Mental health is increasingly on the agenda. Armed conflicts, humanitarian crises, displaced populations and waves of refugees call upon our forces and challenge hope for a better world. December 10th marked International Human Rights Day. How to deal with the anxiety states that are increasingly common among us, and the traumatic experiences that knock on our door? The contribution of scientific research in the field of Psychology, namely Peace Psychology, seeks to respond to the needs of the community, applying the knowledge acquired to promote general well-being, social inclusion and the construction of a more humanized and fair society.
Raquel Matos, director of the Faculty of Education and Psychology (FEP) at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa (UCP), in Porto, considers that “one of the main missions of Psychology is to contribute to the promotion of peace, social justice and human rights”, giving capital importance to this area in the various training levels of psychologists. A pioneer of research in Peace Psychology in Portugal, Mariana Barbosa studies the dynamics of violent behaviors, applying them to the promotion of human rights. The professor, at the Faculty of Education and Psychology (FEP), maintains that “to resolve cycles of violence, peace must imply social equality and the restoration of human dignity – positive peace”. Following the founder of peace studies Johan Galtung, Mariana Barbosa considers that “working for peace is not just about ending war – negative peace – it also involves promoting justice and implementing reconciliation programs”. Psychology is a very powerful weapon, “if, on the one hand, it can help to kill, on the other, you must concentrate all your knowledge on preventing violence, hence the importance of investing in reconciliation processes and creating mechanisms of justice”, exemplifies. As a science of the mind, Psychology plays “an essential role in preventing conflicts and promoting human rights”, concludes the researcher at the Research Centre for Human Development (CEDH).
An investigation that transforms the community
Intervention in the field, especially in crisis scenarios, is essential to establish a deep connection with the research question. This was the case for Mariana Barbosa with the Refugee Support Platform (PAR), at the beginning of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean in 2016, and in 2022 when she supported Ukrainian war displaced people. The culture of humanism and volunteerism at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa (UCP) strives to be a differentiating vector for its researchers, on the path of discovering science at the service of the community. Specifically, Peace Psychology is closely linked to peace education, “which must essentially be an exercise in humility”, explains Mariana Barbosa. An exemplary case is the HIP-Heroic Imagination Project Portugal.
Founded and led by Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Stanford University, HIP “is based on the awareness that any seemingly ordinary person is capable of committing heroic acts and works on each person's ability to make that decision”, says the coordinator. The international project, coordinated in Portugal by Mariana Barbosa, has been implemented in children and adolescents. The most recent implementation of the program took place at the Social Center of the Parish of Nossa Senhora da Ajuda, in partnership with Look Around, an association of former students of the college. It aims to combat social indifference in young people and promote pro-social attitudes and behaviors, through education for everyday heroism. HIP's mission is to make a difference on the ground, empowering young people to be agents of transformation in their neighborhood, through the approach of concepts such as conformity and ways of developing actions of courage and kindness towards others.
Continuing in the field of intervention, with the purpose of helping migrant and refugee children, the "Waves in You" project focuses on surf therapy as a way of promoting the psychological well-being and social inclusion of the children. Developed by Fish Surf School, in partnership with the Universidade Católica Portuguesa (UCP) and the Instituto Universitário de Ciências da Saúde, the project combines non-formal education strategies and formal teaching strategies for surfing. The project's impact assessment is being conducted by the Research Center for Human Development (CEDH), of FEP-UCP.
Commitment to a future at the service of peace
Raquel Matos, professor at FEP and researcher at CEDH, advance that “understanding and promoting peacebuilding is a particularly ambitious task”. In fact, considering the different educational contexts, “it is necessary to work on empathy, valuing each person, respect for all, human rights and citizenship”. However, she is confident: “We have the knowledge and skills to play an essential role at this level, contributing to the construction of positive peace and a non-violent structural framework”. For Raquel Matos, who also carries out research in the area of Peace Psychology, this mission inevitably presupposes “a commitment to human rights and social justice”.
The Research Center for Human Development at the Faculty of Education and Psychology participates in the promotion, defense and guarantee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, established on December 10, 1948, by the United Nations, investing in psychology at the service of peace. Embracing the commitment of Research with Intervention and Teaching, CEDH focus on training its researchers and future psychologists to work in contexts of humanitarian crisis and as citizens committed to human rights and social justice.