Death of a psychologist

This time last week Marjorie Kisner Mira was leaving home to make one of her regular community visits. She never returned, and after several days of frantic searching her barely recognisable body was found in a deserted area of Medell√≠n, Colombia’s second city.

A recently qualified clinical psychologist, Kisner worked for the city’s Peace and Reconciliation programme, a project to help ex-paramilitaries reintegrate into society as part of the solution to the ongoing civil war.

Only 34, she lived only a few blocks away from my current home, in the mid-scale barrio of Laureles, and was last seen alive in Villa Hermosa, a more troubled neighbourhood to the north of the city.

Unfortunately, this is not the only tragedy to befall Colombian psychology this week. While writing this post, news of the the murder of the 25-year-old psychologist Yamid Correa has emerged, a victim of the FARC left wing guerilla group.

Correa worked in the rural south of Colombia for the mobile medical unit of the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, a humanitarian organisation that helps families in crisis. He was travelling with colleagues when their vehicle was attacked, killing Correa and the driver and injuring a social worker, nutritionist and child specialist.

To understand why psychologists are at risk, you need to understand a little about the role of psychology in Colombian society.

Unless you work privately for well-off clients, clinical psychologists are not well paid here, making only 2-3 times the minimum wage. They are, however, well respected. Colombia has an official ‘day of the psychologist’ in November and psychology is considered key to solving some of the country’s social problems.

Some weeks ago I was in one of Medell√≠n’s poorest barrios, famous for a Spanish-built library that is imposing and inspiring in equal measure and I was surprised to see that the top floor of the library was dedicated to courses in communication and body language for the local children.

The idea being that if kids are better able to know when trouble is about to kick off, or are better able to resolve conflicts when they do occur, it will lead to a reduction in violence.

Unlike in Europe and the US, where social psychology is largely a topic for research, here it is a vibrant, active and applied discipline that is considered one of the principal methods for dealing with social problems.

It follows that psychologists often working in some of the most dangerous areas, attempting to diminish the cycle of violence by working within the most affected communities. But more than this, they are often working against the people who use violence to maintain control.

It’s difficult writing about the problems of Colombia because it a country cursed by the stereotypes of drugs and violence, when it is so much more than the clich√©s.

It is not that these problems don’t exist, it is simply that they are too frequently used to define the country when they are only part of the Colombia’s warm and vibrant human fabric.

Marjorie Kisner and Yamid Correa were two examples of how this fabric is woven through society and their deaths are an unfortunate tribute to their dedication to their work and their faith in a better future.

Link to a tribute to Marjorie Kisner from El Colombiano.
Link to news of Yamid Correa’s death from El Tiempo.

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