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Transcult Psychiatry. 2012 Jul;49(3-4):492-518. Epub 2012 Jun 21.

Strange but common bedfellows: the relationship between humanitarians and the military in developing psychosocial interventions for civilian populations affected by armed conflict.

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  • 1Douglas Mental Health University Institute, McGill University, 6875 LaSalle Boulevard, Montreal, QC, Canada.


This essay analyses how the relationships between Cold War and post-Cold War politics, military psychiatry, humanitarian aid and mental health interventions in war and post-war contexts have transformed over time. It focuses on the restrictions imposed on humanitarian interventions and aid during the Cold War; the politics leading to the transfer of the PTSD diagnosis and its treatment from the military to civilian populations; humanitarian intervention campaigns in the post-Cold War era; and the development of psychosocial intervention programs and standards of care for civilian populations affected by armed conflict. Viewing these developments in their broader historical, political and social contexts reveals the politics behind mental health interventions conducted in countries and populations affected by warfare. In such militarized contexts, the work of NGOs providing assistance to people suffering from trauma-related health problems is far from neutral as it depends on the support of the military and plays an important role in the shaping of international politics and humanitarian aid programs.

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