Psychosocial Aspects of SSR

Achieving and living in peace means much more than ending armed conflict. The legacy of war, armed conflict and violence has an impact on the individuals and the society at large even after the conflict ends. The physical and mental health of armed groups and the civilian population are issues that need to be addressed and hence fall within the scope of SSR in post conflict environments. In addition to health and psychosocial concerns related to individuals, the society has to come to terms and deal with the past and memory of the conflict. 

This page brings together resources, tools and DCAF/ISSAT knowledge products which address the linkages between psychosocial aspects, health and SSR. You are welcome to add further items to this repository by commenting on the ISSAT forum discussion on the issue. 

Psychosocial Aspects, Health and SSR

The psychosocial approach to SSR aims to address the relationship between individuals and their environments in a post-conflict or fragile setting. The approach aims to support those who have been psychologically harmed as a result of traumatic experiences. This can include those directly targeted by violence in a conflict, the effects on combatants of perpetrating violence (such as post-traumatic stress disorder), as well as the indirect effects on those in the proximity of violence and those perpetrating violent behaviour, such as families, neighbourhoods, the fabric of society and the downstream effects on climatic environment and community cohesion.

Like with transitional justice, which refers to the ways countries emerging from periods of conflict and repression addressing large-scale or systematic human rights violations which can not be addressed with the normal justice system, the health and well-being of a population should deserve special attention in the aftermath of the conflict. 

Fostering mental health and well-being is an essential component of a productive and flourishing society. If SSR processes ignore the psychological and psychosocial aspects of post-conflict reform and reconstruction they will not be as effective or as sustainable as they could be which is why incorporating various activities aimed at psychological improvement and mental wellness is so essential. Being free from threats to physical health is also an inseparable characteristic of human security.

In addition to the well-being of individuals and activities which target trauma at the individual level, it is equally important to address the collective impact of conflict for a healthier way of dealing with and living with the past. Dealing with the past is a cornerstone for a sustainable peace. A good example is the partnership of Germany and France in post-war Europe, two countries which after two devastating wars in the first half of the 20th century have successfully dealt with the past, the memory of war and championed the political cooperation in the aftermath on the European continent resulting gradually in the European Union. 

Key Resources:

  • The psychosocial approach in peacebuilding,Swisspeace 2018: Swiss Peace’s publication from March of 2018 is a dedicated space to exploring the psychosocial components to conflict and peacebuilding. Find insightful interviews, case studies, analysis tools and related reports on a range of topics associated with the psychosocial approach to peace.
  • Psychosocial Conflict AnalysisSwiss Agency for Development and Cooperation 2017: This tool offers the opportunity to understand one’s own project work in a conflict-transforming sense and thus improve it. It is aimed at organizations, projects and teams. It gives them a method of investigating the area of conflict they find themselves in and which is relevant for their project work, and to understand the conflicts in their individual, socio-cultural and socio-political contexts and to evaluate the impact of the project on these conflicts.
  • Psychosocial Conflict Analysis Guide, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation 2017: The Psychosocial Conflict Analysis Guide supplements the Tool for the Psychosocial Conflict Analysis and aims at assisting in its implementation. It has been written mainly for those persons who guide and facilitate the psychosocial conflict analysis.
  • Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, ICRC 2018: These ICRC guidelines outline the organization’s approach to mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) during and after armed conflict and other situations of violence. They provide a framework for harmonizing MHPSS programmes within the organization, and an insight into its strategic processes and field practices.
  • Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, ICRC 2017: This leaflet provides an overview of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) needs and the ICRC’s response through its MHPSS programmes.
  • Gender, conflict transformation & the psychosocial approach, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, 2006: The present working tool is meant to facilitate the integration of psychosocial methods into the existing programme of international co-operation. The toolkit explains the relevance of psychosocial thinking in activities unfolding in a context with structural and armed violence, while demonstrating what this implies in everyday work. Additionally, the toolkit delves into the basic concepts of the psychosocial approach, discusses the psychosocial condition of various target groups, and outlines the psychosocial aspects of different sectors.
  • Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Assessment Guide, IASC Reference Group, 2013: The purpose of this document is to provide agencies with a guide with three tools containing key assessment questions that are of common relevance to all actors involved in Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) independent of the phase of the emergency. This guide is useful for rapid assessments of MHPSS issues in humanitarian emergencies across sectors and is intended for use by various humanitarian actors.
  • Assessing Mental Health and Psychosocial Needs and Resources, UNHCR/WHO, 2013: This document is intended to aid with practical assessments leading to recommendations that can be used immediately to improve people’s mental health and well-being in emergency situations.
  • Psychosocial and Mental Health Interventions in Areas of Mass Violence, MSF, 2011: These guidelines are aimed to help those in coordination positions (medical and programme management) to strategise, plan, supervise, and to coach a psychosocial or mental health programme component.

