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Healing in Colombia: Listen to the River of Voices

Updated: Jun 18

Guests of The Psychedelic Blog do not endorse, support, or otherwise advocate on behalf of any particular treatment approach for mental illnesses unless stated otherwise. The views expressed during this interview do not necessarily reflect the opinions or endorsement of The Psychedelic Blog. Readers should always consult with qualified healthcare professionals and conduct their own research before considering any treatment options. The blog and its authors are not responsible for any decisions made based on the information provided.

Museo de la Casa de Memoria

"An ethics of listening can be established through the recognition of such resonance;

a condition of possibility to begin contemplating the meaning(s) of listening and the way in which the other also vibrates and resonates within me."

-Juan Pablo Aranguren Romero,

The Researcher in the Face of the Unspeakable and

the Unutterable (An Ethics of Listening) 2008

I have been to places like this before. The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama is one of the best memorial or human rights museums anywhere...because it's brilliantly designed to communicate... the consequences of institutionalized injustice ... during centuries of enslavement, lynchings, and mass incarceration... of Black Americans in the United States (as distinguished sometimes from Black Americans across the Americas).

The Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles introduced me, as a child... to the reality of one group's capacity to orchestrate the extermination of another group... and what inaction on the part of others could mean.

The Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos (Memory and Human Rights Museum) in Santiago, Chile... demonstrated how a country, perhaps, any country, ... could be seized and controlled... through political violence, media, and sustained intimidation.

All of these visits were in some way transformative for me to see ... but trying to integrate the experiences more deeply...with follow-up visits... never happened.

At the Museo Casa de la Memoria (Memory House Museum) in Medellín, however, I've had more time to hear the river of voices... voices and images... images and stories ...from generations of people... of Colombians.

450,664 victims of homicide

Rivers such as the Magdalena, the Putumayo, and the Amazon are at the heart of this culture. I can imagine how the great Colombian author, Gabriel García Márquez, might evoke the voices of victims emerging from these sacred waters in the style of magic realism.

Inside the museum, the hushed lighting helps establish a mood of contemplation where a somber narrative of conflict—reported and remembered—comes to life through photos, the voices of survivors, and artistic interpretations. Statistics only begin to frame and capture the scale of these memories: 450,664 victims of homicide.

I wonder about the effects that armed conflict may have had, has, or may continue to have on the mental health of millions of Colombians. These are not just passing thoughts.

I co-founded and led a US-based NGO for 15 years focusing on human trafficking: exploitation for labor and/or sex among other crimes. In part, because of the professional and personal relationships I formed with survivors of unspeakable realities, I have long been interested in better understanding the persistent and even generational effects of trauma, and in finding ways to alleviate or eliminate those damaging effects of remembered events.

El Museo Casa de Memoria is a great place to begin understanding the depth and scope of a conflict that has burdened a truly beautiful people for more than 60 years. I came to the museum first in 2022 while, also, beginning to study a Colombian-based project called ACOPLE (meaning "to connect" in Spanish). The project was funded by USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and it included Baltimore-based, Johns Hopkins University, Chicago-based, Heartland Alliance International as well as survivor-based organizations in Colombia like AFRODES (National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians). It focused on testing a model of mental health support for victims of armed conflict in a few rural populations.

I didn't know it at the time, but Juan Pablo Aranguren Romero evaluated the impacts of the ACOPLE project. Aranguren is an associate professor of psychology and Academic Director of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Los Andes in Bogotá. After reading some of his work, I was anxious to speak with him about innovative and effective ways to support victims and survivors of armed conflict. The following is part of our recent conversation.

Robert: Juan Pablo, I appreciate you speaking with me. I'm always interested in hearing the thoughts of mental health professionals on how armed conflict has and continues to impact the mental wellbeing of Colombians. But it seems like, the more I learn, the more I understand how little I really know. Can you help shed light on the effects of armed conflict on the mental health of Colombians?

Juan Pablo: From my point of view, one of the biggest challenges that Colombia has in terms of mental health is not only in the impacts caused by the war and the Colombian armed conflict but also by other types of events. It has to do with understanding that large parts of the populations most affected by violence and by the conflict and by poverty and inequality—even by human trafficking as you pointed out earlier—are people who do not necessarily have access to psychological or mental health services. Many are not accustomed to that type of relationship with a therapeutic professional, because populations, fundamentally rural in origin in Colombia, are not accustomed to processing their emotional discomfort through an individual psychotherapeutic model.


