Prevention of Psychological Harm in the Face of Violence


Panelists discussing their work with children in conflict areas
Photo by Jamie Nugent

Prevention of Psychological Harm in the Face of Violence was a panel discussion in regards to what to do after you save peoples lives and how do you reconstruct them? The panel gave a brief discussion and screened the movie 21 Up South Africa: Mandela’s Children. The movie follows 14 children from when they were 7 years old until they turned 21 after the crumbling of the apartheid.

The panelists discussed their work with children, who have been affected by conflicts, by helping them to express themselves while also telling their stories through art. They mentioned the differences between interviewing children compared to adults, and how the movie 21 Up used loaded and inappropriate questions at times with the children, such as marrying a “white” person.

One panelist mentioned that in these conflict areas there are multiple fragmentations affecting the children, but children are capable of removing themselves from the concrete environment which in turn helps to bring about the creativity in the child. They discussed using play therapy and how this can still be done in conflict areas. Drawing enables children to symbolize their feelings rather than concretely acting them out. They discussed the methods terrorists will use with children encouraging them to do things by using their authority and the children do not have space to deal with their problems so they act on them. They did mention, in regards to children acting out, that cursing is bad but better than throwing a stone.

They also discussed Anna Freud’s experience and work with children that led her to believe if children were made to feel safer by the adults around them they were able to express themselves. The panelists gave another example stating when mothers were anxious the kids were too and that it helps to understand their environment more by looking at the family structure.

The final thing the panelists brought up was the victims having to see, work, and be near the individuals who have killed members of their family and not being able to do anything about it. Because of this they discussed the meaning of resentment and aggravation, and having to remain with those destructive forces and having to accept. When you accept you can transform the bad into good moments that serve as antidotes for past events. It is important for the world or those who want to help to know that they can’t prevent every child from having or going through pain, but that they can help to them to reconstruct.


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