Dealing with the Past and Memory

Dealing with the past and memory of the conflict is vital for a sustainable peace process. SSR and transitional processes need to address this aspect in post conflict settings where serious abuses occurred. Dealing with the Past depends on SSR to provide justice in times of transition. This does not only mean seeking and acknowledging what happened during the conflict and criminal prosecution but also making sure that same abuses are not repeated in the future. Since there is a high probability that security actors were involved in serious abuses, reforming the security sector is, therefore, one of the principal ways to ensure the non‐recurrence of abuses.

Dealing with the Past in Security Sector ReformDCAF 2013

Often times, the relationship between SSR and transitional justice, or "dealing with the past"(DwP) as it is also called, remains underexplored and is often marked by ignorance and resistance. While SSR and transitional justice processes can get into each other's way, this study conducted by DCAF in 2013 argues that SSR and DwP are fundamentally linked and can complement each other. SSR can make for better transitional justice and vice versa. Transitional justice needs SSR to prevent a recurrence of abuses, an essential element of justice. SSR can learn from transitional justice not only that it is better to deal with rather than ignore an abusive past but also how to address an abusive legacy in the security sector. 

ISSAT Knowledge Products and Mandates

ISSAT is keen on developing knowledge and products about psychosocial aspects in SSR such as its mandate on Evaluating Retraining and Social Adaptation of Military Officers Programme in Ukraine, but also by involving its community to share innovative thoughts on this topic throughout Forum and Blogs.

Norwegian Mandate in Ukraine 

Evaluation of Norwegian Retraining and Social Adaptation of Military Officers Programme in Ukraine - ISSAT has been mandated for the evaluation of a program of Retraining and social adaptation of former military personnel and officers in the armed forces and their family members in Ukraine. Some of the distinguishing or unique features of this project include: training that spans to include more advanced skills and knowledge (eg. business management) rather than simply vocational training, reliance on Universities to drive implementation, and target beneficiaries include families of uniformed personnel as beneficiaries. Psychological support is integrated into the training programme both as a standalone component but also in the design of training methods and methodology of each course module. The inclusion of families in the course is to aid in the social adaptation process of uniformed individuals through the course discussions and interactive course delivery.

Forum Discussion

Health, victimisation and SSR - This forum discussion within ISSAT’s Community of Practice is a platform where SSR practitioners can reflect on their experience, highlight resources and tools and ask questions to each other. Take part in the discussion if you would like to share your experience in topics addressed on this page as well as other tools, resources and case studies. 

Blog

Adopt a Stance, Not Just Mechanisms - This blog post encourages the adoption of a past-sensitive stance in SSR. Ignoring abusive legacies in peacebuilding and development can have various negative effects including prolong a culture of impunity and continuing to marginalise victims. Taking past trauma and injustice into account is an essential component to successful security and justice sector reform.

Video 

Identifying capacity, dealing with trauma - In this clip, Ferdinand von Habsburg, strategic advisor to the UNDP, shares some of his experiences as an advisor on security sector reform in South Sudan. He addresses aspects an advisor must consider when assessing existing capacity, identifying gaps, and designing a capacity development plan as well as ensuring buy-in. He touches also upon the effects that post-traumatic stress disorder can play in affecting capacity.

Practical Tools and Recent Projects

The International Community's tools and projects on Post-Conflict Psychosocial Work are not only helping to build a global comprehension on psychosocial aspects of SSR, such as trauma and stress, but they are also meaningful to improve emergency care systems, saving lives, developing a whole-of-community participation, reducing gender-based violence, domestic violence and recidivism rates.