Testimony to improve psychosocial wellbeing and promote advocacy for survivors of torture and organised violence
16 – 17 April 2009
Vishwya Yuvak Kendra, New Delhi
Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), India, in collaboration with the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT), Denmark, is holding a two-day National Consultation at Vishwa Yuvak Kendra, New Delhi. The theme of the consultation, organised from 16th to 17th April 2009, is ‘Testimony to improve psychosocial wellbeing and promote advocacy for survivors of torture and organised violence’.
In order to search for consensus on future plans for the introduction and use of testimonial therapy, the National Consultation has the following objectives:
To increase the awareness of how torture engenders psychological symptoms in survivors and how it affects their daily life
To integrate testimony into political campaigns, including the national campaign for the ratification of United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT) and the national domestic law against torture.
To explore the possibility of creating alliances with different political organisations and stakeholders in India concerning the fight against Torture and other Organised Violence (TOV)
To promote the psychosocial well-being of survivors of TOV.
Prior to the National Consultation, a pilot project was launched by RCT, Denmark and PVCHR, India with the purposes of: 1.) building the capacities of Human Rights organisations in India to provide testimonial therapy, and 2.) to assess the utility and applicability of the testimonial method for the human rights work in India.
The testimonial method was originally developed in Chile during the military dictatorship in 1970s. It has been successfully used in the psychotherapeutic treatment of refugee survivors of torture in many countries and it has also been an advocacy tool employed by different human rights movements. Most recently, principles of cognitive behavioural exposure therapy and testimony therapy have been combined as narrative exposure therapy for the treatment of traumatised survivor of war and torture.
During the pilot project, spanning six months, 3 Training of the Trainers workshops were conducted in which 40 human rights activists and community workers, who were already working in their communities, were trained. Guided by the trainers, participants capitalised on the skills developed during the workshops to develop a manual, as well as a Monitoring & Evaluation system to quantify the outcomes and compare various psychosocial parameters before and after the intervention.
Utilizing the testimonial method, 85 survivors of torture gave their testimonies. 65 (76%) were male and 20 (24%) were female. 61 are primary victims and 24 are secondary victims. 72 (86%) were Hindu, 8 (9%) were Muslim, and 6 (7%) were Christian. 8 (9%) belong to upper castes, 39(46%) were OBC, 18 (21%) were dalits and 20(24%) belonged to tribal communities.
During the first two sessions of the ‘Capacity Building’ workshops, testimonies were written and in third session victims of torture participated in a delivery ceremony. The trainee therapists also followed up with survivors to assess their feeling after the intervention.
Victims treated with testimonial therapy demonstrated significant improvements in World Health Organisation indicators for human well being (WHO 5). All of them expressed their satisfaction with the process, especially the public delivery ceremony. This ritual apparently became a “turning point” in the healing process. By recording their stories and externalizing their private pain, survivors reframed their experiences to take on a social meaning within the context of human rights affirmation, and thereby regained their self-esteem and dignity.
For more information about PVCHR see: www.pvchr.org, www.pvchr.blogspot.com
For more information about RCT see: www.rct.dk
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