Newsletter. Supporting victims of torture and their families

Newsletter No. 4 2016 Supporting victims of torture and their families – life after torture

26.06 2016

Dear friends and colleagues,

The 26th of June is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. One of the themes this year will be on Life after torture. This important topic is raised by the IRCT. A number of institutions and organizations all around the world will mark this day with activities and information with a view to strengthen the combat against torture and in particular, strengthen international attention on rehabilitation and recreating life after torture. In this newsletter we will present some links that touch upon ways of helping families living with torture survivors and ideas as to how they can manage and deal with daily life and all the challenges that a family may encounter. Torture, as is well known, affects the individual as well as the family in many ways.

There is not much literature on how life in families develops in the after math of torture. There has been some research on family therapy with refugee families (Sveaass & Reichelt, 2001), and some studies based on families where member have disappeared, such as Paz Rojas’ book on “La interminable ausencia. Estudio médico, psicológico y político de la desaparición forzada de personas” (only in Spanish). Other studies and reports have dealt with consequences of severe human rights violations for family life.

But there are far more publications that may be very relevant in this context, based on experiences of living in families where one member is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many who have survived torture develop different types of post-traumatic reactions, and many develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And as referred to above, severe reactions associated with traumatic events will of course affect the entire family.

We have focused on links that give the survivor tools to handling everyday life, how to raise children, how to keep your relationship/marriage going, how to sleep at night, how to keep your job and aging with torture memories. We hope that it might help survivors gain more knowledge and to come to terms with their experiences, with their haunting memories and build new lives. For more information about torture and for PTSD go to our thematic pages.

Further reading that highlight different aspects of life after torture

Sur, Dictadura y después. Elaboración psicosocial y clínica de los traumas colectivos
Kordon, D. et al. (2010). Se trata entonces de la asistencia y tratamiento psicológico de víctimas de la represión, de situaciones extremas y de conflictos sociales, tratando de recomponer el equilibrio emocional, psicológico, para volver a encontrarse como persona, tener una mirada en el interior de la propia vida, de la sociedad, la identidad y la pertenencia. Es encontrar los caminos de la memoria, su diversidad y comprensión de lo vivido; no debe ser un retroceso al pasado que profundice el drama existencial y la negación de sí mismos. La memoria debe iluminar el presente para poder construir nuevos caminos de dignidad y recomponer el cuerpo social, profundamente dañado por gobiernos dictatoriales, tanto en la Argentina como en América Latina.

A new generation: How refugee trauma affects parenting and child development 
E. van Ee 2013, A thesis covering different aspects of life after torture, as relationship between parents and child and broken relationships.

Politically-motivated torture and its survivors – Social, familial, and societal sequelae
J Quiroga, J. M. Jaranson Torture Journal 2005 2/3 IRCT page 27 and onwards. The social and economic consequences of torture have rarely been systematically studied. This is important for the less industrialized countries as well as for host countries providing asylum to large numbers of tortured refugees.

Cross cultural medicine – working with refugee survivors of torture
B. Chester et N. Holtan 1992 Numerous factors must be taken into account to best provide for the health and well-being of refugee patients in developed countries. One issue that is rarely considered is the awful and not uncommon occurrence of political torture. Large numbers of refugees and other displaced persons are survivors of political torture. To facilitate the “re-making” of a survivor’s world, the health care professional must recognize the multifaceted effects of torture and displacement on the individual, family, and community.

Disclosure and silencing: A systematic review of the literature on patterns of trauma communication in refugee families 
N.T. Dalgaard et E. Montgomery 2015 This systematic review aimed to explore the effects of different degrees of parental disclosure of traumatic material from the past on the psychological well-being of children in refugee families. A majority of studies emphasize the importance of the timing of disclosure and the manner in which it takes place, rather than the effects of open communication or silencing strategies per se.

Lifelong posttraumatic stress disorder: evidence from aging Holocaust survivors 
Y. Barak et H. Szor 2000. The literature provides ample evidence that posttraumatic stress disorder among survivors persists into old age. However, there is still a need to define the differences in frequency, clinical presentation, severity, and comorbid conditions among aging Holocaust survivors. Age at the time of trauma, cumulative lifetime stress, and physical illness are reported to have a positive association with more severe posttraumatic symptomatology.

Guidelines for psychiatric care of torture survivors 
David Kinzie, 2011 In describing the best psychiatric practices for the treatment of torture survivors, it is necessary to provide background on the various syndromes the survivors suffer and their corresponding neurobiology. There are also well known clinical aspects of these conditions and unique social and cultural considerations of survivors who usually come from very different cultures than the clinicians treating them.

Psychosocial trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and torture 
C. Madariaga 2002. Over the past few years, within the teams that provide medical-psychological care to people suffering from the psychic sequels of torture in our country, there has been a permanent discussion surrounding certain categories that arise from psychiatric nosography – as is the case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSDA) – that have been put forward as descriptive or interpretative models of the whole set of effects produced by this act of violence on psychic functions.

Torture and trauma 
About seven out of 10 refugees in Australia have been tortured or gone through some kind of war-related trauma. Some forms of torture (such as beatings, amputation, rape and burns) harm the body and cause lasting scars. Other torture methods are painful, but don’t cause scarring, such as starvation or being forced to stand for long periods of time. Examples of trauma include imprisonment, seeing the rape or murder of a loved one, or a dangerous journey to freedom such as an attack by pirates at sea. Some people who have been tortured develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks and nightmares about the event that are so clear they seem real.

From darkness to light 
Fasstt 2011 Australia’s program of Assistance for survivors of torture and trauma.

Helping a family member who has PTSD 
US. Department of veteran affairs When someone has PTSD, it can change family life. The person with PTSD may act differently and get angry easily. He or she may not want to do things you used to enjoy together

Risk, Resilience and Rights: Therapeutic Approaches to Working with Children, Families and Separated Young People who have Survived Torture 
Jocelyn Avigad and Tina Puryear, Freedom from Torture Governments and regimes who torture people have very clear intentions. They carry out physical and psychological acts of violence against targeted individuals and families in order to break a person and fragment families and communities. And they do this to invoke such extreme fear and shame that victims and their families will remain silent.

Award to Diana Kordon from EATIP, ArgentinaA health professional that for many years has been doing an incredibly important work in relation to assistance to torture victims, family of the disappeared, train helpers, raise awareness and has constantly been struggling against impunity, is the Argentinian psychiatrist Diana Kordon. She has recently been given the Barbara Chester award. For four decades, Dr Kordon has provided psychological services to the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and others affected by atrocities committed by the military dictatorship in her country.

All manuals can be downloaded from the MHHRI website

There are three different manuals, which respectively address working with women, with boys and men, and with children who have experienced sexual violence.

The manuals are translated into several languages. The page numbers in each manual remain the same across languages. This allows survivors and helpers to work from copies in their preferred language and read the same content on the same pages. It also makes it easier to teach participants when participants and trainers work in more than one language. The manuals include a toolbox. Survivors can use it individually to regulate their own emotions through grounding exercises or in collaboration with a helper. Helpers can also use grounding exercises to take care of themselves as helpers.

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Sincerely yours,
Take care – and we are wishing you all the best.

Sincerely yours,

Mental Health and Human Rights Info