Articles authored by Summerfield, Derek

Technical Notes

NGOs are receiving and distributing increasing funding for projects attempting to help traumatised victims of political violence. The author argues that many of these projects are ill conceived, failing to recognise that one aim of modern warfare is the dissolution of the social fabric and that survivors will be trying to manage their distress in damaged social environments. Also, the Western conception of mental trauma does not provide an adequate model for understanding the complex and evolving experiences of those in war-affected areas.


In current armed conflicts around the world, over 90 per cent of casualties are civilians. This article reviews medical and anthropological evidence of the psychosocial effects of extreme experiences such as torture, mutilation, rape, and the violent displacement of communities. The consequences for women and children are considered in particular. The author argues that the social development programmes of NGOs should be extended to support social networks and institutions in areas of conflict, and ends by giving guidelines for mental health promoters working in traumatised communities.