Juan Pablo Aranguren Romero is very difficult for the population affected by the conflict to process those impacts or those traumas through a model of individual psychotherapy.

-Juan Pablo

When you, let's say, implement a public policy in which you build more health centers with more psychologists, it does not necessarily result in an improvement in terms of mental health. What you will find, in many cases, is that people will not attend [treatment sessions] because they feel that it is not the place where they would like to talk about what has happened to them. On the other hand, what we will find is that if people do attend, they do not necessarily reflect an improvement in their mental health. This is due to the way therapists tend to address a significant part of these traumatic contexts which is very focused on the suffering that is lived privately as is usually addressed in psychotherapy.

I have been working for a long time in Buenaventura, Quibdó, and Tumaco, three places in the Colombian Pacific region. In all three places, what we fundamentally find is that it is very difficult for the population affected by the conflict to process those impacts or those traumas solely through a model of individual psychotherapy. And, one of the reasons is that the construction of their own identity is crossed by a more community-based perspective. This part of the lesson that we have already had for some time, maybe even about 20 years in the Colombian case, is that just through individual psychotherapy people are not going to be feeling better. A much more community-based therapeutic model must be assumed.

Community psychology* has advanced a lot in Latin America but it is a relatively recent psychology. Community psychology has been in Latin America for about 40 years. It has usually been very in line with working with communities but detached from the production of scientific knowledge; as if they were opposites. In some way, community psychology arises in conflict with a more individual and more positivist psychology. But, by arising from that perspective, it ends up clashing with scientific psychology**. Then almost everything that sounded like scientific evidence created a distance between scientific psychology and community psychology as if they were on opposing paths.

*Community Psychology

  • Definition: Community Psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on understanding individuals within their social, cultural, economic, geographic, and political contexts. It aims to address social issues and improve quality of life through collaborative, community-based approaches.

  • Explanation: This field emphasizes an ecological perspective, considering the multiple environments individuals interact with. It promotes empowerment, prevention, social justice, and collaboration, aiming to enhance community strengths and resources while addressing systemic issues and inequalities.

  • Example: Community psychologists might develop violence prevention programs, youth empowerment projects, or health promotion campaigns. They work collaboratively with community members to design, implement, and evaluate initiatives that foster well-being and social change.

  • Quote: "Community psychology is about creating communities where people can be empowered and can work together to improve their collective well-being." - Dr. William A. Vega

**Scientific Psychology

  • Definition: Scientific Psychology is the branch of psychology that applies rigorous scientific methods to study and understand behavior and mental processes. It relies on empirical evidence, systematic observation, experimentation, and statistical analysis to draw conclusions about psychological phenomena.

  • Explanation: This field emphasizes the importance of objectivity, replicability, and the scientific method in exploring psychological concepts. Researchers in scientific psychology conduct controlled experiments, longitudinal studies, and meta-analyses to uncover patterns and relationships in behavior and cognition.

  • Example: Scientific psychologists might study the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy on depression through randomized controlled trials, investigate the neural mechanisms of memory using brain imaging techniques, or analyze large datasets to understand the prevalence of mental health disorders across different populations.

  • Quote: "Scientific psychology seeks to understand human behavior and mental processes through empirical research and evidence-based approaches." - Dr. John F. Kihlstrom

Glossary of Terms, The Psychedelic Blog

To this day, what many other colleagues and I have been doing is providing evidence of the valuable contributions of community psychology and the psychosocial approach to the promotion of mental health in Colombia, showing that community psychotherapeutic models and the psychosocial perspective are truly useful and relevant. To put it in a very Colombian way, it is not "nonsense," it is not just nice things done with the community, but they directly contribute to the promotion of emotional well-being. This evidence needs to be built because it had not been developed with sufficient clarity before.

