Spiral of growth: a social psychiatric perspective on conflict resolution, reconciliation, and relationship development

Christa Krüger

in Trauma, Truth and Reconciliation

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2006 | ISBN: 9780198569435
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754449 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Spiral of growth: a social psychiatric perspective on conflict resolution, reconciliation, and relationship development

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The worldwide wave of political truth commissions in the last 20 years has generated widespread interest in possible ways of managing conflict and reconciliation in political contexts (Meiring, 1999; Susin and Aquino, 2003). Most of these truth commissions have relied on business principles of conflict management, sometimes also on judicial principles, and have been effective to varying degrees.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) (1996–98) is generally accepted as having been successful and effective. It relied heavily on religious principles and on the South African ubuntu culture. Ubuntu (the Xhosa version of the term) is an African concept, a social perspective/philosophy, that includes the meanings of collective personhood, harmony in the community, a culture of communalism, shared fellowship, and cooperation for the common good (Masina, 2000). In the 10 years since democracy there has been ongoing reconciliatory work in South Africa, inter alia, in the political and religious spheres. Several conferences have been held locally, where issues such as reconciliation have been discussed at length (Du Toit, 1998; Van Der Walt and Naudé, 1996; Van Vugt and Cloete, 2000). For example, Cornel Du Toit led a conference held by the Research Institute for Theology and Religion (RITR) at the University of South Africa in March 1998 (Du Toit, 1998). The pamphlet by Van der Walt and Naudé refers to a conference on Christianity and Democracy in South Africa, July 10–12, 1996 (Van der Walt and Naudé, 1996). The volume by Van Vugt and Cloete (2000) resulted from a conference at the University of the Western Cape in January 1999 on race and reconciliation in South Africa. This conference sought to create a multicultural, scholarly dialogue on the history, theology, philosophy, and politics of race and reconciliation in South Africa.

The question arises whether the successful politico-religious approach of the South African TRC to intergroup conflict could also be applied to resolve interpersonal conflict (conflict between two people), as encountered in our professional context in a state psychiatric hospital and a university department of psychiatry, where the resolution of various types of conflict forms a part of our core work. No formal distinction will be made between conflict in mental health and conflict in mental illness, as the former may be a frequent antecedent to the latter, and since a categorical distinction between the former and the latter is a debatable issue.

However, it will be shown in the course of this chapter that not only the TRC approach but also other existing strategies for interpersonal conflict resolution and reconciliation, such as couples psychotherapy and negotiation theory, rely on a continuous relationship between two willing parties. All these approaches are likely to fail in ‘dead-end’ situations of interpersonal conflict where the relationship and meaningful communication have broken down. These approaches appear to be inadequate for situations where either or both of the parties do not contribute constructively to the relationship.

The aim is to explore a perspective on interpersonal conflict resolution and reconciliation that does not rely on a continuous relationship between two willing parties. It should be possible to apply such a perspective unilaterally where the relationship has broken down. In these cases the perspective should contribute to re-establishing a relationship between the conflicting parties. The perspective should emphasize relationship development despite conflict. Moreover, this perspective should ideally foster moral development in both parties and in the relationship.

Chapter.  16101 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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