'Psychological First Aid': Education Is Essential in Post-Conflict Situations

By Kapor-Stanulovic, Nila | UN Chronicle, December 2003 | Go to article overview

'Psychological First Aid': Education Is Essential in Post-Conflict Situations


Kapor-Stanulovic, Nila, UN Chronicle


Speaking to the 2,000 participants of the 56th Annual DPI/NGO Conference in New York, Nila Kapor-Stanulovic addressed the psychological aspects of human security and dignity. She experienced first-hand the effects of multiple armed conflicts in the Balkans and treated patients affected by the crises in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Macedonia. She pointed out that she had been a recipient, as well as a provider, of psychological aid, at times filling both roles simultaneously. Although it had not been easy, Ms. Kapor-Stanulovic explained that the most difficult times were those when she was only receiving such support due, she believes, to the sense of helplessness that results from having encountered traumatic experiences. She strongly endorses the idea of helping victims restore a feeling of being somebody. An expert in "emergency psychology" which includes crisis intervention techniques, post-trauma interventions and psychosocial rehabilitation, she is continuing her work to ameliorate the consequences of the armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

Biko Nagara of the Chronicle spoke with Ms. Kapor-Stanulovic on 10 September.

On the psychology of dignity and security

Dignity and security within the context of psychology have been addressed but never fully explored. The psychological aspects of life are frequently disregarded by humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) because psychology is often associated with illness and psychopathological problems. When I say that I am a psychologist, it is these kinds of problems people tend to associate me with. Psychology, however, is intended for people who have suffered and endured crises, causing a loss of dignity. It is very important to break the misconception that psychology and psychosocial rehabilitation are aimed only at a small number of sick individuals

On upgrading the role of psychological welfare

The United Nations is primarily concerned with physical survival, which is indeed a priority. Nevertheless, psychosocial welfare has assumed too much a secondary position. Having worked for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). I understand that the problems are many, while staff and resources are limited More attention should be paid to questions relating to non-physical survival. We need to disseminate basic knowledge of psychosocial assistance and rehabilitation. It should be understood that we are not here to treat sick people; we are here to promote the well-being of the general population and the recovery of those affected by man-made and natural disasters, such as armed conflicts, poverty, hunger and diseases.

On psychological first aid

Psychological first aid is a relatively new concept, which is as important as medical first aid. When someone is bleeding, you don't immediately take that person to a specialist; you do something to stop the bleeding and then take him/her to a specialist. Likewise, you do not take a person who is in need of immediate psychological assistance for psychoanalysis or psychotherapy. Everybody should know the basic principles of psychological first aid to help others recover faster and better from a crisis. What I did in my country and in other places was to make a list. Psychological first aid is a very simple concept that can be broadcast over the radio or printed on brochures and leaflets for anyone to learn and apply. During the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, I asked local radio stations to explain one principle of psychological first aid every evening for one minute before the news.

It took just one minute over twenty consecutive evenings to describe twenty valuable aid techniques. It is thus simple and inexpensive to publicize such first aid to everyone who is listening to the radio or watching television. People who are empathetic, motivated and willing can apply it without training, while others may need very basic training.

On the long-term effects of collective traumatization

Collective traumatization is a more complex issue. …

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