Psychosocial interventions and the demoralization of humanitarianism

J Biosoc Sci. 2004 Jul;36(4):491-504. doi: 10.1017/s0021932004006613.


This paper critically analyses from a political sociology standpoint the international conceptualization of war-affected populations as traumatized and in need of therapeutic interventions. It argues for the importance of looking beyond the epidemiological literature to understand trauma responses globally. The paper explores how the imperative for international psychosocial programmes lies in developments within donor countries and debates in their humanitarian sectors over the efficacy of traditional aid responses. The aim of the paper is threefold. First, it discusses the emotional norms of donor states, highlighting the psychologizing of social issues and the cultural expectations of individual vulnerability. Second it examines the demoralization of humanitarianism in the 1990s and how this facilitated the rise of international psychosocial work and the psychologizing of war. Third, it draws attention to the limitations of a mental health model in Croatia, a country which has been receptive to international psychosocial programmes. Finally it concludes that the prevalent trauma approaches may inhibit recovery and argues for the need to re-moralize resilience.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Altruism*
  • Global Health*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services*
  • Politics*
  • Program Development
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Warfare*
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology