GITHUA: Psychosocial support crucial in fighting violent extremism

The role of psychologists cuts across many of the other pillars in the NSCVE

In Summary

•The intent of terrorists is to make us submit to this extreme fear, which in turn will convince us to agree to their demands.

•NCTC is actively involved in helping de-link radicalised young Kenyans from violent extremist groups. 

Recently the world celebrated the first International Day of Prevention of Violent Extremism, a day set aside to reflect on the strides made in confronting the twin threats of terrorism and violent extremism, which pose real and constant threats to our national security.

Unfortunately, we have been a target of numerous terror attacks in the last two decades, resulting in the loss of lives and maiming of our people.

The negative effects on our economy as a result of these attacks cannot be understated nor the loss of productivity, disruption of business and destruction of property.

In response to this ever-present threat, the global community, regions and individual states have developed two main approaches.

The first, and perhaps the most widely known, is the “hard” or kinetic approach, which is focused on tackling the menace by confronting the perpetrators of this heinous violence using our gallant warriors in various security formations.

They work day and night, in far-flung areas of this Republic and beyond, to secure our borders in situations that demand great sacrifice from them and their families. We thank them for this tireless dedication.

The second and perhaps less visible is the non-confrontational or “soft” approach. The use of the word soft must not be mistaken to mean permissive or laid-back, rather, it is evidence-based and backed by strategies and methodologies that involve the society and that have been proven to work.

According to Andrew Silke, in his 2011 book, The Psychology of Counter Terrorism, terrorism is a war for the hearts and minds of the masses.

This is why in Kenya, the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), as the lead agency implementing the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism (NSCVE), has prioritized certain pillars in the war against violent extremism.  

Among these pillars is the Psychosocial pillar, anchoring the work of psychologists, mentors and other professionals involved in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE).

The role of psychologists cuts across many of the other pillars in the NSCVE as will be evident shortly. It is important to note that the effects of terrorism are not only physical. They are mostly psychological.

In any case, the word terror itself, is defined as a state of immense or extreme fear, which in itself, is an emotional reaction.

The intent of terrorists is to make us submit to this extreme fear, which in turn will convince us to agree to their demands, change our way of life and accept false narratives and ideologies as being the truth, through the use of violence.

Through various psychosocial interventions, we prevent radicalisation of our young people by working closely with them, their families, schools and communities and by engaging with them in individual and group settings.

This entails prosocial activities aimed at helping them build resilience and therefore reduce their proclivity to radicalisation into violent extremism.

Incidentally, most of the psychosocial interventions under PCVE insulate young people from engaging in antisocial activities like delinquency, crime, and alcohol and drug use and abuse.

Also under the psychosocial pillar, we strive to mitigate the effects of terror attacks that have unfortunately happened in our country, by addressing psychological trauma targeting survivors of the attacks, their families, first responders, security officers and other affected individuals and groups.

Another important group comprises persons not traditionally viewed as being victims or survivors of acts of terror.

These are families of the perpetrators of acts of terror. Many of them are traumatised after their loved ones are recruited and radicalized into engaging in atrocious violence.

Some even disappear only to re-emerge when committing terror attacks. This leaves the unsuspecting family members bearing the heavy burden of stigma from society and in some cases, the pain of having to be interrogated and in some cases taken through the criminal justice system over the actions of their loved ones, due to the nature and sensitivity of the crimes.

Psychosocial experts offer psychosocial support to such family members, which has been proven to play a critical role in helping them heal.

The psychosocial pillar also on disengagement, rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees and radicalised individuals.

NCTC is actively involved in helping de-link radicalised young Kenyans from violent extremist groups. Many of them have their communities after undergoing robust programs to re-integrate and rehabilitate them.

Of special note is the role that women play in the psychosocial pillar. These include mothers, sisters and relatives of at-risk youth and returnees.

A lot of has been achieved in helping them transform from being victims of terror to survivors of violent extremism and ultimately, ambassadors of peace.

In a nutshell, psychosocial interventions play a key role in the war against violent extremism and terrorism.

Ultimately, such are part of an all-of-society approach bringing together the national government, county governments, law enforcement agencies, national government administrative officers, security formations, religious leaders, community-based organisations, international partners and non-governmental organisations, educational institutions, local communities, families and the youth.

Rallying all these stakeholders will enable us win this war and secure our beloved country.

Dr. Githua is a consultant forensic psychologist specializing in PCVE (

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