Claude Shema Rutagengwa, M.D.

Western vs. Local Approaches

On the field mission

There have been critics over the western psychosocial interventions in the conflict areas. Most of experts intervening to the fields are westerns, working in different countries all over the world: Africa, Asia, and Southern America mainly. They face a big challenge related to the culture and customs, and they are not familiar with local traditions at all. Sometimes their work gets undermined by the lack of local context knowledge, which would ease their incomparable efforts to save lives for a better world.

It is in this spirit that some researchers and helpers learned form the field and tried to tailoring some models that would work adequately for better and sustainable results.

The M.Wessels & C.Monteiro idea of combining the western and local psychosocial interventions on the field is perfect, because it embraces both aspect of traditional and modern context. But in order to be able to know exactly its efficacy and effectiveness (western & local one); we need to analyse both western and local approaches first and foremost separately.

1.Local approaches

Local approaches have been used centuries and hundred centuries or years before the introduction of the western ones. And according to the local people, it worked out perfectly, in accordance to their customs and rites.

But the results depend on how we perceive things and also our beliefs. If community believes that a person whit PTSD is under demons influence and must go through ritual matters, it won’t help that much, and the last intervention would be to discriminate and exclude that person from the community. But of course there are some good approaches as well within the local approaches as we will see in upcoming paragraphs.

1.1.Positive side

-The local approaches are well integrated and accepted by both head of communities and community members

– Traditionally & cultural oriented methods

– Strong connection with ancestors and other family members or loved ones who passed away (living together forever)

– Financially affordable (no training fees, no cost for healing mostly )

– Focusing on community at large and individual at small scale level (the western focuses excessively on individuals rather than community- M.Wessels & C.Monteiro, p.267)

1.2.Negative side

– Victimization of individuals some time

– Focusing largely to the community than looking for a personalized solution to individuals

– Extremism (not easy to change )

– No sustainability, no follow-up after intervention

2 Western approaches

Based on the study oriented research, renewed often to be more up-to-date approaches, the Western approaches seem to be more effective in prevention, solution, and sustainability. But it has also some negative effects to the community especially;  due to the bridge between the lack of knowledge of the history of region and other related key stronghold of the local context (Annemiek Ritchers ,p.120-121), and it intends to interfere with local culture and even replace local customs by the western ones.

2.1. Positive side

-Well tailored/designed

– Emphasises on individual and personalized solution

– Responding to the " psychological "needs of victims

– Clear implementation

– No harm effects to individuals or community

2.2 Negative side

– Perceived as foreign culture & unwelcome

– Interfering with local culture

– Fully individually oriented (directly) and less community oriented (indirectly)

– Not fully accepted by local community

The greatest challenges & how to increase the local autonomy

Behaviour changing is the greatest challenges in this issue. But building local capacity (Wessels.P.269) and boosting the [elders & opinion leaders] self-esteem by validation of the -communal traditional aspects of culture ( M.Wessels & C.Monteiro .P 271) is the only way to win "trust" first as the pathway to move forward and combine both western and local approaches for better results in psycho-social intervention in the aftermath of war and other violent conflicts for a sustainable reconstruction and psycho-social rehabilitation of the community. Together with this, the local community needs to be interactively empowered so that instead of being told what they need and what they should do, they feel enabled to find their own solutions to issues they have themselves identified as problems, not being imposed by expatriates (  Annemiek Ritchers,P.124). Mutual learning is important as well, because the good approaches from one side can help to improve another side as well.


The strong pillar of  effectiveness of both approaches (western & local) rely on combination of work of healing that fits local beliefs and culture. The moderation would be needed in this case, to decrease the extreme local  dependence of local negative approaches, to be adjusted with western positive approaches as well, in accordance to the local context and needs of victims and the well being of local community( M.Wessels & C.Monteiro, p.268)


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 Feb 2010.

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