Trauma Healing and Justice


Barry Hart

Eastern Mennonite University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

What we tried to do then was to try to look at how, I started there and I later worked in the Balkans for five years, of integrating this concept of trauma recovery or trauma healing with areas of justice, with areas of conflict transformation and peace-building. I just finished an article on the nexus between trauma healing and peace-building, saying clearly and we felt this was true in Liberia, the Balkans and Northern Ireland and in a lot of cases where people needed to start a creative constructive recovery process so that they could start to see the way through for themselves as individuals or their groups to a place that's more healthy. A place where they are stronger to re-build their individual lives depending on context, their family lives, their community lives, their society situation can be improved with people that are tuned into what has actually happened to them. And that's what I've always said.

I think trauma is a window to the self and to the group, but it's a window through which individuals and groups can look back through to see what brought on the trauma. Maybe it's obvious to everyone. What I think trauma recovery processes do is they allow introspection in a way that a lot of other processes or if there not offered, don't provide. We have tried then to merge together these concepts of trauma healing and justice and peace building. I also believe that the trauma recovery process allows for people not only to look back to see what happened but it opens some windows to the future as well. To see potentially what they, can do as people that are integrating their trauma, becoming healthier individually and collectively, so that they can prevent future conflicts from happening. So that's the idea. That's what I've been working on and that's what I believe this nexus is because not everyone is traumatized in war situations although you can imagine that the majority of people are somehow highly stressed and many people are traumatized. Everybody deals with it differently.

Even groups deal with it differently depending on their rituals and their support systems that they provide for each other. But in wars you have a lot of refugees and people dispersed and there are traditional ways of dealing with conflict or even trauma, even though many societies don't have the word trauma they have the symptoms of trauma, are not in place anymore. What I've tried to do is to help people experience these windows to the past and to the future. Then provide in the process analytical skills to look deeply into the conflict as well as skills and strategies for preventing or as John Burton used to say "Proventing Conflict". So building mechanisms into different structures so conflicts don't escalate. We can't say that we'll never have conflicts; in fact we've always said that conflicts are the norm and they can be dangerous or they can be healthy. Conflicts provide opportunities for everyone's growth. So that's some of the work I've been doing.