Decolonizing Partnerships

As an extension of last week’s entry on Borders and Boundaries, the focus of this post is to generate dialogue on ways systemic partnerships and international work may be decolonizing in nature– that is, that engagement in this type of work may honor differences among cultures, including drawing upon the strengths and resilience inherent in different ways of being and ways of knowing.

From 2010-2012, I was engaged in research and program development for building trauma intervention for displacement camps in Pakistan to provide for women and children displaced by war and/or flooding. Quickly, it became apparent that despite a national history significant for trauma, little empirical literature existed describing Pakistani-specific approaches to trauma healing. Consequently, it was unclear to Western mental health professionals what aspects of traditional healing practices this population finds most effective. Notably, current research and trauma recovery work with refugee and immigrant populations primarily utilizes Western paradigms. Given Pakistan’s history of colonization however, applying Western models of psychology to this national population without awareness or respect for traditional healing methods may be perceived as an extension of ethnocidal policies and practices experienced during the British Raj. Further, we noted that Western methods for trauma intervention may not be appropriate or culturally relevant for Pakistani populations; for example, Western conceptualizations tend to be individually and symptomatically focused. This perspective negates probable intergenerational transmission of resilience modeled by one displaced generation for the next.

Before we could begin program development, we therefore needed to develop an understanding of local experiences of displacement-related traumas and traditional Pakistani trauma healing. Therefore we engaged in an empirical study that sought to learn from internally displaced ethnic Pakistanis about their displacement-related experience(s) and discover what health and healing processes may look like for Pakistani populations.

In alignment with decolonizing research, our study utilized phenomenological theory and qualitative methodology to conduct extensive interviews aimed at increasing understanding on what healing and health ultimately means to ethnically Pakistani survivors of trauma as a result of living in an area affected by conflict or natural disaster, as well as how these survivors understand the process of getting better/healing to be. The theory of phenomenology places emphasis on the individual’s subjective experience, or how the world appears to each individual.

In order to better identify and understand environmental and systemic influences affecting IDP Pakistani women, participatory methods were also incorporated into the study’s research design, including consistent consultation with Pakistani mental health professionals and with staff at a Pakistani disaster management organization. We sought to access local wisdom and knowledge when contributing information on Pakistani health and healing to the field of psychology.

Participants in this study opened their lives to share their displacement-related experiences and perspectives on health and healing. Participants described experiences, expressions and understandings of distress and healing influenced by familial, community, cultural, and spiritual ways of being or knowing.  This knowledge led to the development of culturally-informed and locally sustainable trauma recovery programming for Pakistani disaster management organizations. Rather than exporting and applying Western frameworks to a non-Western population, we underscore how imperative it is that local narratives on resistance to traumatization and movements towards health and healing be explored and heard. We must ask more. We must hear more, and we must collaboratively and respectfully respond.

More on decolonizing methodologies and the process and results of this work can be found within the published manuscript Voices of Trauma and Resilience: Cultural and Gender Distinctive Responses to War and Displacement in Pakistan



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