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Healing, Reconciliation, Forgiving and the Prevention of Violence after Genocide or Mass Killing: An Intervention and Its Experimental Evaluation in Rwanda

This article describes a theory–based intervention in Rwanda to promote healing and reconciliation, and an experimental evaluation of its effects. The concept of reconciliation and conditions required for reconciliation after genocide or other intense intergroup violence are discussed, with a focus on healing. A training of facilitators who worked for local organizations that worked with groups of people in the community is described. The training consisted of psycho–educational lectures with extensive large group and small group discussion, as well as engagement by participants with their painful experiences during the genocide, with empathic support. The effects of the training were evaluated not on the participants, but on members of newly set up community groups they subsequently worked with. Two types of control groups were created: treatment controls, groups led by facilitators we did not train, using their traditional procedures, and a no treatment control group. We controlled for other variations in the type of groups the facilitators worked with (e.g. community building versus healing) by including them in all treatment conditions. Traumatic experiences, trauma symptoms, and orientation by participants to members of the other group were evaluated. The intervention was associated with reduced trauma symptoms and a more positive orientation toward members of the other group, both over time (from before the treatment to two months afterwards) and in comparison to control groups. Our observations suggest the importance and special meaning for people of understanding the origins of violence.

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