Picture this - a fabulous convergence of peace psychologists and environmental psychologists from every continent, presenting their research, networking and sharing stories of success and challenges in their fields. ICAP 2010 was the biggest and most diverse gathering ever in Australia of such politically engaged psychologists - who wouldn't want to grab this opportunity with alacrity and a dictaphone, and find out more? Well, as current and past Convenors of Psychologists for Peace (PFP), Winnifred Louis and Susie Burke couldn't resist, so we booked the APS dictaphones and started listening.

These interviews were originally planned as podcasts for the PFP and APS Psychology and the Environment Interest Group (PEIG) websites, to inspire members of these groups and appeal to younger, more IT-savvy APS members. We asked them how they got into their fields, their favourite discoveries and which skills they found most valuable. We also wanted to know about any activist or community work they do, and how they see their work making a difference in the real world, as well as in their personal lives.

Here's a sample of three of the peace psychologists we interviewed - just a snapshot of the many amazing people who attended ICAP. We also interviewed six other peace psychologists - Hamdi Muluk (a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Indonesia), Takehiko Ito (Professor of Psychology at Waco University in Japan), Winnifred Louis (University of Queensland), Christina Montiel (Professor of Psychology, Ateneo de Manilla University, Philippines), Paul Slovic (Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon, US) and Nikola Balvin (University of Melbourne). The gloriously un-edited interviews of these psychologists are all available to download from the Psychologists for Peace website (www.groups.psychology.org.au/pfp/resources). In the next edition of InPsych, we will showcase the environmental psychologists we met. We plan to continue our interviews via Skype, so stay tuned for more excerpts from the experts.

Peace psychology breaks out in Melbourne

Ingrid Huygens is a New Zealand community psychologist and ‘Treaty trainer' - someone who educates white New Zealanders ('Pakeha') about the 1840 Waitangi Treaty with the Indigenous Maori people. The training involves education about history, colonisation and what Pakeha can do now to improve the relationship with Maori. The Waitangi Treaty was a peace treaty, which, in stark contrast to the colonising treaties of the time, was made from a Maori position of power and strength, with the English agreeing to take on a lesser power. Unfortunately, the original terms of the Treaty were historically forgotten, and colonisation rolled on as it has done in most Western countries. Treaty training teaches New Zealanders that historically, Aotearoa was intended to be a place where Indigenous people and colonisers would have a peaceful and a flourishing relationship based on Maori maintaining their traditional authority. Educating white people about the Treaty is a strategy for peace that Maori chose as a way of redressing imbalance.

How did you get involved in peace work?

My desire for social justice and interest in peace activism probably came from my parents, emigrating from Holland to an unpeaceful society where the Maori were clearly repressed. I found community psychology in 1983 as a vehicle to marry activism and professionalism. It's a brilliant way to do all kinds of theorising and have professional status added to activism.

Are there ways you see your work making a difference in the real world?

I'm absolutely convinced treaty training does make a real difference. In daily life in New Zealand you notice Pakeha people talking about Maori with more respect, grudgingly acknowledging that land claims have some background to them. The support Maori can rely on from Pakeha really does grow. The Maori language is spoken more. There are many steps forward (and backward) as with all social change. But it's hard to tell change is happening if you're right in the middle of it; you just have to keep doing it.

What advice can you offer people wanting to get into peace psychology?

Start at any opportunity in your own life. If there's a march or protest, go; if there's study to be done, study it; meetings to be joined, join them; art to be done, do it. Let it grow from there. Work like this only happens if it is woven into your own life. You don't get rich doing it, but increasingly as you get older you feel content that you're using your life really well, and you never think you've led an empty life. With the big collective movements of our age that lots of people are not in and stand against, it's wonderful to know you were there, and there at the beginning.

Eleanor Wertheim is a clinical and community psychologist at La Trobe University, and a former Convenor of Psychologists for Peace. For many years, Eleanor has taught cooperative problem solving and principled negotiation in interdisciplinary courses, to professionals, in schools and within undergraduate peace psychology classes. In recent years she has helped a former colleague, Connie Peck, run the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Fellowship Programme for UN staff and diplomats on how to boost their preventative diplomacy and peacemaking functions. Eleanor's involvement in peace psychology has been a growing thing that has happened over many years, and is now integrated into her everyday work.

