The following article appeared in the December 1999 issue (Volume 30, Number 11) of the APA Monitor, the monthly newsletter of the American Psychological Association.
UPenn offers 10-week training program on ethnopolitical war
By L. Rabasca, Monitor Staff
How would you complete this assignment?
Design a psychosocial intervention for 18,000 refugees from an African country where civil war has raged for a dozen years. The refugees are mainly women and children. Most are from rural areas, but they've been moved to a camp outside the country's largest city.
That challenge was part of a 10-week program offered for the first time last summer at the University of Pennsylvania through the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict. The program seeks to prepare psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and political scientists to work on issues of ethnopolitical conflict, ranging from basic research to conducting and evaluating interventions for victims of ethnic violence.
The intervention assignment was posed to 19 students by Maryanne Loughry, a refugee studies professor at the University of Oxford. But most of the students in the class answered by focusing on the importance of identifying local leaders and other professionals within a community ravaged by war, rather than reuniting families or redeveloping community structures--two psychological interventions that experts say should be the top priorities in refugee camps.
"These are not the kind of one-on-one interventions most psychology students are familiar with," says Loughry.
The program, however, has set out to change that by teaching students about the roots of ethnic political conflicts and the interventions that work best. Students studied case histories of ethnopolitical conflict in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Israel and Palestine, exploring theories of nationalism and ethnic conflict, aggression and conflict, and group identification and perceptions, as well as ways to identify and treat post-traumatic and other stress disorders in victims of conflict.
The program was developed in response to a joint initiative by former APA President Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, and former Canadian Psychological Association president Peter Suedfeld, PhD, to involve more psychologists and social scientists in the field.
As part of the training, four students will put what they've learned into practice by working in war-torn communities for one or two years. They are: Champika Soysa, Alan Keenan, PhD, Alan McCool, PhD, and Sal Libretto, PhD.
Their experiences will help shape the curriculum for the next summer institute at the Asch Center, offered in 2001.