What is it about?

War exposes people to life-threatening experiences that, if repeated, destroy mental health and physical well-being. Survivors may feel threatened, even after having reached a safe and peaceful environment. To counter this supposed danger, aggressive reactive behavior becomes more likely. Moreover, former combatants may be motivated by appetitive aggression, i.e., by earlier experiences of "blood-lust" to become violent even after the conflict is over. Narrative Exposure Therapy encourages the conscious processing of these experiences. In child and adult former combatants in war-torn regions of the DR Congo we showed that NET, adapted for ex-combatants and compared with treatment as usual, can substantially reduce trauma-related suffering and control violent behavior. Substance abuse and depression also decreased, and perceived social acknowledgement increased. NET can help to overcome reactive and appetitive aggression that hinder demobilization, reintegration, and peacebuilding.

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Why is it important?

We show that aggression and violence can be effectively treated when the individual's personal trauma history is addressed in parallel. This treatment was effective despite the fact that the environment remained unstable.


With this finding we create new avenues to improve international stabilization programs and forensic rehabilitation in general.

Anke Köbach

As a short term treatment that can be provided by non specialist helpers , Narrative Exposure Therapy adapted for former combatants is a low resource, highly scalable treatment that can reduce not only trauma symptoms but also aggression and violence in unstable settings. There are therefore considerable possible applications for the involvement of this approach in peacekeeping.

Katy Robjant

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Treating trauma and aggression with narrative exposure therapy in former child and adult soldiers: A randomized controlled trial in Eastern DR Congo., Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, March 2021, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/ccp0000632.
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