From Helpless Victim to Empowered Survivor: Oral History as a Treatment for Survivors of Torture

Authored by: Patricia Herbst

Categories: Humanitarian Emergencies
Sub-Categories: Mass Atrocities
Region: No Region
Year: 1992
Citation: Herbst, Patricia. "From Helpless Victim to Empowered Survivor: Oral History as a Treatment for Survivors of Torture." Women & Therapy 13, no. 1-2 (1992): 141-154.

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A group of Cambodian women suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder were treated at the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors at Chicago, Illinois. The community-based Kovler Center stresses the philosophy of empowerment. The term “survivor,” connoting their strength, is used rather than “victim” in the multi-disciplinary holistic treatments approach. The average number of traumas experienced by the women were 6.5. Symptomatology included memory and concentration problems, low self-esteem, flat affect with detachment, feelings of not living a long life, avoidance of memories and feelings, nightmares, flashbacks, and somatic complaints. The somatic complaints included “heart attacks,” headaches, dizziness, fainting and stomachaches. The technique used for treatment was the Oral History method. The women felt empowered and in control when relating their stories. At the same time, with education, verbalization had cathartic benefits. The Oral History serves as a denunciation of their suffering and gives some positive meaning to their experiences as well as brings them together into a support network. Previously forgotten memories began to be uncovered as the traumatic experiences were relived within the context of the Oral History. Trust, acceptance, release of anger and the reforming of a supportive network developed through the use of this technique.