As evidenced by the turmoil in the Balkans, East Timor and the Middle East, ethnopolitical warfare leaves such tremendous physical, social and psychological devastation in its wake that many health-care professionals have been at a loss about how to even begin to stem its effects.

Now, a new curriculum for trauma intervention and conflict resolution can serve as a guideline. A group of experts in ethnopolitical warfare (EPW) have designed an intensive one-year experience to train psychologists and other social scientists innine areas, from cross-cultural knowledge to conflict resolution to peace-building.

The curriculum is intended as a postdoctoral or postmaster's experience, or to be incorporated into existing graduate programs. Despite its base in psychology, the curriculum was designed for a variety of disciplines, including social work, psychiatry, sociology, law and anthropology.

The curriculum is one of two educational efforts (see sidebar on page 28 for the first) born of the work of two former association presidents--Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, of APA and Peter Suedfeld, PhD, of the Canadian Psychological Association--who during their terms in 1997 launched the Initiative on Ethnopolitical Warfare.

"The idea was to create the first cadre of psychologists who will go out into the world and address ethnopolitical warfare," says Seligman. "We wanted to challenge psychologists personally."

Creating the curriculum

The curriculum's development started in 1998, spearheaded by psychologists with varying expertise. A task force chaired by Ron Fisher, PhD, of American University, organized an August 1999 conference to design the curriculum. Attending the conference were 30 psychologists from the United States, Canada, Northern Ireland and South Africa, among other places. APA Divs. 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues) and 48 (Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence: Peace Psychology Division) and Psychologists for Social Responsibility sponsored the event, which was funded by a grant from the United States Institute of Peace and some funds from APA and CPA.

The group's work resulted in the creation of the nine consecutive courses equivalent to a one-year experience of 20 to 30 credits:

  • "Cross-cultural knowledge and perspectives" uses exercises, role-playing, cross-cultural interviews and case analyses to challenge students' cultural assumptions and highlight the crucial role cultural difference plays when working in different societies.

  • "Conflict analysis" includes a practicum component--a team case study based on interviews and observations of a violent conflict--to promote students' understanding of strategies for addressing conflict, its emotional and perceptual causes and effects, and the role of social institutions such as the media.

  • "Violence prevention" considers cases of successful conflict interventions and teaches community intervention methods such as dialogue forums and coalition building to examine the ways violence can be prevented.

  • "Conflict resolution" uses skill practice, simulations and reflective learning journals to teach assessment and diagnosis, interpersonal communication, interviewing, negotiation, mediation and community organizing--necessary skills when violence escalates.

  • "Traumatic stress: impact, assessment and assistance" challenges students to contemplate the psychosocial impact of violence, loss, suffering and trauma on individuals, communities, societies and political systems and teaches methods--from crisis response to long-term services--for addressing traumatic stress.

  • "Psychosocial programs" teaches students how to select and train personnel, partner with community members, and plan, implement and evaluate effective psychosocial programs to begin the healing process in EPW areas.

  • "Intervention design" considers the strategies and stages of intervention in areas of violence--from initial team-building to sustaining an institution that promotes peace.

  • "Peacebuilding and reconciliation in divided societies" is the capstone seminar in which faculty and students collaborate to determine how psychological responses to EPW can not only relieve but also break cycles of violence.

The curriculum proposes that a four-month internship follow the two semesters of institutional training, providing students with field experience in providing trauma relief or conflict resolution in regions worldwide. The internship allows groups of three to five students to practice their newly acquired skills within a local or international organization under the mentorship of program faculty members and the nongovernmental organizational staff.

"The internship experience is an essential component of the curriculum because most psychologists have not worked in situations of enthnopolitical warfare," says Anne Anderson, a social worker from Psychologists for Social Responsibility and a task force member. "Having supervised field experience in your specialty is invaluable for putting theory into practice. Cultural experience cannot be gained by reading a book."

Lessons long due

Fisher describes the curriculum as a blueprint for providing service, rather than a stringent solution to EPW.

"We have set the parameters, rationale and direction and it remains for people in different cultures all over the world to adapt the courses to their situations," he explains.

He underscores that education in conflict resolution and trauma relief is particularly essential for workers in war-torn areas.

"Psychologists need to learn cross-cultural sensitivity and knowledge of collaborative partnering strategies so that they can empower, and not overpower, the communities they treat," he says.

Garnering the financial and institutional support necessary to launch actual training programs poses the next great challenge for the Initiative on Ethnopolitical Warfare. To date, the Center for International Conflict Resolution and Management at the University of Maryland is the only social science research center funded by Congress, says Leila Dane, PhD, who hopes "to use that as rationale for getting Congress to fund the development of this program."

Fisher anticipates that notwithstanding its content, the curriculum's adaptability may be its great selling point.

"The trauma relief and cross-cultural sides of this curriculum can be integrated into existing clinical and community psychology programs," he says, "and the conflict resolution part could be blended into applied social psychology programs."

That the EPW curriculum not only helps psychologists perform trauma relief and conflict intervention, but also fosters public awareness and debate on the issue is the hope of traumatologist Dane of the Institute for Victims of Trauma. She has worked for the United Nations and has brought her public policy perspective to the task force.

"We don't pretend that one individual can cover the whole gamut of trauma and conflict resolution," she says, "but we believe people specializing in either field can help heal both people and societies."

Further Reading

More information about the joint APA-CPA Initiative on Ethnopolitical Warfare can be found on: