Complementary Therapies for Treating Survivors of Torture

By Vargas, Claudia Maria; O'Rourke, Deborah et al. | Refuge, March 2004 | Go to article overview
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Complementary Therapies for Treating Survivors of Torture

Vargas, Claudia Maria, O'Rourke, Deborah, Esfandiari, Malshid, Refuge


The long-term consequences of torture are complex, multidimensional, and pervasive. Torture leaves indelible scars in the mind, body, and cultural world of survivors, compromising their health and well-being. A clearer understanding of biological, psychological, and socio-cultural mechanisms underlying these difficulties is emerging. Research findings on pain are relevant for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its associated chronic pain. Rehabilitation programs require cross-disciplinary knowledge and expertise, including of complementary therapies. This article explores the use of complementary therapies in which psychotherapy, in concert with either physiotherapy or bodywork, is offered. Case studies illustrate its application and potential benefits. The clinical experience in controlled circumstances suggests the thesis that complementary therapies advance the psychological and physical healing process.



Les consequences a long terme de la torture sont complexes, multidimensionnelles et envahissantes. La torture laisse des cicatrices indelebiles sur la psyche, le corps physique et l'espace culturel des rescapes, compromettant leur sante et leur bien-etre. Une meilleure comprehension des mecanismes biologiques, psychologiques et socioculturels sous-tendant ces difficultes commence a prendre forme. Les resultats de la recherche sur la douleur sont pertinents pour ceux qui souffrent du syndrome de stress post-traumatique (SSPT) et des douleurs chroniques associees. Les programmes de rehabilitation requierent des connaissances specialisees multidisciplinaires, y compris une connaissance des methodes therapeutiques complementaires. Cet article examine l'usage de methodes therapeutiques complementaires ou la psychotherapie est offerte de pair avec soit la physiotherapie ou des approches corporelles ('bodywork'). Des etudes de cas demontrent ses domaines d'application et ses avantages potentiels. L'experience clinique, menee dans des conditions controlees, suggere l'hypothese que les approches complementaires et paralleles en sante ont pour effet de promouvoir le processus de guerison psychologique et physique.

When refugees arrive in their host country, it is a relief from persecution, an end to flight, and the beginning of a new life, though the baggage of exile accompanies them. For those who endured imprisonment, violence, or torture, the psychological and physical sequelae are compounded by cultural bereavement, the disruption of cultural and familial connections and supports--the loss of identity, status, loved ones, structures of meaning, symbols, heritage, language, and traditions. (1) These new arrivals have many needs and may require help dealing with issues that could stand in the way of their emotional and physical well-being. Effective assistance for these challenges requires a careful consideration of a cross-disciplinary approach in which a variety of therapeutic interventions can work together to improve health.

Although traumatic episodes leave indelible scars in the mind, body, and spirit of a person, recognition of its effect as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) dates back only two decades. Since then, research on PTSD has profoundly influenced how it is conceptualized and treated; much has been learned about its complex biological, psychological, and social processes. (2) A parallel exists between the historic difficulties in obtaining recognition for PTSD and gaining recognition of the effects of pain by clinicians and researchers. Consequently, the short-term effects of unrelieved pain associated with trauma, injury, and illness are well known, but understanding of the long-term deleterious effects of pain is more recent. Research in the past two decades has radically altered knowledge and attitudes regarding the health risks associated with exposure to severe, persistent physical pain.

These issues are relevant because significant numbers of refugees are survivors of torture.

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Complementary Therapies for Treating Survivors of Torture


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