In 2008, several tragic incidents took place in Bolivia, in the regions of Pando, Sucre and Alto Parapeti, causing death, injuries and torture. The people affected were peasants and native people of Quechua, Aymara and Guarani origin. El Institute of Therapy and Investigation (Instituto de Terapia e Investigación - ITEI) provided assistance in these locations months after the events, upon the request of the community leaders. The team was multidisciplinary: a physician, a nurse, a psychologist and adult psychotherapist and a child psychotherapist. In Sucre, the team carried out an investigation into the psychosocial effects of acts of racism and torture. In Pando and Alto Parapeti, the team trained community mental health workers.
The following were taken into consideration:
- To avoid characterizing the affected population as victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, since such [classification] is a tool that belongs to another culture, and to a different kind of population, with a predefined nosology.
- To create an opportunity for people to express themselves freely, helping them become aware of the experiences that have been imposed on them by repression, and to discuss in groups some of these experiences on the private or individual level.
- To adopt a gender approach that empowers women’s autonomy.
- In a second instance, to discuss the issues and consequences of repression; the challenges arising from traumatic experiences for the individuals, their families and the community; and the various ways in which those challenges and issues can be dealt with.
- To attempt to delve into the reasons why new behaviors emerge, and why certain feelings emerge that were not thought of before.
- For that purpose, clients are engaged in ludic activities: painting, sculpture, art, photo language, games and word association, through mediation objects.
- At the end of each activity, there is a closing moment for sharing feelings and experiences during the activities, the games and the [group] dynamics.
An opportunity was created for people to voluntarily share without being asked about things that each person may feel he/she has to answer. People were able to express emotions and/or feelings, share experiences, learn from one another and create a support network. All of this occurred in an environment of mutual respect and confidentiality.
We were able to determine the psychosocial effects of repression and torture and assess the possibility of providing assistance and finding suitable coping mechanisms and treatments.
This opportunity also served as an ideological reinforcement, given that having a firm ideology and strong convictions helps a person get through extreme situations. The group provided mutual support. In addition to sharing general experiences, this promoted collective empowerment and support to implement solutions. In Pando and Alto Parapeti, Community Mental Health Workers (Promotores y Promotoras en Salud Mental Comunitaria) were trained and their work was supervised.
Funding & No Conflicts Declaration
Emergency Fund from the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (Pando and Sucre). Fribourg-Solidaire - Switzerland (Alto Parapeti).