Assistance programs for people in crisis situations have changed their focus from one based on the care and prevention of psychological symptoms, to one that involves the three spheres of the psychosocial approach model. This model contemplates the relations between mind and body, social and economic relations, and culture. In the case of migrants, psychosocial well-being has been closely linked to the concepts of identity and community, which include a person's sense of belonging, internalized social roles, adaptation to their cultural context, differences between social support models, among others. In that sense, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) experts suggest activities in which affected communities cease to be merely recipients of services created by actors outside the community, and instead become active agents of their own solutions, with the support of external actors.
The Manual on Community-Based Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergencies and Displacement, launched by IOM in mid-2019, introduces the principles of the MHPSS and describes specific activities to implement them on different axes, such as rituals and celebrations, sports and games, non-formal and informal education, among others.
There are several benefits that have been identified in carrying out artistic interventions as part of the psychosocial approach model for emergency and displacement support. One of the main benefits is that these types of activities have the capacity to transform suffering, negative experiences and collective wounds into artistic and cultural productions that give new meaning to what has been lived. These activities can also strengthen social relationships at different levels (for example, family and community) and strengthen the resilience of individuals. The use of art (songs, videos, sculptures, paintings, poems) also allows metaphorical naming of themes that would otherwise be unmentionable, allowing new narratives to be introduced into larger segments of society.
Activities that can help healing
There are many creative and art-based activities that can be carried out to address the complex psychosocial situations that groups of migrants and displaced people go through. However, these activities must be suitable for the specific population group (taking into account age, gender, migratory history, identified psychosocial needs), the context and the resources available to them. With regard to staff, the use of professionals from various fields is promoted, including professionals in plastic arts, music and theater. In order to ensure the quality of the interventions, at the time of designing the activities, the place of the activity in the intervention pyramid (IASC) must be clear and incorporate the three spheres of the psychosocial model.
The Manual offers several examples of activities that can be implemented. Here are some possible creative and art-based activities for psychosocial support:
- Theatre of the opressed: It is characterized by the active participation of the audience in the work or performance. An unresolved situation that oppresses an individual is presented. The scene is repeated a second time with the intervention of an experienced moderator to guide the interactions. During the repetition, members of the audience can stop the play, take the place of the oppressed character, and suggest another possible outcome of how the problem could be solved. In the case of migrant returnees, the theater of the oppressed can be an opportunity to sensitize communities about the problems they face, show solidarity, and create bonds.
- Circus Arts: This type of activity has been used mainly for children and families. Circus arts can strengthen resilience, personal development and self-confidence. The circus arts allow a playful approach, through the use of clowns for example, to various psychosocial issues.
- Collective narratives: In some cultures, speaking in the first person may not be as well received as speaking collectively. This dynamic allows the voices of community leaders who have a good reputation in a community to be raised.
- Visual arts: Visual arts are a recurring resource for working with children and adolescents, but it is also useful with adults. These include everything from drawing, painting and sculpture, to photography and video, which makes it a valuable tool to express realities and ideas without using words. In Nigeria, for example, a combination of self-portraits and storytelling allowed for the strengthening of self-esteem and transformation capacity of affected migrant communities.
- Storytelling: Stories allow people to connect with a group through identification with a given situation. It is a valuable emotional resource, since not only those who listen to the story learn, but it allows the storyteller to identify their value with their peers, who will be able to recognize common experiences.
- Archives of Memory: In many parts of the world, archives of memory are created as a way to gain closure on past experiences and accept changes. It also serves as a way to honor victims and not forget the experiences that affected a group, community or even country. They make use of varied documentation, photographs, stories, personal objects and oral culture, among other forms of expression.
Activities to provide psychosocial assistance should always be designed for the specific context in which they will be carried out and for the needs of the people affected. It is necessary to have professionals who know how to direct the activities and recognize cultural differences, identifying if, for example, in a culture men will not participate in recreational activities, but in other types of artistic dynamics, or if women will have difficulties to feel comfortable in activities that are mostly bodily, so that the activities can be properly designed.
To look into the recommendations of IOM to make use of creative and artistic activities as a means to address the mental health and psychosocial well-being of migrants and displaced persons, as well as learn about other areas of intervention in SMAPS, we invite you to download this manual.