Abstract: Peace, Love, and Justice: A Participatory Study of Psychosocial Wellbeing in Afghanistan (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Peace, Love, and Justice: A Participatory Study of Psychosocial Wellbeing in Afghanistan

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR H, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Martha Bragin, PhD, Associate Professor, Hunter College, New York, NY
Bree Akesson, PhD, Associate Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University, Brantford, ON, Canada
Mariam Ahmady, Professor, Kabul University, Afghanistan
Rohina Zaffari, Professor, Kabul University, Afghanistan
Mohammed Hadi Rasooli, Psychiatrist, Hunter College, NY
Background and Purpose: While there have been many studies describing  the extent of human suffering in Afghanistan, there has been no formal study of what it means to be psychologically and socially well. Literature on Afghan resilience has called for such studies to take place in order to begin to develop indicators of positive outcomes for social work and related practitioners.

Methods: This paper reports on a 2018 participatory phenomenological study conducted in Afghanistan in order to better understand psychosocial wellbeing. The study used stepwise ethnographic exploration participatory evaluation tool (SEE_PET), a methodology successfully used in four other conflict-affected countries. Collecting data from 440 Afghan participants including 187 women and 253 men in 56 focus group discussions, the research specifically elaborated and operationalized definitions of psychosocial wellbeing among adults. Data analysis was done concurrently with fieldwork using a reflexive and iterative process.

Findings: Psychosocial wellbeing is a concept imported for use by the international community. The literal translation of salamat ravani ejtemay in Dari has come to be used to refer to mental health treatment; while widely used, this term actually refers to madness or serious mental illness as distinct from adversity related distress. A different word, (aramesh or aram), which was often used in the focus group discussions, referring to peace of mind. Another word that was used with great frequency was rahat, which means to be comfortable and relaxed, with a free state of mind. These terms—aramesh, aram, and rahat—were most frequently used to as descriptors of psychosocial wellbeing. A more temporary state would be to be khob or “good” or khosh meaning happy. Participants also noted phrases that described strong positive emotions including hama chiz var vefqe morad ast, meaning “everything is according to my wishes”, or khod ra azad yaftam meaning “I found myself free”. The participants created a set of distinct indicators for these states, against which participants, social workers, counselors, and policymakers could assess psychosocial outcomes.

Conclusions and Implications: This research is the first of its kind conducted in Afghanistan. The results from the study will help Afghan professionals understand their clients’ psychosocial wellbeing and subsequently tailor their work to support that achievement. Results from the study are also supporting Afghan higher education programs to solidify curricula that will equip graduates to meet the growing needs of Afghan individuals, families, and communities for qualified services in social work and counseling provided to Afghans by Afghan professionals. In the future, these operationalized domains will contribute to the development of valid and reliable instruments to measure psychosocial wellbeing in Afghanistan.