sense of security when the experience of attachment and intersubjective relationships is frightening. However, these behaviours make it harder for them to experience relationships that can help them recover from trauma.

These difficulties can also extend beyond the home. The children can have difficulties in lots of their relationships. This can impact on friendships, school and leisure activities.

Rafiki Mwema and DDP

Rafiki Mwema has embraced the DDP model for their children who have experienced extreme trauma in their lives.

Through Dyadic Developmental Parenting our boys and girls begin to learn how to trust adults in their lives. This is a very different way of parenting than our carers themselves experienced growing up, and they work really hard to learn and develop the skills needed.

The skills needed to are to be Playful, Accepting, Curious and Empathic (PACE)

“When children feel scared, alone, abandoned, hurt or hungry early in their life, they have no choice but to find ways or adaptive behaviour to help them get through these times by relying on themselves” (DDP network)

Parenting using the principles of Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy helps our carers to understand the meaning of our children’s complex and sometimes scary behaviours and stay calm and emotionally regulated as they talk with our children, even at very difficult times. This, in turn, helps the child calm and helps the parent remain emotionally available to the child.

Our children also access therapy using the principals of DDP which facilitates a place to revisit their early experiences and co-create a narrative that supports our children to move to a place where they are better able to move into a place of trust.

therapeutic support Rafiki Mwema

Dyadic Developmental Practice aims

To help carers and professionals working together to:

  • Ensure the child has the best possible relationship with one or two adults who have a parenting role through day-to-day care
  • Help the child develop as much attachment security as is possible through consistent and attuned parenting, having a safe place to live in a home that is as permanent as possible
  • Enable whoever is in the most permanent, safest, consistent and attuned primary parenting role with our child, understand the child in the context of their past history and experiences
  • Help those who are involved in parenting the child to develop the most effective ways of helping and supporting the child, to manage behaviours that are concerning to the child and to others
  • Help all professionals working with the child ensure that the child and their behaviour is understood and that the child feels as safe as is possible at home, in school, and in social activities


Through Dyadic developmental parenting, our children begin to build a safe relationship through their key worker. This role is essential to our children healing and being able to survive emotionally when they leave Rafiki Mwema.

A key worker will model what a child should expect from other human beings and show how to respond productively when this expectation is not met.

Click the button below to learn more about our keyworkers.

Keyworkers at Rafiki Mwema 2

Rafiki Mwema Registered Charity