If the mental health models only focus on the improvement of each individual who goes to consultation, it is useless. It does not help if Juan feels good and Robert feels good if the entire context around Robert and Juan Pablo continues to be a context that re-victimizes, does not allow discussion of the topic, or does not legitimize or validate what Robert and Juan Pablo felt. Today's approach shows us that the community is important, but the community is not just the traditional indigenous or Afro-Colombian communities. The community, in the strict sense, includes all human beings somehow involved in the experience of someone who has suffered an event of violence.

6,402 Extrajudicial Executions

A large part of the problem that victims of different acts of sexual violence, political violence, recruitment, and human trafficking face is that, when they want to share their experience, this turns into a very private experience that cannot be shared socially in terms of emotional well-being. If the experience is not managed collectively, it will continue to be lived as a private experience, exclusive to the victims who lived that event. This happens with the war in Colombia, for example, with the terrible issue of the false positives*.

*False Positives

  • Definition: In the context of the Colombian conflict, "False Positives" refer to the murders by the Colombian army of young civilians who were then reported as guerrillas killed in combat, often for incentives such as promotions or bonuses.

  • Explanation: These killings were part of a broader issue within the military, where pressure to show results in the fight against insurgent groups led to severe human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings.

  • Example: An investigation revealed numerous cases across Colombia where civilians, often from vulnerable communities, were recruited they were recruited for fake jobs, killed, and then presented as combatants killed in action to inflate body counts and secure military advantages.

  • Quote: "The tragedy of the 'False Positives' scandal highlights the dire consequences of a militaristic policy that values quantity over the sanctity of life." - Human Rights Watch.

Glossary of Terms, The Psychedelic Blog

Luz Marina Bernal, Mothers of Soacha

"The suffering that the mothers of false positives experience is not a product of the mothers' inability to elaborate on the pain of mourning, but it is the product of a society that has looked the other way."

-Juan Pablo

False positives are still in the process of becoming part of social responsibility. The suffering that the mothers of false positives experience is not a product of the mothers' inability to elaborate on the pain of mourning, but it is the product of a society that has looked the other way. The fact is, for instance, that more than half of the casualties in combat, between 2006 and 2007, were actually innocent civilians. These types of things are still a cost that society must assume. The suffering of the mothers of the murdered or disappeared is assumed to be something that only they should experience and not society as a whole.

We have known since after World War II, the big claim that the survivors of the holocaust had is that: I do not want to relive this as something private that happened to me because I had the "bad luck' of being detained in a concentration camp. I have to tell everyone else and the others must feel co-responsible for my suffering. My discomfort exists, others were accomplices. They looked the other way. They did not attend to what was happening. They did not listen. They were not willing to stop this.

Today, I would say that part of society, more or less in general, agrees. Those types of events have to be heard throughout society. Because a large part of the problem, in the first place, has to do with how we de-privatize the suffering so that suffering, caused by structural social events, is something that corresponds to the whole society to review what have we done wrong for that suffering to have occurred. If not, it will always be a trauma that is lived privately. Something that is lived only between the sufferer and their therapist. And that person will never be able to give a significant place, in social terms, to that suffering.

In the case of victims of sexual violence, we see it more and more. Part of the claim of victims of sexual violence, who are mostly women, is that it cannot be that this is the fault of the women. This has to be understood as a fault of the society that allows this to happen. Otherwise, each woman going to therapy privately and others will be a model that will never end up being successful. Because in the end, there will always be individual victims, each one looking to heal their wounds privately.

Robert: At the beginning of this blog, I've tried to frame our conversation around the Museo Casa de Memoria in Medellín. I know that you have worked with the museum and have also done studies about listening to victims. Clearly, it's critical to share those voices to add to our collective understanding of who we are whether we're in Chile learning about the Pinochet regime, in a Holocaust Museum learning about atrocities against the Jewish people, or in other powerful, truth-telling places. I often wonder, when learning about these deeply personal experiences, how we can effectively share their messages and knowledge with a broader audience, even when they are showcased on larger platforms like museums.

Juan Pablo: Here, there is something very important. If we assume that, indeed, the acts of violence concern us all, we are implicated in those acts of violence. We cannot say that the war happens over there, in other places, we are implicated in the war. The fact that it does not touch us directly already speaks of an involvement. In a country with 64 years or more of conflict, there are some people who can pass, like the Bogotáns, without feeling that the conflict touches them. This is something quite rare.

