Meet Ufra Mir, the only ‘peace psychologist’ of South Asia

Srinagar: Not many know about a stream of Psychology called Peace Psychology.

It is a sub-field of Psychology and Peace Research that deals with the psychological aspects of peace, conflict, violence, and war.

Sounds like conflict torn Kashmir needs one. And fortunately Kashmiris won’t have to depend on an import.

Ufra Mir (29) is the first and the only peace psychologist of Kashmir. In fact, she is the first one from South-Asia.

Born in Srinagar, raised and schooled in Ladakh, Ufra moved to Pune to pursue her higher secondary studies. She then joined a ‘peace-based school’ called ‘The United World College of India’ which has campuses in 17 countries around the world.

Ufra bagged her double degree from Luther College, USA and University of Nottingham, England in Psychology and Mental Health (Wellness).

She went on to work with reputed organizations like US Department of Peace (USA), World Economic Forum (India), Nobel Peace Prize forums (USA), the Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative (USA) & the Swedish Institute (Sweden).

“I work with the motto ‘Transform thinking to transform lives’,” Ufra tells the Free Press Kashmir.

“In my high school I lived with students from 50-60 countries of the world. I learned what it meant to co-exist with people with differences. Our differences united us,” she adds.

She even tried to change her stream, however, very soon, came back to her passion.

“I had opted for Astro-physics but my inclination towards psychology made me excel in this subject only and I ended up with a double major,” Ufra said.

After finishing her double degree, she moved towards specialization. It was there when she came into contact with reputed organizations like the US Department of Peace.

However, Kashmir was always on her mind. Since High School.

“When I took Psychology course as a part of my International Baccalaureate diploma in my High School (UWC, India), I knew it was something I would do for the rest of my life, keeping the need of my state (Kashmir) in mind,” Ufra recalls.

She further added, “However, I soon realized that I can’t just do mental health work there because it’s a conflict zone where the dynamics of much desired peace and ongoing conflict changes everyday- I needed something more eclectic because I believe in the holistic wellness wheel where your physical, mental, emotional, occupational, social-all aspects are interlinked and depend on each other.”

Ufra has already worked with ‘at-risk’ youngsters and their families in Kashmir.

“I have done some work with at-risk youth involved in regular protests and stone-pelting,” says the lone peace psychologist.

She added, “Also with orphans many of whom have lost their parents to terrorism, with young children living in at-risk areas of the state striving for better education, with ‘half-widows’ still awaiting the arrival of their disappeared husbands, with women entrepreneurs from rural areas who are trying to make a difference and with youth struggling with drug-addiction and mental-health issues.”

Ufra asserts that she uses art as a diagnostic form and in a place like Kashmir it becomes more relevant due to lack of expression.

“Most of my work is workshop-based along with one-on-one interactions where I use experiential activities, simulations, scenarios and exercises to get the message across through diagnostic approach and pre-and-post assessments,” Ufra said.

She added, “And operating as an artist at the core level, I use various forms of art in all my work to initiate the healing process (creative writing, art journaling, clay-therapy, storytelling, etc.). In a place like Kashmir, with too much pain all across the society (trauma due to killings, loss, injuries, disappearances, brutality and violation of human rights), it becomes even more important to initiate the healing process through creative expression because Kashmir lacks substantial platforms for expression which is a basic human need.”

Ufra maintains that she helps people ‘transform their pain into creative expression.’

“Creativity only comes where there is discomfort and dissatisfaction and I believe that pain/stress and creativity are very much linked. Hence, I try to help people transform their pain into creative expressions,” she added.

Ufra feels peace is a process and not a product and people keep looking for it as something that exists in the future.

“I believe it’s the basic reason why most people today feel conflicted inside and stressed out all the time because we are constantly thinking about achieving peace in future. But philosophically, I believe peace is dynamic, nuanced. It’s a process not a product,” said Ufra.

“If you can have your own inner-pillar of strength amidst chaos; if you can deal with conflicts in a healthy way; if you can be mindful of what’s happening to you in the present moment; that to me is peace at the very core level. It’s important to understand that peace and conflict exist at various levels: from intra to inter to community to political to global levels,” she pointed out.

She feels that the present world lacks imagination and likes to quick-fix things without taking a broader view of the problem.

“I intuitively think like an artist. I use imagination, creative thinking and creative sensibilities in everything I do. Because I believe where there is pain, chaos and conflict, there is scope for art, creativity and deepening of relationships, if only we can make that switch in our heads. This is the reason, I teach people how to express their trauma, stress and conflicts through creative expression,” she maintains.

Ufra now plans to train a group of 30 resource persons in basic mental health counseling  and peace psychology who in turn will train around 1000-1500 government school teachers this year.

“These teachers would act as student resource persons helping students in their emotional and psychological struggles as the schools right now don’t have any psychologists,” Ufra informed.

Ufra also recently worked as an associate consultant, trainer, facilitator, peace-psychologist and project manager with Meta-Culture, South Asia’s first conflict management center.

“I worked at the exciting intersection of creativity, peace building and personal transformation in the areas of critical thinking, negotiation, conflict resolution, change management, multistakeholder and community engagement, stress management and leadership development.”

The lone peace psychologist is also the founding member of an initiative called Paigaam which educates, trains and empowers people through the eclectic skills from both psychology and peace building.

She is currently working on a documentary which highlights the impact of the internet ban in Kashmir, especially on the youth.

“The documentary will capture the conflict analysis and psychological issues on account of Internet ban here. I will soon restart working with a small group of half-widows, some students who got affected by pellet-injuries last year, at-risk youth, and local artists helping them create a narrative of their inner conflicts and pain through aspects of peace-psychology like healing techniques (especially guided imagery) and mental health counseling, in their struggle to achieve peace,” she said.

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