On a recent field visit to an IDP camp near the border of Sudan, I came by a clinic. I was interested in knowing the services available in this remote location so I greeted the nurse and was invited in.
The majority of the nurses and patients were gathered under mango trees as the clinic building was very small. As I walked into the building I saw a room titled "Group Counseling Room". I was delighted to see that the patients were receiving both medical treatment and psychological care. As I approached the room I noticed that room was stacked from floor to ceiling with food aid.
I imagined the expatriate staff writing a proposal for this clinic. The donor wanted to see something to do with "psychosocial support" or "counseling" fitted into the clinic proposal. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for international actors to recognize the importance of psychological wellbeing in sustainable development, yet most have no idea how to implement healing interventions. Exporting the concept of group counseling and allotting a space is not enough. Real psychosocial healing takes a massive investment from the local community and trained healers with long-term commitment. Many mental health professionals are contented with short-term consultancies or establishing a system of care. However, psychological healing takes imagination and creativity; fostering this cannot be accomplished through a one-off input. There must be a commitment to the individual and his or her process. This commitment is not "cost-effective" and may not yield immediate results but underpins the entire process of restoration in the individual and wider community.
The World Health Organization has a motto that says "There can be no health without mental health". While we can agree to this truth, the investment in mental health remains lacking in many developing countries.
While I was saddened at the missed opportunity for psychological healing through group counseling, I applauded the community members for their utilization of space. I turned to Holly and said, "Hunger always wins out over half-baked ideas of emotional support"
Is psychological wellbeing a luxury or a necessity?
Can we expect the community to value psychological healing when current interventions are superficial and material aid has been fine-tuned?