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By: Aloysius B. Nyanti

“In working with trauma for over three decades, I have come to the conclusion
that human beings are born with an innate capacity to triumph over trauma. I
believe not only that trauma is curable, but that the healing process can be a
catalyst for profound awakening – a portal opening to emotional and genuine
spiritual transformation. I have no doubt that as individuals, families,
communities, and even nations, we have the capacity to learn how to heal and
prevent much of the damage done by trauma. In doing so, we will significantly
increase our ability to achieve both our individual and collective dreams” (Peter
A. Levine 2005:10).

Whenever violence strikes a society, the life of the population, both victims and
perpetrators, cannot return to normal, without a process of healing taking place (Danesh
et al 2005:279). This is partly due to the fact that violence can destroy the physical
habitat of people and thereby cause them both physical and psychological injuries,
including social dislocation. Therefore, whenever a nation suffers the devastating effects
of violence, it becomes crucial to establish a systematic approach to healing of the entire
population, if the cycle of violence is to be broken and significant advances towards
reconciliation and peace are to be achieved (Danesh et al 2005:276).

The term and meaning of “healing” commonly used in the discourse of peace-building
and post-conflict reconciliation, undoubtedly remains controversial. So what does the
term “healing” mean? The Mosby's Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative
Medicine (2005) defines healing as a “process of recovery, repair, and restoration”; or a
process of “return to wholeness.” Healing therefore is defined as a process of “creating
unity” in all aspects of the individual human being and community life – physical,
emotional, social and spiritual (Danesh et al 2007:277). It is a process by which unity is
restored at both the individual and societal levels. It is important to note that the process
of healing wounds involves four dimensions - physical, psychological, social, and
spiritual. Although the spiritual dimension of healing is often neglected in many societies,
it remains central to the process of healing.

“Healing or the creation of “health” – whether biological or psychological – is

synonymous with the creation of “unity”: the establishment of dynamic equilibrium
within ourselves and our interactions with the world” (Danesh et al 2007:279). If
individual and community healing are seen to be the societal equivalent of unity or
harmony, then their illness, the opposite of healing, could be seen to equate to disease or
disunity. Taking the individual and community ‘healing/unity’ and ‘disease/disunity’
allegory further, it could be argued that an unhealed society is an unhealthy society as
well (PaxEye 2008:36).

According to Carol Taylor (2006), healing is a process by which a society moves from a
sense of brokenness to a sense of wholeness. She states that it is a process of “becoming
whole, a life-long journey of becoming fully human, involving the totality of our being:
body, mind, emotion, spirit, social and political context, as well as our relationships with
others and with the Divine” (Taylor 2006). Additionally, Brandon Hamber (2003:77)
defines healing as a process or activity that improves the psychological well being of
individuals, repair and rebuild communities and the social context. In other words,
healing is a process of building bridges between victims and perpetrators affected by

Judith Herman (1992:133) describes healing as a process of recovery. She states that
healing is based on the empowerment of survivors and creation of new connections. She
maintains that, healing as a process, can only take place within the context of
relationships, and cannot occur in isolation. With a renewed reconnection with others, the
survivors can recreate the psychological faculties that were damaged or deformed by
traumatic experiences, but with the creation of a safe environment (Herman 1992:133).

Paul Gutlove (2005:1) views healing as a process of peace-building. He maintains that

healing is closely related to peace-building. According to Gutlove, both healing and
peace-building are ultimately about developing or repairing healthy human relationships.
Kimberly A. Maynard (1999:131) also views healing from the community cohesion
perspective. She states that healing is a process of rebuilding community cohesion.

In essence, all these different researchers and experts view healing as the process of
“creating unity,” although they did not use the term – “unity”. However, such concepts as
“wholeness,” “reconciliation,” improving “relationships,” community “cohesion,” are all
facets of the all-embracing concept of unity.

Evidently there exist an urgent need of healing for both the victims and perpetrators in
post-war societies including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and many other countries
that have experienced terrible violence or civil, if there is to be any hope for a better
future. This is because in the aftermath of violent conflict, peace is not simply the
absence of violence; those who have experienced violence and war need also to
experience healing. “To remain unhealed is to remain traumatized. Healing in this case
implies more than economic or political empowerment - it has to take place in
relationships among both victims and victimizers” (Saa 2002:2).

Through the process of healing, brothers and sisters who have descended into enmity will
be able to restore shared lives and become a community once again in the society. It will
also reduce the level of pain and suffering, and increase their chances of reconnection and
reconciliation. In other words, healing is the ability of the society to cope with its painful
past in order to move ahead with life once more for the many possibilities and
opportunities that lie ahead in life.

In a nutshell, the process of healing wounds after war is multifaceted and difficult as such
the humanitarian cannot be separated from the political, or the immediate from the long-
term, nor the rehabilitation from the development, each dimension is a necessary
component of peace building in the society (Otunnu 1996:52). Policy makers in particular
are therefore encouraged to attach an importance to meeting these needs to avoid the
reoccurrence of violence in these societies.

1. Danesh, H. B. & Clarke-Habibi, Sara (2005), Education for Peace Curriculum

Manual: A conceptual and Practical Guide, International Education for Peace
Institute, Canada

2. Gutlove, Paul (2005), Psycho-social Healing: Theory and Practice, University of

Tromse Center for International Health, USA

3. Hamber, Brandon (2003), Healing: A Handbook of Reconciliation After Violence

Conflict, edited by David Bloomfield, Teresa Barnes and Luc Huyse,
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Stockholm,

4. Herman, Judith (1992). Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence -- from
domestic abuse to political terror. New York: Basic Books, New York

5. Levine, Peter A. (2008), Healing Trauma: Pioneering Program for Restoring the
Wisdom of your Body, Sound True, Inc. Colararo, USA

6. Maynard, Kimberly A. (1999), Healing Communities in Conflict: International

Assistance in Complex Emergencies, Columbia University Press, New York

7. Otunnu, Olara A. (1996), Healing the Wounds: What nature of wounds? In

Healing the Wounds: Refugees, Reconstruction and Reconciliation, Report of the
second conference sponsored jointly by UNHRC and IPA, USA

8. Taylor, Carol (2006), Healing Presence: Creating a Culture that Promotes

Spiritual Care Supportive Voice Vol. 11 No. 2 Summer 2006

9. Saa, William (2002), Approaches to Dealing with Trauma cause by war and
political repression, Committee for conflict transformation support newsletter, 18.

10. _____ 2008, The PaxEye: World Peace Journal, Beati Pacific: Peace Magazine
for Peacemakers - No.1 of 2008