How is it possible that the war is waged in certain places and not in others? In fact, the war is waged even in Bogotá, even in Medellín, we just don't see it. We look the other way. Many of the false positives that we don't know about today also occurred in downtown Bogotá or in municipalities near the capital. The recruitment of several young men also happened in downtown Bogotá, Soacha, Popayán, and Medellín. For me, assuming that the conflict occurs only in other places is largely related to the discomfort of assuming that this should concern all of us.

We also recognize that in addition to therapists, there are other human beings who are also welcoming, embracing, and listening to those stories, such as journalists, photographers, artists, forensic experts, and lawyers. All those who are willing to listen to those narratives and embrace those people have contributed to promoting emotional well-being in many individuals. In fact, for me, it has always been very paradoxical.

I have worked a lot with mothers of the disappeared who often feel more comfortable talking with an artist than with a psychologist because the artist manages to understand the problem associated with the event of the disappearance. The artist manages to understand the catastrophe associated with the missing person and that it is a catastrophe even to represent it in this way because the bodies of human beings do not disappear, that is not nonsense. The artists manage, sometimes with greater clarity than the psychologists can, to echo that catastrophe.

Robert: We're talking about artists like musicians or visual artists?

Juan Pablo: Musicians or those who work with the image normally. The part of the problem of forced disappearances for the psychic suffering of people is that it is an entity that is and is not present or absent at the same time. Because it is a human being there are the memories of the relatives. Many artists can achieve this here in Colombia. The artist, for example, Erika Diettes or the photographer Álvaro Cardona. They manage to represent those catastrophic dimensions of the disappearance. Then the relatives feel much more comfortable speaking with the artist. But—and here comes the point about the psychologist—the psychologist fails to understand this dimension of absence-presence because they rely on their analytical framework for grief or try to apply the analytical framework for grief to explain forced disappearance.

Erika Diettes, The Pain is Where We're Equal, Photo: José Puentes Ramos.

Mourning involves fixed categories associated with problematic loss. It becomes especially complicated in cases of forced disappearance because mourning is an intrapsychic or internal, personal process where I must accept that the other person is definitively gone, has died, and will not return. However, in cases of forced disappearance, this process is disrupted. As a psychologist, I understand that those experiencing forced disappearance have not been able to fully mourn because they cannot accept that their loved one will not return. This inability to accept the loss stems from the unresolved nature of forced disappearance, which makes it impossible to tell the family member to accept that their loved one is gone.

Photograph by Álvaro Cardona,

No, on the contrary, what most families of missing people have is the hope that their family member returns. And then the analytical matrix that we psychologists use to try to explain the disappearance is unfair. For that reason many relatives feel more comfortable talking with artists.

Here we enter another part of what also has to do with coupling. What we find is that victims feel better understood by other victims. Then I prefer to tell this to a community of victims or a support community because they understand what I am living, not the psychologist, because the psychologist normally presents himself as someone who comes from outside, who has not experienced the war or who presents themselves as if they have not experienced it, as someone who has nothing to do with that issue.

In the field of critical social psychology, we always repeat a phrase: we must understand the emotional reactions of the victims as normal reactions to abnormal events. What does this mean? The abnormal is the event; the normal is the response of the subject, like the mothers of false positives who tattoo the name of their son so that it does not get erased. Or there is Mr. Raúl Carvajal, who died recently from COVID-19. He came from Córdoba in the north of Colombia with the body of his son that they returned to him. He brought it from the cemetery in the back of a truck to Bogotá to exhibit it in the Plaza de Bolívar, saying, "My son was murdered for not wanting to be an accomplice of the false positives." This is someone who had to do what he did, and if I tell him as a psychologist that you have not elaborated the mourning, then I don't understand the psychosocial dimensions of the problem.

Raúl Carvajal, a father determined. Image: Infobae

He came from Córdoba in the north of Colombia with the body of his son that they returned to him.

