The history of Shape of Emotion

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 to build emotional fitness.

The history of Shape of Emotion

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 African (and South African) to tackle and solve the specific trauma problems experienced both locally and on the continent at large.

Developing Shape of Emotion

Combining their experience, knowledge and resources, Chantal and Matthew spent the greater part of 2017 researching, developing, testing and refining what is now known as Shape of Emotion.

Together they experimented, questioned, trialled, researched, debated and tested how the above goals could be met. They worked with many groups of people including teachers, university students, children, adults, individuals in high-stress jobs and some of the fire trauma victims from Knysna.

For more images from the fires in 2017, please visit the Knysna Rises gallery from Behind The Lens Photography.

Shape of Emotion is born

In January 2018 Chantal and Matthew invited a group of their peers to attend the inaugural emotional fitness workshop, what we referred to as Shape of Emotion level one, back then.

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.

The invitation

Chantal and Matthew were acutely aware, based on their experiences of working in the under-resourced school environments, of the need for a different approach or solution in order to transcend the challenges of our age.

Here's how they framed the invitation and offering to attend the inaugural workshop.

At 5th Place we believe that engaging with one another from a place of love-based emotion,  where we are connected to our inner feeling states, allows us to connect fully with other human beings. The more we feel connected to ourselves, the more we will connect with life, nature and the planet. This is what the world is asking for right now.

5th Place has developed Shape of Emotion (SoE) which facilitates this deeper connection to  ourselves. SoE is a model, process and tool of how we structure, store, represent and regulate our inner feeling states. Its application is varied and complementary to other therapeutic or people-based work.

In February 2018 Matthew and Chantal facilitated the pilot workshop and at the end of the workshop, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. What they had co-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.

  1. Work with children and adults
  2. Work in groups
  3. Be a locally developed solution

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.

First emotional fitness workshop with Shape of Emotion in February 2018

The first ever Shape of Emotion workshop was held with these amazing souls.

Emotional fitness solutions using Shape of Emotion

Today, Shape of Emotion solutions  exist for children and young adults, organisations wanting support for their staff, and adult individuals seeking to build emotional fitness for themselves and others.

Talks and interactive presentations

  • Taster talk
  • Emotional fitness talk
  • Emotions matter. Really!
  • Stigma, silence and consequence
  • Let’s talk about stress
  • Beating the burnout battle

Emotional Fitness Classes

  • Emotional Fitness Class
  • Emotional Fitness Class+


  • Build Emotional Fitness well
  • Build Emotional Fitness care
  • Build Emotional Fitness to deal with stress
  • Build Emotional Fitness to avoid burnout

One on one offerings

  • Emotional Fitness 3-2-1
  • Coaching for anxiety and stress reduction
  • Coaching for peak performance, mental agility and emotional fitness


  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.

You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realising who you are at your deepest level

—Eckhart Tolle