Liberation Psychology And The Refugee Question


January 13, 2019 @ 10:30 am – 12:30 pm
Niebyl Proctor Library
6501 Telegraph
Gene Ruyle

With Both Marx And Jesus: Liberation Psychology And The Refugee Question – Reflections By Adrianne Aron

Derived from Liberation Theology and developed by a Jesuit priest in El Salvador, liberation psychology became the most effective of all methodologies for helping Central American refugees fleeing from state terrorism wrought by U.S. imperialism. The Catholic bishops’ “preferential option for the poor” that guided the radical religious movement of the 1970s and ‘80s in Latin America paved the way for psychology to break its attachments to the elites and bourgeois elements it had always served in places like El Salvador and Honduras (and the United States), and begin for the first time to try to understand the psychological effects of oppression. (Martín-Baró, the founder of liberation psychology, asks: What does “motivation” look like from the point of view of a woman who sells fruit in the marketplace?)


As people began fleeing the extreme violence in Central America and were seeking political asylum in the United States, liberation psychology provided a way for North American psychologists to put a political and historical context around the “disorders” of the traumatized refugees, and to interpret their psychological conditions to both the judges of immigration court who were hearing their asylum cases, and to the suffering individuals themselves, who felt they were losing their minds. In North American psychology this was a significant departure from the dominant paradigms of behaviorism (which unabashedly holds conformity to the mean as the desirable achievement of “normal”), and Freudian psychology, which attributes pathology to personal and interpersonal conditions but does not consider structural conditions such as capitalist social organization as contributors to breakdowns in mental health. (Fanon is not widely known in the U.S.) With liberation psychology, North American psychologists could use their professional interviewing skills to win the trust of traumatized clients, and their credentials and academic skills to win the respect of doubting judges. Most significantly, they could use their own sense of justice – and a wish to promote justice – to to inform their psychological work, whether their basis for this commitment was in religion, Marxism, or any ethical standard whatsoever.


Suggested reading: Writings for a Liberation Psychology: Essays of Ignacio Martín-Baró (Aron and Corne, Eds., Harvard University Press, 1994, 1996)
Human Rights and Wrongs (by Adrianne Aron, Sunshot Press, 2018)

Adrianne Aron is a bilingual liberation psychologist in Berkeley. Her psychological evaluation of a persecuted Salvadoran student leader in 1985 opened the possibility for Central Americans to win asylum in the U.S. (at a time when 98% of all Salvadoran applications, and 99% of Guatemalan applications, were being denied). Human Rights and Wrongs, winner of the Sunshot Nonfiction Prize, is being nominated for the PEN/Galbraith Award


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