No. 17: January-June 2017

Mary Watkins

Psychsocial Accompaniment

Academic Foresights

How do you analyze the present status and situation of psychosocial accompaniment?

Psychosocial accompaniment represents an attempt to create a decolonial form of solidarity practice that addresses psychosocial misery. “Accompaniment” is a term currently used in social medicine, peace activism, human rights, pastoral support, and social and liberation psychology. It is used when speaking of accompanying the ill who are also poor (Farmer, 2011), those caught in prison and detention systems (Lykes, Hershberg, & Brabeck, 2011Ragbir, n.d.New Sanctuary Coalition), political dissidents (Romero, 2001), refugees (Jesuit Refugee Service), those suffering occupation (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine), victims of torture and other forms of violence (Rodríguez & Guerra, 2011), those forcibly displaced (Sacipa, Vidales, Galindo, & Tovar, 2007), those suffering from human rights violations (Mahoney & Eguren, 1997), and those attempting to live peacefully in the face of paramilitary and military violence (such as the peace communities in Colombia, see Fellowship for Reconciliation, n.d.). In Latin American psychology, “psychosocial accompaniment” has arisen as a role that is distinct from that of psychotherapist or psychological researcher, though it may include elements of each. It does not apply individualistically oriented diagnostic and intervention strategies from above, from a position of professional expertise. Instead, those who accompany respond to invitations to come alongside others, to learn about and witness the situations that concern members of a community, to provide advocacy when desired, to co-create spaces to develop critical inquiry, radical imagination, and participatory research, and to respond to expressed needs. It is participatory and dialogical, honoring the knowledge, experience and desires of community members.

The root of acompañamiento is compañero or friend (Goizueta, 1995). It draws from the Latin ad cum panis, to break bread with one another. Accompaniment often, though not exclusively, occurs in communities that are struggling with various collective traumas, including poverty, violence, forced migration, racism, and environmental assault. While accompaniment of one by another in times of difficulty crosses all cultural and economic groups, psychosocial accompaniment is focused on the kinds of psychosocial misery created by structural injustices. Its practitioners attempt to work across levels of organization, witnessing and addressing individual and group distress, while working to change the systemic causes of the duress.

In the U.S. the provision of psychosocial care happens predominantly within the related paradigms of individualism, individual psychopathology, and medicalized practice. Professional training in human services rarely questions these foundations, and thus does not adequately focus on the structural causes and the psychosocial sequelae of collective traumas.

Psychosocial accompaniment as a practice is rooted in an interdependent understanding of psychological and community well-being, not in an individualistic paradigm of psychological suffering. The one who accompanies holds the individual’s suffering and well-being in the light of the sociocultural and historical context, making conscientization (critical consciousness; Freire, 2000) the cornerstone of the practice. Insofar as psychological and community symptoms memorialize violations that have occurred, the one who accompanies is also a witness. This witnessing is a particularly crucial antidote when the events or conditions suffered have been repressed or denied by the wider culture. Opportunities for testimony may help to restore or strengthen self-respect and a sense of oneself as an agent (Oliver, 2001), in addition to educating a wider public about needed changes.

In your opinion, how will the situation likely evolve over the next five years?

Unfortunately, the need for psychosocial accompaniment is increasing, as the misery created by staggering income disparities, violence, and climate change deepens. In particular, the psychosocial accompaniment of forced migrants, asylum seekers, and detainees has become a staggering need. Presently in the U.S., as expressions of racism and xenophobia are emboldened by the Trump administration, accompaniment of Muslims, immigrants without documents, people of color threatened by an increasingly militaristic police, the poor generally, prisoners and detainees, and those who are standing together in resistance to environmental assault (such as the Native Americans at Standing Rock) is sorely needed.  Attempts to create a North American approach to liberation psychology will need to position psychosocial accompaniment as a more adequate and horizontal response psychosocial distress (Martín-Baró, 1994; Watkins, 2015; Watkins & Shulman, 2008).

What are the structural long-term perspectives?

As President Trump works to dismantle Obamacare, a more public option for healthcare in the U.S., and funds are withdrawn from public programs and welfare, the need for psychosocial accompaniment will increase. While some highly trained professionals may advocate for shifts toward psychosocial accompaniment, training for it needs to be accomplished at the grassroots level in order to make it more available and less costly. In addition, there is the need for non-remunerated provision of psychosocial accompaniment. This need is not only for those requesting accompaniment, but also for those providing it.  As we shift toward a more interdependent model, accompaniment is experienced as mutual because liberation of one is ultimately tied to liberation of all others.

    If you come here to help me, you are wasting your time.

    If you come because your liberation is bound up with mine,

    then let us work together.

        Aboriginal Activist Group, Queensland, Australia, 1970’s


Farmer, P. (2011, October 24). Re-imagining accompaniment: Global health and liberation theology—Conversation between Paul Farmer and Father Gustavo Gutiérrez. Ford Family Series, Notre Dame University, South Bend, IN, USA.

Fellowship for Reconciliation. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY, USA: Continuum.

Goizueta, R. S. (1995). Caminemos con Jesús: Toward a Hispanic/Latino theology of accompaniment. Maryknoll, NY, USA: Orbis Books.

Lykes, M. B., Hershberg, R. M., & Brabeck, K. M. (2011). Methodological challenges in participatory action research with undocumented Central American migrants. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 3, 22-35.

Mahoney, L., & Eguren, L. (1997). Unarmed bodyguards: International accompaniment for the protection of human rights. Bloomfield, CT, USA: Kumarian Press.

Martín-Baró, I. (1994). Writings for a liberation psychology. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.

Oliver, K. (2001). Witnessing: Beyond recognition. Minneapolis, MN, USA: University of Minneapolis Press.

Ragbir, R. (n.d.). Immigration Accompaniment Program. Retrieved from

Rodríguez, S. S., & Guerra, C. T. (2011). Psychosocial accompaniment of victims of political violence. In D. J. Christie (Ed.),The encyclopedia of peace psychology (Vol. 3, pp. 906-909). New York, NY, USA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Romero, O. (2001). Fourth Pastoral Letter: Misión de la Iglesia en medio de la crisis del pais. In J. Sobrino, I. Martín-Baro, & R. Cardenal (Eds.), La voz del los sin voz: La palabra viva de Monseñor Romero (pp.123-172). San Salvador, El Salvador: UCA Editores.

Sacipa, S., Vidales, R., Galindo, L., & Tovar, C. (2007). Psychosocial accompaniment to liberate the suffering associated with the experience of forced displacement. Universitas Psychológica, 6, 589-600.

Watkins, M. (2015). Psychosocial Accompaniment.  Journal of Social and Political Psychology 3 (1),

Watkins, M., & Shulman, H. (2008). Toward psychologies of liberation. New York, NY, USA: Palgrave Macmillan.

Portions of this are taken from the author’s article “Psychosocial Accompaniment” in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology.


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Mary Watkins is a psychologist and professor, Chair of the MA/PhD Depth Psychology Program, Pacifica Graduate Institute (Carpinteria, California, USA) and co-founder of its specialization in Community Psychology, Liberation Psychology, and Ecopsychology.  Among her books, she is the co-author of Toward Psychologies of Liberation and Up Against the Wall:  Re-Imagining the U.S.-Mexico Border..

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