ABSTRACT. Over the last several decades, humanitarian programs have increasingly sought to preserve not only physical life and health, but also to address psychological needs and to promote the social well-being of conflict-affected populations. This growing prioritization of psychological issues in humanitarian settings can be seen in the development and widespread use of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) programs. Such programs have taken many forms, including the deployment of psychiatrists to emergencies, promotion of trauma counseling, establishment of supportive spaces for children, and longer-term community development and peace-building initiatives. Despite this proliferation, MHPSS programs have been widely criticized, and the field marked by intense debate. This paper discusses the evolution of MHPSS programs and the associated debates by analyzing Vanessa Pupavac’s critique of psychosocial programming as constituting “therapeutic governance,” or the homogenization, pathologization, controlling and depoliticization of affected communities. The framework is then mobilized to analyze the 2007 IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support. This discussion highlights the significant progress that has been made in the MHPSS field. pp. 130–169

Keywords: mental health; psychosocial support; humanitarian; governance; trauma; post-traumatic stress disorder

How to cite: Rehberg, Katherine (2015), “Revisiting Therapeutic Governance: The Politics of Mental Health and Psychosocial Programs in Humanitarian Settings,” American Journal of Medical Research 2(2): 130–169.

Received 20 November 2014 • Received in revised form 30 September 2015
Accepted 30 September 2015 • Available online 15 October 2015

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Refugee Studies Centre,
Oxford Department of International Development,
University of Oxford

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