Section 7: Programming in Emergencies


Psychosocial work in emergencies

The devastating impact of disasters may result in significant emotional distress, causing increased suffering and hindering the ability of survivors to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. In some cases, traditional and cultural practices of relieving such distress may not be sufficient to bring about full recovery. In emergencies where large parts/all of the community is affected, specific psychosocial activities may need to be implemented. Psychosocial work aims to enable people to adapt to their lives post-disaster, to cope with losses they may have suffered, and to begin to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

In the aftermath of an emergency, almost every individual who has been affected will suffer a degree of emotional distress that limits their ability to return to their normal lives. Establishing a relationship of trust between the disaster survivor and the psychosocial facilitator is essential.

It is important to note that ActionAid will not treat serious mental issues, but rather link the disaster survivor with relevant professional institutions that have the expertise to provide sufficient support.

There are four steps that make up ActionAid’s psychosocial support in emergencies:

  1. Relive and re-grieve: create safe spaces for women where they can come together to share their experiences, and relive and re-grieve for those they have lost through structured sessions facilitated by a psychosocial worker.

  2. Recreation: help people to find ways to relax and take recreation, for example through creating women and children friendly spaces, community drama, song, sports etc.

  3. Rebuild: identify culturally appropriate ways for people to start to return to normality, for example by helping children return to school and helping people rebuild their livelihoods. Women will often use the safe spaces provided for recreation and reliving/re-grieving to start planning response and livelihood rebuilding.

  4. Refer: ActionAid is not equipped to provide specialised support to treat serious mental health issues. In serious cases, we should link the disaster survivor with relevant professional services such as government services, specialised humanitarian agencies etc.

Many of these activities can be facilitated by trained people from the community, particularly women, who are familiar and understand the cultural sensitivities and practices. ActionAid can train a cadre of people, including disaster survivors themselves, to facilitate psychosocial work. Be sure to include women facilitators, as well as people from different parts of society including teachers, youth activists and health workers.

Further Reading