Nepal Monitor: The National Online Journal: <br /> Print This
Nepal Monitor: The National Online Journal

Conflict Victims and Trauma

Some expert suggestions on how conflict victims could cope with trauma

Many people, who suffered, experienced or witnessed violence and brutalities of conflict show symptoms of anxiety, depression and psychosomatic pains.

In particular, women and children who survived the conflict are in urgent need of trauma healing. War widows, rape victims of conflict, women who lost their children in war suffer social isolation, exclusion, humiliation, economic hardship. Children who lost their parents, endured as child soldiers, or witnessed violence lack the emotional development to overcome trauma. Similarly, dalits or marginalized communities, who were often targets of violence during the conflict, suffer further social isolation, humiliation and mental or psychosocial problems.

People displaced from their homes and families also suffer from trauma. A study of 290 internally displaced people (IDPs) conducted in 2003 by Suraj Bahadur Thapa and Edvard Hauff found that almost everyone reported trauma and 53.4 percent had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Around 81 percent showed symptoms of anxiety and 80 percent that of depression

Since there are too many such victims in most conflicts or wars, counseling services are often not available to most of them. This is the case in Nepal today although conflict has traumatized a large part of the population.

Some work in victims' support, however, has been carried out by humanitarian organizations and NGOs. For example, in 2010, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in partnership with local institutions, began a counseling program in nine districts (including Bardiya) with high concentrations of families with missing relatives. Another such organization that offers psychological counseling to victims is the Center for Victims of Torture (CVICT).

Trauma healing has received increased attention since the 1990s, following the conflicts in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo. It has been practiced in the form of intergroup forgiveness in East Timore and Angola, forgiveness by means of bearing witness about trauma in South Africa, expressive arts (drawing, song, dance, story-telling, drama) in Angola, etc.

Since persons suffering from trauma lose their ability to relate to friends, family and society, they stand as a challenge to rebuilding efforts after the conflict. Moreover, if they are left to themselves and ignored, they are at risk of resorting to revenge and retributive violence.

Coping with TraumaTrauma victims usually experience strong feelings and sensations that negatively influence their mental well-being. Their former ways of making sense are damaged or destroyed. They feel lost, disoriented and powerless. If these symptoms persist beyond a few days or week after an incident, the victims may be diagnosed with anxiety disorder or PTSD, a condition that may require therapy or medication.

In the book Peacebuilding: A Field Guide (2001) reconciliation experts Hugo van der Merwe and Tracy Vienings explain conflict-related trauma in terms of man-made violence (such as war, concentration camp experience, torture, another forms of victimization). They write that traumatic events may include:
• A threat to one's life or physical integrity.
• A person's response of intense fear, helplessness, or horror
• Serious threat or harm to one's children, spouse, or other close relatives or friends
• Sudden destruction of one's home or community
• Seeing another person who has recently been or is being, seriously injured or killed as the result of an accident or physical violence

Merwe and Vienings identify three main phases in the process of trauma:
1. The impact phase:
This phase is usually momentary or it may last up to two or three days following the traumatic incident. Victims look emotionally numb; he or she is in a state of shock, and may not be fully conscious of the reality of the event or situation. The person may show a lot emotion; may cry or scream, or he or she may remain completely calm as if nothing had happened.
Such a trauma victim needs "parental" help, reassurance, and direction. He or she needs to be kept in a safe environment. Help find his or her relatives, give medical attention. Encourage the person to tell their story, but do not force them to do so. Tell them that their reaction to trauma is a normal reaction under such circumstance.

2. The Recoil Phase:
At this phase, the traumatized person begins to realize the shocking nature of their experience, and also begins to express emotions like anger or sadness or guilt. Traumatic stress syndrome may begin to develop. The victim wants to talk about the experience. Encourage him or her to do so and tell them it is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Advise the person to go for professional counseling. If counseling services are not available, opt for traditional ways of healing, like sharing their stories with other victims and members of the society through symbolic ceremonies. These help to remember their stories and reframe and release trauma.

Merwe and Vienings write that this phase involves the following:
• Getting the person to talk about what happened to them, to tell their story, in detail - renders it less fearsome and less out of control
• Reframing the victim's perceptions of his or her role in the event--to realize they did the best under the circumstances, and that it was out of their control
• Developing and sustaining coping mechanisms--victims feels powerless in their daily tasks, need your help to reestablish their coping mechanism, not by doing things for them but by getting them to develop ways that they can possibly deal with things

3. The Integration Phase: At this phase, the person begins to live with the trauma as a memory that is not overwhelming. In most cases, they return to their previous level of normality. But trauma changes the person life and may leave an emotional scar. Some people emerge mature and stronger after having coped with the trauma. The person's trust in other people gradually starts to get rebuilt. He or she increasingly shows the ability to relate emotionally to people and engage with life activities. The person needs support and encouragement in this stage.

There could also be several other social, psychological and personal reasons for trauma. It is not enough only to deal with the traumatized individual. Efforts also have to be made to restore faith in the state institutions of safety, security, and justice.

Peacebuilding: A Field Guide (Lynne Reiner Publishers, 2001), pp. 343-351.

Source: Summarized and adapted in Healing the Wounds: Stories from Nepal's Transitional Justice Process (Kathmandu: Media Foundation), pp. 106-08.

Posted by Editor on July 31, 2011 9:39 AM