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The Role of Mental Health in Peacebuilding

by David Kirshbaum (11 March 2022)

Peacebuilders do incredibly important work helping stop and prevent violence, building institutions that promote justice and equality, and care for victims of warfare and gun violence. Consequently, they work with people traumatized by their horrific experiences in war zones, and often themselves experience trauma in the course of the above work. Such trauma can devastate the ability to function normally and can last a lifetime.

Thus it behooves Peacebuilders to become knowledgeable about stress management and the treatment of trauma. For example, they must develop the ability to stay calm and clear-headed in the face of catastrophe, and then help victims achieve the same.

While Peacebuilders generally are not licensed trained therapists and social workers, they can be familiar with professional methods, and then have connections and be able to refer war victims to such professionals when and where possible.

Some of the methods and exercises that are useful for stress management and the treatment of trauma are:

  • Medication to help calm and clear the mind.

  • Breathing and stretching techniques to calm the mind and body.

  • Cognitive (mental) exercises to increase objectivity and help with clear thinking.

  • Introspection techniques so that a patient can become clear about the emotions they are feeling and what is stimulating them, and then what will calm them down in a timely manner.

  • Training in communications and conflict management techniques to increase the ability to connect to others, de-escalate conflicts and improve the ability to analyze and solve problems.

  • Group and family counseling to help the patient build a support system and improve functioning in groups of people.

  • Psycho-education so the patient has a better understanding of what they are going through and how to treat it, which improves motivation and optimism about getting better.

Nonviolent Communications and Nonviolent Conflict Resolution are also an important part of Peacemaking and Peacekeeping for stopping and preventing violence because they help adversaries listen better to each others’ concerns, increase cooperation to develop mutual interests and develop plans that will benefit all parties.

Then when you train citizens and officials in those techniques then you help them maintain peace independently so that the peace will last, which is the concern of Peacebuilding.

Both the founder of peace studies and theory, Dr. Johan Galtung, of the University of Oslo, and the United Nations itself emphasize the creation of a culture of peace to help create a peace that will last. Dr. Galtung called it “Cultural Positive Peace”. Such a culture glorifies and promotes cooperation and communication and sharing and justice and nonviolence and equality and inclusiveness. Participating in such a culture is very beneficial to mental health. At the center of maintaining such a culture is training citizens and officials in Nonviolent Communications and Nonviolent Conflict Fesolution so they will more effectively work together solving problems and building a healthy society and economy and a peace that will last.


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