The Need for Psycho-Social Approaches

By: Sam J.Trudeau

The idea that DDR approaches to reinsertion and reintegration are increasingly focusing on  security and development issues and therefore devoting less attention to psycho-social aspects has been an issue of concern for some. While security, sustainable development, reconstruction efforts and programs to bolster employment are obviously crucial to reinsertion and reintegration efforts, the success of these initiatives is also closely tied to the relationships between participants and the communities they are returning to, as well as the social environment within those communities. From the perspective of ex-combatants participating in DDR, a psycho-social approach to reintegration can help make the transition from combat and military life easier. It can take on many forms, but at its core recognizes the particular psychological challenges such a transition can present for participants. These challenges, although related to reconstruction and economic concerns, cannot solely be addressed by development. In Afghanistan, such an example can be found in programs that compensated former combatants to participate in the de-mining initiatives.  After decades of foreign intervention and civil war notoriously made Afghanistan the world’s most mined country, the value of a program to deactivate and destroy mines seemed self-evident. However the use of former combatants in the process has had at lest three relatively important psycho-social benefits. First, by utilizing former fighter in a noncombat role while leaving them to conduct their work under the familiar command and control structure of their former groups is believed to have facilitated their transition back to civilian life. Second, the important nature of the de-mining process for Afghanistan gave former combatants a meaningful way to contribute to the security, development and reconstruction of the country, withdraw them from the security equation while also allowing them to earn a living.Third, the considerable security threat posed by landmines in Afghan society saw communities greet the initiative with enthusiasm, and also often improved societal attitudes towards ex-combatants. Former fighters were often viewed with mistrust or contempt within the communities they were slated to be reintegrated into. However by holding consultations with local communities on how and where to undertake their de-mining efforts, ex-combatants are believed to have created a measure of goodwill within society. Indeed, it seems that an important aspect of psycho-social approaches is carefully balancing the needs of former combatants without destabilizing those of local communities. This is in turn engenders communal support and acceptance of former fighters. Approaches that consider psycho-social components when devising reintegration schemes can also be key to engaging and assisting vulnerable groups in DDR processes, such as the spouses of former combatants, former child soldiers and the disabled. Including these vulnerable groups into reintegration processes helps demonstrate good faith to communities but also has important impacts on security and preventing relapses in conflict. For instance child soldiers, many of whom have been forced away from their families and have experienced serious forms of trauma, present a considerable risk to rejoin militias if they are not provided treatment and support to facilitate their recovery. In these cases, psychological treatment and support are closely tied to former child soldiers successful social and economic reintegration.

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