Academic journal article Refuge

Do No Harm: Challenges in Organizing Psychosocial Support to Displaced People in Emergency Settings

Academic journal article Refuge

Do No Harm: Challenges in Organizing Psychosocial Support to Displaced People in Emergency Settings

Article excerpt

Abstract

Psychosocial assistance in emergencies plays an important role in alleviating suffering and promoting well-being, but it is often a source of unintended harm. A prerequisite for ethically appropriate support is awareness of how psychosocial programs may cause harm. This paper underscores the importance of attending to issues of coordination, dependency, politicization of aid, assessment, short-term assistance, imposition of outsider approaches, protection, and impact evaluation. With regard to each of these issues, it suggests practical steps that may be taken to reduce harm and maximize the humanitarian value of psychosocial assistance.

Resume

L'assistance psychosociale dans des situations d'urgences joue un role important dans le soulagement de la souffrance et la promotion du bien-etre ; mais, souvent, elle est la source de prejudices non intentionnels. Une connaissance de la facon dont les programmes psychosociaux peuvent causer des prejudices est un prealable pour un support ethiquement convenable. Cet article souligne l'importance de la prise en consideration des problemes lies a la coordination, la dependance, la politisation de l'aide, l'evaluation, l'assistance a court terme, l'imposition des approches par des personnes exterieures, la protection, et l'evaluation de l'impact. Il suggere des mesures pratiques qui peuvent etre prises par rapport a chacun de ces problemes pour reduire les prejudices et optimiser la valeur humanitaire de l'assistance psychosociale.L'assistance psychosociale dans des situations d'urgences joue un role important dans le soulagement de la souffrance et la promotion du bien-etre ; mais, souvent, elle est la source de prejudices non intentionnels. Une connaissance de la facon dont les programmes psychosociaux peuvent causer des prejudices est un prealable pour un support ethiquement convenable. Cet article souligne l'importance de la prise en consideration des problemes lies a la coordination, la dependance, la politisation de l'aide, l'evaluation, l'assistance a court terme, l'imposition des approches par des personnes exterieures, la protection, et l'evaluation de l'impact. Il suggere des mesures pratiques qui peuvent etre prises par rapport a chacun de ces problemes pour reduire les prejudices et optimiser la valeur humanitaire de l'assistance psychosociale.

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For many years, psychosocial support to refugees and internally displaced people was viewed through the lens of Maslowian psychology (1) as a second-tier operation, something to be done after one had met people's basic survival needs in an emergency. More than any other single event, the December 2004 tsunami showed that the psychosocial effects of catastrophic events are not secondary but primary dimensions of the lived experience of emergencies. For a child who had hoped for a good life but who in a matter of minutes lost her home, family, village, belongings, and many friends, the psychosocial shocks were not secondary to her material losses or things to be dealt with later. This brief but catastrophic moment convinced the world that psychosocial support ought to occur at the same time one applies the most immediate life-saving measures in areas such as health, water and sanitation, shelter, and food aid.

This increased priority of psychosocial interventions is owed in part to the professionalization of the field of psychosocial assistance to displaced people. This trend is evident in three respects. First, there is a rapidly growing literature on the psychosocial impact of forced migration that spans multiple continents, age groups, and kinds of vulnerability and that increasingly takes into account issues of gender, class, and culture. (2) Second is an expanding array of promising practices in supporting displaced people (3) and increased attention to the importance of documenting the impact of psychosocial programs. (4) Third is the development of global, inter-agency guidance regarding psychosocial support. …

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