Panellists of an event on how psychology can impact and enhance peace mediation practice.

Discussions explored the findings of a new pilot study by the CREHR-led ‘States of Mind in Conflict’ project, which aims to grow and enhance peace mediation by equipping mediators with psychosocial tools, strategies and understanding. More than 90 practitioners in psychology, mental health and peace mediation were joined by diplomats and academics to learn about the findings of this innovative study.

Professor Dr. Irene Bruna Seu of CREHR, who led the research, commented that traditional peace mediation processes have overlooked psychology and emotion. She said:

“States of mind in conflict are not rational. The situation is volatile, unpredictable and full of ‘eruptions’ of emotions. Elite mediation overlooks these ‘eruptions’. Yet if we really want to engage with parties in conflict, we need to engage with their reality.”

Seu highlighted the following key recommendations from the study:

• The need to acknowledge and integrate the emotional aspects of mediation processes
• Uncoupling skills and uses of psychology from types of peace mediation practices
• Teaching and engendering psychological agility to bring the relational in dialogue alongside the technical and power-brokering, and to foster integration and cross-fertilisation across tracks and practices towards joined up thinking.

The people who are affected by conflict matter more than anything else. Their voices and experiences have to be recognised and heard in order to make peace possible.
Jonathan Cohen
Executive Director, Conciliation Resources

Reflecting on the findings, panellist Matthias Siegfried, a Senior Mediation Advisor at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, said there was “a growing awareness in recent years that effective peace mediation requires one to be both politically skilled and skilled in psychosocial dynamics.”

Professor Nader Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a social worker, mental health professional, and Professor of Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, emphasised that “emotions lie at the heart of conflicts, so it is critical for mediators to understand emotions”. She added the need to also recognise the dynamics of gender, race and power, among other aspects, and how these impact emotions at the negotiating table.

The panel answered questions from the audience covering issues such as the ethics of using of using psychological approaches, addressing emotive questions of justice in conflicts, peer review of mediation processes, and learnings from other sectors that already use psychological tools.

Concluding the event, panel moderator Jonathan Cohen, Executive Director of Conciliation Resources, said the study was the start of an important conversation about mediation practice.

“The people who are affected by conflict matter more than anything else. Their voices and experiences have to be recognised and heard in order to make peace possible.”

The event was held at the Embassy of Switzerland in central London, and opened with an introduction by Ambassador Markus Leitner who said that mediation is a key element of Swiss foreign policy. Switzerland is a candidate country to be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2023-24 and, if elected, intends to continue its engagement in support of peace mediation processes from within the Security Council.

The ‘States of Mind in Conflict’ (SOMIC) project was launched in 2020 and is based in CREHR. The project is funded by the Swiss Federal government research programme, with subject matter expertise provided by the Peace and Human Rights Division of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).

Watch video highlights from the event here.