Are there ways that you see your work making a difference in the real world?

There are different levels of making a difference. I may not be able to make a huge difference, but the group of us can. Each one of us working on peace does our little bit. Perhaps I can influence one person who then goes on and does something big. I don't have to be the one who directly does it, provided I know I'm putting out all those ideas, teaching those skills. As I've gone along the journey, I have a better idea that we can make a big difference in the world, and think bigger. I've networked and talked to people around the world, and I see what a global community we are, and how interconnected.

When I teach negotiation, I ask people to take the ideas and put them into practice in any way they choose. We work through choosing a problem, they analyse it, map it, plan a strategy, role play it, then go out and do it. They write reports on how it went, so I know people have made terrific changes in their relationships, at work etc. That keeps me motivated. It's very rewarding.

By now, in the Fellowship Programme we've trained most of the people in the Department of Political Affairs at the UN. I have faith that people are going out and using it. It's a very well known and sought out program, and participants find it very useful. We also apply cooperative problem solving in work at primary schools and keep track of progress through evaluation. With more qualitative evaluation as well, you really hear the stories and know what's happening.

What kind of personal qualities or professional skills have been most valuable?

As a clinical psychologist you develop skills about how people change, how to promote change in the world, how to do research, how to help people develop models, apply and evaluate them. These skills are very applicable and transferable. I never in a million years thought I'd be working at the UN, but different opportunities came up, and I've been willing to say yes, even if I was anxious or ambivalent. It was through networking, knowing people and finding out about opportunities. And the other thing is finding role models. I like to work with people who are committed to what they do, with a similar work ethic and motivations. When I find these people, I stick with them! So my message is find role models, network and say yes. If I can do it, you can do it. I don't think there's anything particularly amazing about me, but if I can work at a global level, at the UN, then you can. A useful question to ask yourself is: Are you making a difference in what you do? If not, then maybe don't do it.

Klaus Boehnke is Professor of Social Science Methodology at Jacobs University, Bremen, Germany, and chair of the German peace psychology group. At ICAP Klaus presented a longitudinal study on peace activism. The study found that adolescents with significant concerns about the nuclear threat (at its height in the mid-80s, particularly in Europe) who then became active in peace movements were significantly better off on mental health indicators 25 years later. He concludes that being a reasonable analyst of the world, and able to put your analysis into action, is a basis for healthy development.

How did you get involved in peace work?

I come from a dogmatic, pacifist household, so being active in the peace movement was a genuine fading-in. While I was working on my PhD there was the nuclear missile deployment threat in Germany, and the peace movement was very active. But I don't necessarily do this work in the name of peace psychology - I have been a sociology professor, now a Chair in social science methodology. I always had to pretend that peace psychology is just a natural part of what I'm doing. I have had an ongoing longitudinal (peace) study since 1985. I use that as material in my data analysis teaching, or in how to write science articles. But I have never taught in a formal peace psychology program.

To get into peace psychology, you have to go first into social psychology and branch out from there. You need to be persistent, do it all the time and don't hide it. People will judge the quality of your work, not your topic. If you start a career, I encourage people to go up high (in publishing) - submit in social psychology, in journals of personality. You'll get a bloody nose, but then you might go to the next level. If you go to peace and conflict journals, you will fairly easily get published, but those journals are not read by the people who should read this stuff. It's important the world out there reads it. Go into public interest or newspapers, or high profile journals that are highly prone to reject your work at first.

What sort of activism or community work to you do?

Currently there is no hot peace conflict within Germany - of course I am in the streets when there are things to protest, like the war in Afghanistan. But at present, I reside in the ivory tower and try to get influence with my work and make sure it is read. I work mostly as a senior advisor, which you can only do in later career. o dance at parties - this is important for your mental health!

Has your work changed how you live your life?

There is a certain feel-good element in this work. It has always given me an internal pleasure that I have never deserted my original cause to more easily make a career. It has earthed me. In academia, you often have to compromise - sitting on bodies that don't discuss anything important, getting new money etc. Peace psychology always gave me a lamp post to hang on to. It did change my life. Don't give up, it's worth it.

InPsych August 2010