The Psychological Effects of the Guatemalan Civil War

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A Brief Review of an Exploratory Study Conducted among a Kaqchikel Community

Priscilla Dass-Brailsford (Section Editor),

Dipana Jain,

Ana Alicia Cóbar,

María Cecilia Arriaza,

María del Pilar Grazioso,

& Ana Gabriela González


We would like to thank Ana Sierra, Nely Can, and Marla Lisset Muj for

helping with data collection. We have immense gratitude to the participants for their courage to participate in a study that risked the re-opening of old wounds. We assure them that we continue to respect their privacy and healing.

Author Affiliations

  • Department of Psychiatry, Georgetown University—PDB
  • The Chicago School of Professional Psychology—PDB & DJ
  • Universidad del Valle de Guatemala—AAC, MCA, MDPG, & AGG

THIS STUDY EXPLORED THE EFFECTS OF THE CIVIL WAR AMONG A SMALL GROUP OF KAQCHIKELS living in Guatemala. Participants were targeted in the civil war because they were Mayan and opposed the military government which had the goal of destroying their Mayan culture. Moreover, their geographical location in the western Highlands of Guatemala made them vulnerable to attacks by the military. During the repression (1980s), the Kaqchikels were killed, kidnapped and experienced extreme violence. Even when the war was eventually over, they continued to suffer from post-war conflict, community violence and poverty (Burrell, 2013).

Conservation of resources theory (COR) which suggests that “PTSD occurs when there is severe, major, and often irreparable loss of personal, social, or material resources that are integral to the self, survival, and social attachments” offers a useful framework to conceptualize the plight of the Kaqchikels (Hobfoll et al., 2020, p. 77). The focus of COR is on the role of person-environment interactions, specifically regarding loss of physical and psychological resources, as playing a role in the development of PTSD among affected populations. Of note to this study, COR is sensitive to culturally specific signs of distress rather the western diagnostic criteria for PTSD as outlined in the DSM-5 (Hobfoll et al., 2020).

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