-Juan Pablo

Victims tend to feel better when welcomed by other victims who have lived these events. That gave us evidence that, if we already have the scientific evidence, it shows us that there are therapeutic models that work quite well when the therapists are other victims who have lived similar events. In the case of Colombia, there is a very interesting story: at the end of the 1980s, the first training program with therapeutic tools for community leaders began so that they could provide first emotional aids to other victims. This model, created by a mental health and human rights organization, the Corporación AVRE, has a very nice name, is called "Popular therapists and multipliers in psychosocial actions."

The popular therapist is someone in the community who has a role of listening, like journalists, religious figures, nuns, leaders, or school teachers. These people are community references to whom victims usually turn for emotional support and advice. Corporación AVRE, in the 1990s, implemented a program based on the Popular Education model. It provided training to community leaders from different parts of the country to become popular therapists, giving them tools to work in mourning, effective listening, and contexts of violence. The trained leader listens to the victims and refers them to specialized psychologists when necessary.

This shows that we can all participate in promoting mental health. Once they are trained, a network of popular therapists is created. This model was replicated in various scenarios until about 2010 in Colombia. Later, organizations like Heartland Alliance International adopted and enhanced the model, offering more scientific training with highly qualified psychologists and therapists from Chicago.

When I encountered the ACOPLE model, I thought it was excellent. It provided more therapeutic tools to social leaders and organizations working on well-being in Quibdó and Buenaventura. Those who benefited the most were the leaders themselves. Helping and caring for others is crucial for one's own healing. A victim who trains in therapeutic tools and helps another can better elaborate their own process.

This is the fundamental basis of my research: allowing the circulation of psychological knowledge. This is powerful and valuable, showing that the best therapeutic exercise involves helping someone else. When I listen to another, I decentralize my own pain, and the situation changes radically.

Robert: This is what impressed me about the ACOPLE model, that a victim could seek help then they could continue to help others as an extension of their own therapy. This makes me think of another model developed in Africa called, The Friendship Bench where older women, who, especially in western societies, are often isolated, are able to listen to younger women who may have depression, anxiety, or trauma. It is a powerful way to create a circular type of community therapy. I would love to see that grow. And, I think that the ACOPLE model is like this. I just wonder if it's possible to expand the reach of this project through remote therapy.

Juan Pablo: In fact, during the pandemic, the ACOPLE project had to become a telemedicine or remote therapy program. However, part of what we found is that for the Colombian population, face-to-face and physical contact continues to be crucial. This means that telemedicine models do not work for certain types of populations, such as rural, Afro-Colombian, or indigenous communities. The fundamental reason for this is the importance of community bonds and fabric that are crucial for these missions.

For example, within the communities of the Atrato River [Northwestern Colombia] and most Afro-Colombian communities of the Pacific, the elaboration of losses and mourning traditionally includes funeral rituals that involve praises, novenas (nine nights of vigil for the dead), and alabaos or tomb raising (the final act of lifting and bidding farewell to the dead). These are local experiences of mourning elaboration among Afro-Pacific communities. The chants to the dead, the novenas, and the alabaos are not just funeral rituals. Our research found that these rituals provide emotional well-being to the mourners. Those who participate in these rituals manage to better elaborate their losses and find some tranquility for their spirit or soul after the loss.

We also found that face-to-face and body-to-body contact helps in the processes of elaborating losses, pains, and sufferings. In African countries, older people, particularly grandmothers, have an important role as listeners in their communities. This interaction is beneficial not only for the younger people but also for the grandmothers. These grandmothers feel important and recognized and they prepare and reflect on their own lives to offer better support.

An evaluation of the ACOPLE project revealed that the vast majority of participants were women. Many of these women expressed fear about listening to victims of sexual violence because they had experienced it themselves. They realized that they needed to heal their own wounds before they could attend to others. This process involved reflexivity and a search for personal understanding to gain better tools for helping others. This underscores the significant role of community-based tools.

Another investigation we conducted in the Colombian Pacific region involved mapping the mental health resources that organizations have. We found that some organizations play a decisive role in promoting mental health through artistic projects and leadership actions among the youth. A mental health policy for Colombia must necessarily strengthen the community-based tools that organizations already have.

