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Psychosocial community education and war trauma: Conceptual issues and case of Central American mental health workers

Mishy Lesser, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Increasingly, war and armed conflict are having devastating effects on the psychological and social well-being of civilian survivors throughout the world. There is a serious shortage of practitioners and culturally-appropriate models for assisting victims of psychological trauma with their healing and recovery. Educational settings, be they formal or nonformal, are appropriate places for psychotherapeutic interventions. This dissertation focuses on the intentional use of a nonformal educational setting for psychosocial healing of those exposed to war-induced trauma. A participatory education program designed to teach Central American community mental health workers the basic concepts and techniques of trauma treatment also served as a healing environment for the trainees. Individual psychological trauma as well as war-related intra-group conflict were addressed. Using an integrative model of healing and recovery, the intervention combined cognitive, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical approaches. The educational setting provided a larger interactional framework for the social contextualization of intrapsychic wounds, thus supporting healing. The case illustrates the importance of self-care for professionals and para-professionals working with the psychologically traumatized, which is rarely mentioned in the literature. This is a qaulitative study that combines a literature review on the nature of trauma and recovery, a case study with Central American community mental health workers, interviews with practitioners, and personal experience. The literature review takes into consideration cultural and Latin American perspectives, the importance of community-based approaches, and the linkage of individual and social dimensions. It includes a critique of posttraumatic stress disorder as a conceptual framework. The inquiry examines the viability of intentional incorporation of psychosocial healing into an educational setting, and indicates which components of participatory nonformal education best lend themselves to interfacing with psychological healing. Findings from both the literature and case study point to a need to question long-held assumptions of psychotherapy when working with trauma survivors. Self-care, safe container-building, peer support, mentoring, and a heightened role for para-professionals are recommended. The training and preparation of community mental health workers is seen as an effective response to the proliferation of war-related trauma.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Social psychology|Latin American history|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Mental health

Recommended Citation

Lesser, Mishy, "Psychosocial community education and war trauma: Conceptual issues and case of Central American mental health workers" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9709618.