As of 2016, Colombia’s peacebuilding process has involved the demilitarization and return to civilian life for a few thousand ex-combatants from the FARC-EP, the largest militant group involved in Colombia’s conflict. The psychosocial support of FARC-EP ex-combatants as they transition into civilian life is of critical importance for the success of Colombia’s peacebuilding process.
The consequence of not attending to the psychosocial side of ex-combatant's reintegration process is a major health risk for ex-combatants which can result in high medical costs and can mean a return to militancy for some ex-combatants, which would be a severe challenge to a stable and lasting peace in Colombia. One particular concern, is the development of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in ex-combatants as a result of traumatic experiences resulting from extreme shock, violence, or physical or psychological pain. The exact prevalence of PTSD in Colombian ex-combatants has not yet been assessed but approximations fall between 37.4% and 57%.
This susceptibility to trauma and these psychosocial obstacles to reintegration demonstrate the importance of developing and evaluating novel psychosocial support mechanisms for Colombian ex-combatants. While the immediate need for psychosocial support in Colombia is with FARC-EP ex-combatants in the demilitarization process, the program we are developing here can provide an important psychosocial support mechanism for other Colombian militant groups that are expected demobilize in the near future.
Our approach aims to supplement existing support mechanisms for ex-combatants by providing an immersive program that employs contemplative practices like meditation for promoting psychological well-being and resilience. Meditation-based programs have shown promise in helping with psychiatric conditions that ex-combatants are often at risk for like stress, chronic pain, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. Though such a program has not been used in Colombia, researchers in the USA have been exploring how meditation training can improve cognitive capacities and build resilience in soldiers before and after combat as a strategy to mitigate mental health maladies. Our project provides an opportunity to adapt this work to global peacebuilding contexts.