We discovered that the number of psychologists and psychiatrists per capita in Colombia is tremendously low in most regions of the country. While Bogotá is not so bad, Buenaventura, until recently, had only one psychiatrist who could medicate. Now, there are at least three or four psychiatrists in Buenaventura, a port city with more than 400,000 inhabitants. Despite this, specialized attention is still needed. For example, in Buenaventura and Tumaco, the only specialized psychological clinical care available was from Doctors Without Borders. When they closed their office in Buenaventura, people were left without access to psychologists or psychiatrists.

There is also a challenge in not only increasing the number of psychologists but also ensuring they are better trained to understand the realities of the armed conflict. This includes understanding the manifestations and impacts of the conflict on mental health.

Robert: So, when someone, who's been a victim of something terrible like sexual assault,  successfully receives therapy, it does not necessarily mean they are free of triggers that could come up when they are providing therapy to other victims?

Juan Pablo: Yes, well, I think there is something very interesting here, and that is, speaking more as a therapist, the individual's times, the person's times, are not necessarily institutional times; they do not coincide. What does that mean? A person can go to therapy, share everything they felt, and satisfactorily finish therapy, but the individual's times are different. It might still be that after saying, "I came out of therapy well, and I feel very good," the connection with experiences of pain and suffering may emerge in other ways, or may even have never emerged.

For example, right now I am working with a significant challenge: thinking about the intergenerational transmission of trauma, how it is transmitted across generations. In a very preliminary study, I have found that there is a need for second and third generations, children of combatants, and children of victims to share their experiences. However, many of them still do not have a clear understanding of the effect that having had a parent as a guerrilla militant or victim of some event has had. It is still, let's say, about to emerge because the individuals' times are just beginning to provide the conditions for this to emerge.

So, I believe that we are going to find a scenario, or many scenarios, in which people are going to express their discomfort maybe later and not necessarily at this moment. Right now, we are just hearing some points, the tip, if you will, of the emotional discomfort that the war, the conflict, or other events in Colombia have caused. The truth is that we must understand that even when a person completes a therapeutic process, it does not mean that those experiences are not going to continue impacting their life.

Understanding the effects of conflict

People not only have PTSD; they might also have depression or anxiety.

-Juan Pablo

Robert: We've been talking about many issues, but you touched upon a January 2024 study you co-authored called, Macro level system mapping of the provision of mental health services to young people living in a conflict context in Colombia. In it, there was a reference to “the superficiality of international or Western concepts of mental wellbeing for populations when operating in a conflict or post-conflict context.” I think a lot about the spiritual side of mental wellness, especially in regard to Colombia’s indigenous populations, who often measure wellbeing or hold values that relate to wellbeing in contrasting ways from the West. How much of mental wellness is about our worldviews?

Juan Pablo: A critical point is that the Western view of mental health, particularly in contexts of armed conflicts, places almost a deterministic weight on the category of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When we think that PTSD is the only way we can address war experiences, we overlook other manifestations and those native to our Western language about mental health. People not only have PTSD; they might also have depression or anxiety. There are other languages and other ways to name and face these events.

Part of what we have found, through several research studies, is that categories like PTSD are useful for certain types of people who experienced specific types of experiences, but not for all victims of all armed conflicts or from all places in the world. A very famous psychiatrist, Derek Summerfield, who works at London's Institute of Psychiatry and has been working with Palestinians for a long time, is most critical of the PTSD category (2001 lecture). He sees a problem with assuming that all victims will react in the same way to all events, similar to the concepts of resilience in Colombia. Although most victims can score high if a PTSD psychodiagnostic test is applied, the majority of people do not necessarily suffer from PTSD.

There is a critical point in the definition of PTSD: the post-traumatic aspect. Post-traumatic refers to something that was lived after trauma, once armed conflicts or long-duration violences occurred. In a country like Colombia, there is not, in the strict sense, post-trauma because there are still violations, attacks, and victims. It makes sense for an American soldier who returns from Afghanistan and experiences flashbacks in a safe environment like San Francisco. However, for a young person whose parents were killed in their hometown, ongoing threats mean that the concept of post-traumatic does not apply. The concept should reference communities to explain suffering.

