Meet Mzansi’s first Psychological Autopsy Investigator, Elelwani Muthivhi

Tenacity Magazine caught up with Elelwani Muthivhi who is the first South African to qualify as Psychological Autopsy Investigator. Muthivhi is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Limpopo. She spoke to Tenacity Magazine’s Mauwane Raophala about her achievements, successes and future prospects.

Please kindly tell us who is Elelwani Muthivhi? 

My name is Elelwani Muthivhi, born in Lufule village and bred in Makwarela, Venda. Growing up in rural community full of challenges such as teenage pregnancy, school drop-outs, poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, criminal activities and violence against women made me want to break the cycle. I was always aware of these social ills from a young age and I chose to  persevere.

I became an active community advocate for women empowerment and spent time encouraging women in my community to define their purpose. I always believed nothing is impossible for women, even if we are from rural communities.

Tell us about your educational journey.

I completed my Matric at Mphaphuli Secondary School in Makwarela, Venda. Elelwani Muthivhi holds Bachelor of Psychology and Master of Arts (Psychology) degree from the University of Venda. I am currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Limpopo. My PhD study is on “Psychological Autopsy of male perpetrator and female victim of intimate partner murder-suicide in rural community in Limpopo province. I am registered Counsellor and researcher at the Limpopo Department of Community Safety and American Association of Suicidology as Psychological Autopsy Investigator.

Why did you choose to be a Psychological Autopsy Investigator?

My passion is to help surviving family members find closure of death of their loved ones by suicide, murder-suicide or motor vehicle accident, murder (homicide) and undetermined death. It is from this basis that I developed interest in understanding the intention and motives by  people who kill themselves and those who kill others and subsequently end their lives.

How does it feel to be the first person to be certified as a Psychological Autopsy Investigator in South Africa?

I felt very happy and humbled to be the first South African to be certified as a Psychological Autopsy Investigator. Since I have been certified as Psychological Autopsy Investigator by American Association of Suicidiology, South Africa, is regarded as a country that has answers to suspicious death by suicide, murder-suicide, Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA), drowning, murder or homicide and undetermined death. There was no answers for these suspicious death for decades. Psychologist, social worker, police officer, magistrate, doctors, forensic pathologist, forensic investigators were less likely to answer those questions.

How does one become a Psychological Autopsy Investigator?

A person who desire to be a psychological autopsy investigator must be in a possession of Bachelor degree in Psychology and Master’s degree in Psychology. One need to have behavioural science knowledge and experience in psychological and social research. Furthermore, the candidate is expected to conduct psychological autopsy case study on suspicious death by suicide, murder-suicide, Motor Vehicles accident, undetermined death, drowning, murder or suicide that demonstrate his or her competencies in the interpretation of finding from protocol based interview and archived records.

What are the challenges you encountered?

Lack of access to funding is my main challenge. Psychological autopsy training fees, USA visa and conducting psychological autopsy is expensive.

How did you overcome the challenges thus far?

I was lucky enough to be awarded scholarship bursary by National Institution for Humanities and Social Science. It took pure grit and determination to be where I am, because I believed in myself despite the challenges I have been through.

In 2017, You were the only African amongst a group of 14 delegates from USA selected to receive training in Chicago School of Professional Psychology, how did that come about?

I was selected based on the eligibility requirements set by American Association of Suicidiology. These includes, a minimum Master’s degree in behavioural science, research skills, behavioural science background and current doing activities consistent with the opportunity to conduct psychological autopsies or currently work in health care environment, law enforcement agencies or suicide care agencies. My qualification, behavioural science background, research experience and PhD study entitled “Psychological autopsy of male perpetrator and female victim of intimate partner murder-suicide in rural community in Limpopo province” paved my way to USA to attend psychological autopsy training.

You will be attending the 53rd American Association of Suicidology annual conference in April 2020 in USA, tell us more on that aspect (what is the conference all about)?

The proposed goal of conference (with a room to change) is to identify different suicide prevention treatments, including psychological and pharmacological interventions and understand the parallels between suicide in humans and eusocial self-sacrificial behaviour. Learn how evidence-based suicide-specific can impact clinical treatment and suicide prevention. To discuss how to use comprehensive public health and community level interventions in suicide prevention. The conferences will also provide a forum for those who share an interest in suicidology, including Psychological Autopsy Investigator, researchers, psychologist, social worker, clinicians and surviving family members of suspicious death.

Who Inspires you?

My mother inspired the woman I am today. She always tells me that “despite all the difficulty, obstacles, mountain, storms of Life, never stop until you arrive at your destined place. Prayer, trust in God, have faith in God, reading the word of God, acting upon the word of God, worship and praise God is the key to your success.”

Photo Courtesy of University of Limpopo


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