Alleviating psychosocial suffering: an analysis of approaches to coping with war-related distress in Angola.
Eyber, C. (2001) Alleviating psychosocial suffering: an analysis of approaches to coping with war-related distress in Angola., no. 362.
This study investigates the role that the notions of trauma and culture play in relation to the alleviation of distress within an war-affected population. It analyses how local, cultural conceptions of distress and those held by psychological service providers relate to one another, and how they contribute to improving the well-being of the displaced. Fieldwork was conducted with urban and rural displaced populations in the south-eastern province of Huila in Angola. Ethnographic, psychometric and participatory methods were used to examine issues of health, illness and distress amongst the displaced. Local idioms of distress in the form of pensamentos, mutima, madness and high and low blood pressure are common ways of expressing suffering related to war. The different explanatory models held about these illnesses and the various resources available in the popular, folk and professionals sectors of the health care system were explored. The religious and spiritual domains were found to be influential in the treatment of distress-related illnesses. The psychological services available in the war-displaced communities were examined in terms of their common theoretical and practical elements. These were then analysed in relation to the conceptualisations held by local populations, and points of similarity and difference were noted. Specifically, the conceptualisation of suffering as trauma and the cultural misunderstandings that arise as a result of this, and the representation of the displaced as traumatised and therefore dependent and passive people, are discussed. A particular subgroup in the community, the adolescents, was identified and participatory methods were employed to investigate the strategies and resources this group uses for coping with war-related distress. The youths predominantly make use of distraction, conselho, religious and cultural resources. The application of a PTSD scale, the EARAT, suggests that 71% of the adolescents had symptoms of trauma consistent with a diagnosis of PTSD. It is argued that for the vast majority such a conceptualisation does not reflect the adolescents' abilities to function on social, vocational, educational and physical levels. The implications of these findings for research and practice in the field of psychosocial work are discussed.