Introduction: Definitions & Conceptual Issues

This section explains the origins and meanings of the terms 'recovery' and 'psychosocial,' why the title 'psycho-social recovery' was chosen for that thematic of the Peacebuilding Initiative portal, and how it can be distinguished from common understandings of socio-economic recovery.

Psycho-social well-being

Psychological, social and cultural well-being

Many aid agencies, especially those outside the health sector, speak about psycho-social well-being as including psychological, social and cultural well-being.1 The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children define psychosocial well-being as "involving people's relationships, feelings, behavior and development."2 In this view, it is defined with respect to three core domains: human capacity, social ecology, and culture and values. "These domains map in turn the human, social and cultural capital available to people responding to the challenges of prevailing events and conditions."3


The term 'psycho-social' implies a very close relationship between psychological and social factors4 and is "used to emphasise the close connection between psychological aspects of our experience (our thoughts, emotions and behaviour) and our wider social experience (or relationships, traditions and culture)."5

Psycho-social disorders

"Psychosocial disorders relate to the interrelationship of psychological and social problems, which together constitute the disorder. The term psychosocial is used to underscore the close and dynamic connection between the psychological and the social realms of human experience."6 In this equation, social aspects refer to the effects of violence and war on relationships, traditions, cultures and values, family and community, also extending to the economic realm and its effects on status and social networks. Those social attributes are perceived to play a key role in human development at large and are therefore important to consider by practitioners.7

The emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual well-being as well as development of human beings is strongly and diversely affected by war violence. These effects may include "concurrent distress caused by multiple losses such as loss of community, loss of educational opportunities, uncertainty, poverty, and destruction of hope."8 Such different dimensions are precisely those that need to be addressed in a peacebuilding process.

Psychosocial interventions

"Psychosocial interventions can be defined as actions that seek to address the interplay of social conditions and psychological well-being."9 The approach towards psychosocial intervention looks at people from a broader perspective, as part of a wider social fabric of relationships and structures.10

The notions of psychosocial rehabilitation and psychosocial treatment have also been used in reference to the same set of issues.

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Social development and social repair

Social development

In reference to the social elements of 'psychosocial' interventions, practitioners sometimes refer to the notion of 'social development.' This refers to the ability to form and maintain social relationships, as well as the social codes of behavior of ones own culture. The emphasis is placed on strengthening social environments.11

Social repair

Among other terms associated with psycho-social interventions is the notion of 'social repair,' suggesting the need to rebuild social ties broken in the course of conflict. Some scholars and practitioners have stressed the fact that though the term 'repair' emphasizes some kind of outside intervention, "the reality of life is that humans must act in social contexts and to do so must share some degree of meaning. Thus, after conflict, efforts will always be made to normalize social and cultural conditions in order to make life manageable."12 In that perspective, practitioners stress the importance "to add to the repair perspectives ways to deal with less accessible local imaginaries and assumptions about community and cohesion and to recognize how these might have been altered by the process of massacre itself."13

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Psycho-social recovery


The term recovery is often used to describe a person returning to a normal state of health after an illness or a medical problem, as well as to indicate the improvement of an economic situation after a period of stagnation or decline. Central to the notion is the idea of 'getting better'. In the context of post-crisis interventions, recovery "focuses on restoring the capacity of national institutions and communities after a crisis."14

Socio-economic recovery

Socio-economic recovery is often presented as a core component of post-conflict peacebuilding. Historically, the notion has been developed as a way to fill the operational gaps between relief, rehabilitation and development assistance and emphasizes the use of coordination mechanisms.15 A slightly wider understanding of the concept of recovery goes beyond improved coordination and supports the incorporation of elements of developmental thinking into both planning and implementing relief and rehabilitation assistance as a means to bridge the gap. This is often referred to as 'developmental relief or rehabilitation assistance.' The notion of recovery is also often associated with the word 'early' to stress the fact that some peacebuilding activities should start during the humanitarian response. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) identifies early recovery as addressing a critical gap in coverage between humanitarian relief and long-term recovery-- between reliance and self-sufficiency.16

The terms 'rehabilitation' and 'recovery' tend to be used interchangeably during transition periods, along with the notions of 'reconstruction', 'rebuilding', and even sometimes 'reform', while in this last case, the process entailed is clearly different.17

The notion of socio-economic recovery is generally centered on a developmental agenda, with often more emphasis given to economic issues than social ones, even though many scholars and practitioners advocate for a broader view. Tony Addison, Deputy Director of the United Nations Universitys World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER), for example, views broad-based recovery as something that "improves the incomes and human development indicators of the majority of people, especially the poor."18 Go to Introduction to Economic Recovery Strategies and Debates

Psycho-social recovery

Distinguishing between the social and economic dimensions of the peacebuilding agenda may appear in some ways as misleading, as they are closely intertwined. However, this separation does give more emphasis to aspects that are too often neglected in peacebuilding discourse and practices. In part because of the developmental culture associated with the socio-economic perspective of post-conflict recovery, the 'social' (sometimes referred to as 'social progress') generally refers to topics such as public health, education, shelter, and at times a social safety net. The 'enabling' conditions for recovery also include governance and rule of law as essential components. At a minimum, recovery is considered to require "the establishment of basic security, the reassertion of the rule of law, a coherent macroeconomic framework and an effective system of oversight and accountability. Where a post-conflict country has also been able to rebuild the foundations for domestic revenue mobilization, and for repairing the damaged social and human capital matrix, it may be said to be on the path of sustainable recovery."19

