The question of political neutrality when doing psychosocial work with survivors of political violence
This paper considers whether a position of political neutrality is either valid or practical when doing psychosocial work with survivors of political violence. The ®rst part reviews the various professional ethical codes that appear to call for neutrality and illustrates some of the problems that have arisen when medical practitioners have identi®ed themselves with a particular political ideology. The contradiction between the demand for neutrality and a commitment to a person’s wellbeing is then explored, as are the dif®culties and consequences of sustaining a value free position. The second part of the paper focuses on psychosocial work conducted by humanitarian aid agencies in war zones, in particular Bosnia-Herzegovina. It argues that a tendency to focus on individual psychology while ignoring political and social context may appear to confer neutrality, but will have adverse psychological and political consequences. Case examples are given of attempts to acknowledge political biases while doing psychosocial work. When faced with problems such as genocide and ethnic cleansing, neutrality is not possible. For those doing psychosocial work, political literacy and an acknowledgement of one’s subjectivity is essentia l. At the collective level, psychosocial programmes should examine the long-term political consequences of their work as well as the short-term humanitarian impact.