In the case of indigenous populations, we have found that some indigenous communities in Colombia, such as the Emberá, who have been displaced and are now in Bogotá, present significant numbers of suicides among young people and women. Traditional psychologists might attribute this to conditions of the indigenous community. However, the community's explanation is that these are homicides perpetrated by spirits of the dead who died incorrectly in the context of war. As psychologists, we should not simply accept this explanation but give it some value because acknowledging the community's reports has helped decrease suicide rates.

Indigenous communities are more effective in promoting emotional well-being and mental health if their spiritual leadership is strengthened. This helps maintain a healthy community fabric, and when a spiritual leader is lost, another can take their place. It is important to understand that the impacts of armed conflict are not the same across different regions and cultures. Global mental health models must consider diversities in languages and models for naming emotional discomfort.

Similarly, melancholy in the 17th to 19th centuries was a disease of the soul affecting artists and musicians but was a source of inspiration rather than suffering. Depression, on the other hand, is suffered and not seen as a state that invites creativity. The Western language used to name emotional discomforts significantly affects people's lives.

Colombian music festival,, Image: Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin)

"An absence of meaning opens a gap in time."

-Michel de Certeau

Robert: This has really been fascinating, Juan Pablo. Last question, who are two role models of yours?

Juan Pablo: A French thinker named Michel de Certeau has been very useful for me. He was very interested in all the sciences; he didn't just like one particular area. He liked history, psychoanalysis, theology, and linguistics. For me, he was a model in my own education. The other model for me is my father because my father is a great merchant, a merchant of very small markets. He is not a merchant who sells big things; he actually sells very small things, but everything he sets out to sell, he sells.

Robert: I appreciate you participating in this conversation, Juan Pablo. Your insights are important especially for North American readers like me who are more likely to recognize health and mental health care that is geared toward the individual while mostly ignoring or undervaluing the ecosystems around the individual. The Kogi people from the region of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta say, "Yo soy porque nosotros somos" or "I am because we are." It seems that this could be a mantra of advocates for a community psychology approach or even those utilizing a hybrid approach as you describe above.

I find it fascinating that the efficacy of talk therapy can be significantly influenced by who is listening to a subject's painful experiences. Throughout this discussion, I've been tempted to view things in a dualistic context: individual versus communal, Western versus traditional knowledge, Global North versus Global South, and scientific versus community psychology. While I recognize that nothing is purely black and white, using these dichotomies as a starting point helps me better understand the nuances. Reflecting on who might be the best listeners—whether it's a psychotherapist, another survivor of similar trauma, a journalist, or an artist—I wonder if this also relates to gendered qualities in listeners, with males often seen as solution-oriented and females tending to listen with more empathy.

I know we're only scratching the surface here, Juan Pablo, but I'm feeling better informed already. Thank you.

I just wanted to add a bit more about El Museo de la Casa de Memoria in Medellín with a couple more questions.

Robert: What role do you think the museum should play in Medellín and Colombia?

Museum: El Museo Casa de la Memoria is a pedagogical and social project, inclusive and representative, that contributes to symbolic reparation and non-repetition for social transformation in search of the construction of memories and peace.

We are a Museum that seeks to enhance memories as a social and cultural action. We are a House by being a space for dialogue and amplification of the voices of the victims and community around memory. And we are a Memory Center that works from the understanding of the past and the cultural transformation of the logic of war, for the collective construction of peace, at the local, regional, national and international level.

Robert: What do remembering and knowing do for our individual and collective mental well-being?

Museum: Memory sites such as El Museo Casa de la Memoria help guarantee non-repetition and symbolic reparation by strengthening practices of conversation, communication, creation and action to process differences and expand the framework for reflection on the armed conflict and different forms of violence that have been experienced in Medellín, Antioquia and the country. We help in a timely manner by being:

  • A space for victims and organizations to contribute to overcoming the armed conflict and other violence in Medellín, Antioquia and Colombia.

  • A place for collective recognition and symbolic reparation through museographic, artistic, cultural and academic languages.

  • An educational and mediation model for reflection.

  • Have processes of construction, circulation, and care of memories.

  • A scenario to contribute to the guarantees of non-repetition based on dialogue, reflection, and respect for differences as pillars of democracy and peace.

We invite you to continue being part of our Museo Casa de la Memoria with all the programming we have available on our social networks.

Robert: Thanks again.

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