The notions of human security and human development refer to similar components. Human security encompasses human rights, good governance, and access to economic opportunity, education and health care.20According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the human development index (HDI) "is a summary composite index that measures a countrys average achievements in three basic aspects of human development: health, knowledge, and a decent standard of living."21 The only reference to more intangible dimensions of a society recovery and progress is the inclusion, among human development indices, of the Gender-related Development Index (GDI) and the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM).22 Those notions (which are still subject to lively debate) have nevertheless contributed to a redefinition of traditional, and somewhat restricted, understandings of security and peace to one of a positive state of being and feeling 'secure', and the development of programs aiming at ensuring the protection and empowerment of individuals at all stages.23 Go to The conceptual origins of peacebuilding

Bringing the concept of psycho-social recovery to the peacebuilding field is an attempt to broaden that perspective and describe a process of coming to terms with the wide range of emotionally, socially and culturally traumatic events, losses, isolation, destruction of social norms and codes of behavior most individuals and communities face in conflict and post-conflict situations. It is also a way to emphasize the magnitude of the transformations experienced by the communities and societies concerned.

1. IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings, (Geneva: Inter-Agency Standing Committee, 2007):1.
2. Florence Baingana, op.cit.; Florence Baingana, Ian Bannon, and Rachel Thomas. Mental Health and Conflicts: Conceptual Framework and Approaches. (Washington, DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank, 2005).
3. The Psychosocial Working Group, Psychosocial Intervention in Complex Emergencies: A Conceptual Framework. (Edinburgh: The Psychosocial Working Group, 2003), 2.
4. Duncan, Joan and Laura Arntson, Children in Crisis: Good Practices in Evauating Psychosocial Programming. (Westport, CT: Save the Children, 2004), 7.
5. The Psychosocial Working Group, Psychosocial Intervention in Complex Emergencies: A Framework for Practice. (Edinburgh: The Psychosocial Working Group, 2003), 2.
6. Florence Baingana, Ian Bannon, and Rachel Thomas. Mental Health and Conflicts: Conceptual Framework and Approaches. (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2005) 8.
7. Maryanne Loughry and Carola Eyber, eds, Psychosocial Concepts in Humanitarian Work with Children: A Review of the Concepts and Related Literature. (New York: Roundtable on the Demography of Forced Migration, National Research Council, Program on Forced Migration and Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, 2003), 1.
8. Joan Duncan and Laura Arntson. Children in Crisis: Good Practices in Evauating Psychosocial Programming. (Westport, CT: Save the Children, 2004), 14.
9. Alastair Ager, and Maryanne Loughry, "Science-based Mental Health Services: Psychosocial Programs," Project 1 Billion. International Congress of Ministers of Health for Mental Health and Post-Conflict Recovery. Book of Best Practices: Trauma and the Role of Mental Health in Post-Conflict Recovery, Rome: December 3-4, 2004), 113.
10. Kalksma-van Lith, Brechtje, Donatien de Graaf, Eveline Jansveld and Ans de Jager, State of the Art: Psychosocial Interventions with Children in War-Affected Areas. (Amsterdam: War Child Holland, 2007), 8.
11. Laura Arntson and Christine Knudsen, Psychosocial Care & Protection of Children in Emergencies: A Field Guide, (Westport, CT: Save the Children, 2004), 4.
12. Culbertson, Roberta and Batrice Pouligny, "Re-imagining peace after mass crime: A dialogical exchange between insider and outsider knowledge" In Pouligny et al., eds., After Mass Crimes: Rebuilding States and Communities,Tokyo / New York: United Nations University Press, 2007, 280.
13. Ibid.
14. UNDP, "Early Recovery,"
15. European Commission. Communication of the European Commission to the Council on Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development (LRRD), (Brussels: COM, 1996).
16.United Nations Development Programme Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, "Early Recovery," UNDP,.
17. UN Development Group (UNDG)/Executive Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (ECHA) (2004), Report of the UNDG/ECHA Working Group on Transition Issues, New York and Geneva: UN, February, 2004, 16. Barnett, Michael, Hunjoon Kim, Madalene ODonnell and Laura Sitea. "Peacebuilding: What is in a Name?" Global Governance 13 no 1 (2007) 38-43.
18. Tony Addison, From Conflict to Recovery in Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003): 3.
19. United Nations Development Program. Post-conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity. (New York: UNDP, 2008), 4-5.
20. United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1994(New York: UNDP, 1994).
21. United Nations Development Programme, "Human Development Reports Frequently Asked Questions: General Questions about Data in the Human Development Report," Human Development Report,
22. UNDP, "The Human Development Concept: Support Package to HDR Focal Points."
23. Hideaki Shinodaand Yuji Uesugi, "Conclusion: In Search for New Approaches of Peacebuilding" (In Hideaki Shinoda and Yuji Uesugi, eds, Conflict and Human Security, Tokyo: Kokusai shoin, 2005), 291-296.

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