What is Liberation Psychology?
Liberation psychology is a body of thought and practice centrally concerned with the experience, knowledge and action of those who have been excluded and marginalized. The effects of dominant power and its structures on the oppressed are explored, together with the lived impacts of poverty, social injustice, censorship, repression and violence. Liberation psychologists aim to hear, amplify, and incorporate in their theory and practice the voices and knowledge of those “others” most affected by the kinds of oppression identified above.
Liberation psychology goes beyond a therapeutic approach to trauma, linking the personal journeys of those affected with social struggles against impunity, for the recovery of collective memory, against impunity and for ethical social transformation. As such it is one response to the narrow individualism of much mainstream psychology.
As an interdisciplinary approach ,liberation psychology draws from liberation philosophy, Marxist, feminist and decolonial thought, liberation theology, and critical theory, critical and popular pedagogy, as well as critical subdisciplines within psychology, especially critical social and community psychology.
Practioners of liberation psychology use a variety of practical methods. These include participatory action research and arts-based methods, as well as many tools from mainstream psychology – all critically assessed and where necessary re-purposed or re-worked on the basis of the explicit and implicit critique from those many oppressed and excluded “others”.
Liberation psychology is most developed in Latin America, and was first articulated by the Spanish/Salvadoran social psychologist Ignacio Martín-Baró who was murdered by a CIA-trained battalion of the Salvadoran army in 1989. Similar approaches emerged in other regions, often independently from the Latin American experience although with common roots in precursors (e.g. the work of Fanon, and the social forces leading to oppression). In recent years Liberation Psychology has become more well-known among those who use English, and this is one reason for establishing this website and network.
There is no one way to “do” liberation psychology and workers have employed further other approaches, not originally part of the framework, including psychodynamic and narrative approaches, community therapy, and ideology critique and popular (e.g. indigenous) psychologies a well as a variety of methods and practices from photo-voice to drama and dance.
This is a definition drafted by Mark Burton who coordinates this network. All definitions are contestable since in defining something, two boundaries are created, that between what’s in the definition and what’s outside, and that between the definer(s) and everyone else. In recognition of this exercise of that reality of discursive power, readers are invited to add their thoughts, revisions or alternative definitions using the comment form below.