Developing guidelines for faith-sensitive psychosocial programming: A desk review

There is a growing awareness of the importance that faith and belief systems play in the lives of refugees, displaced persons and those affected by humanitarian crises in general. This was clearly articulated in the UNHCR High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Faith and Protection in 2012 and in “Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations of Faith Leaders’ the following year. There is also an emerging policy agenda that is promoting localisation of humanitarian aid, including partnership with local faith communities, faith leaders and faith-based organisations.

However, providing psychosocial support for those caught up in humanitarian crises which takes account of religious and spiritual needs is not without its challenges. Standard considerations in psychosocial programming under the banner of ‘culture’ may not reach into the religious and spiritual complexities of the lived reality of people facing extreme adversity. This desk review indeed identifies comparatively few studies and reports that provide accounts of sustained faith-sensitive engagement addressing individual and collective needs for meaning-making and reflecting participation at the level of coordination and assessment and human resources.

As part of our ongoing partnership together, Islamic Relief Worldwide and Lutheran World Federation began to work in 2016 on the development of guidelines for faith-sensitive psychosocial programming. From the onset, we were clear that the guidelines should be inclusive to all humanitarian actors, assisting both secular and faith-based organisations in the course of their work in the field. We used the term ‘faith-sensitive’ to bring the focus of the guidelines on the faith of the people affected by conflict, disaster and displacement, rather than on the faith allegiance (or non-faith allegiance) of humanitarian organisations and agencies. Other agencies are advising the project, including UNHCR, World Vision, the IFRC Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support and the Church of Sweden.

This desk review looks at the current framing of religious engagement in psychosocial support, taking account of the opportunities and risks associated with this area. It draws on a wide range of literature about psychosocial wellbeing in adversity and proposes using the well-established IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Settings (2007) as a basis for drafting additional guidance on faith-sensitive psychosocial programming.

The desk review will be used – together with findings from field research in Jordan, Kenya and Nepal with LWF and IRW staff and partners – to draft a preliminary version of guidelines for faith-sensitive psychosocial programming. We then plan – through a process of inter-agency consultation and partnership – to refine and pilot these guidelines with the goal of supporting the implementation of more faith-sensitive psychosocial programming globally.

Atallah Fitzgibbon
Policy & Strategy Manager, Policy and Strategy (HROD)
Islamic Relief Worldwide
Tel: +441216220722 | Mob: +447877905088

Michael French
Latin America, Global Rights-Based Programs, Interfaith
LWF World Service |
Tel: +41-22 791 67 19 | Mob: +41-79 668 7592 | Skype: mikefrench2

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