Testimonial therapy. A pilot project to improve psychological wellbeing among survivors of torture in India.Torture. 2009; 19(3):204-17.T
In developing countries where torture is perpetrated, there are few resources for the provision of therapeutic assistance to the survivors. The testimonial method represents a brief cross-cultural psychosocial approach to trauma, which is relatively easy to master. The method was first described in Chile in 1983 and has since been used in many variations in different cultural contexts. In this project the method has been supplemented by culture-specific coping strategies (meditation and a delivery ceremony).
A pilot training project was undertaken between Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture victims (RCT) in Copenhagen, Denmark, and People's Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVCHR) in Varanasi, India, to investigate the usefulness of the testimonial method. The project involved the development of a community-based testimonial method, training of twelve PVCHR community workers, the development of a manual, and a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system comparing results of measures before the intervention and two to three months after the intervention. Twenty-three victims gave their testimonies under supervision. In the two first sessions the testimony was written and in the third session survivors participated in a delivery ceremony. The human rights activists and community workers interviewed the survivors about how they felt after the intervention.
After testimonial therapy, almost all survivors demonstrated significant improvements in overall WHO-five Well-being Index (WHO-5) score. Four out of the five individual items improved by at least 40%. Items from the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) showed less significant change, possibly because the M&E questionnaire had not been well understood by the community workers, or due to poor wording, formulation and/or validation of the questions. All survivors expressed satisfaction with the process, especially the public delivery ceremony, which apparently became a "turning point" in the healing process. Seemingly, the ceremonial element represented the social recognition needed and that it re-connected the survivors with their community and ensured that their private truth becomes part of social memory.
Although this small pilot study without control groups or prior validation of the questionnaire does not provide high-ranking quantitative evidence or statistically significant results for the effectiveness of our version of the testimonial method, we do find it likely that it helps improve the well being in survivors of torture in this particular context. However, a more extensive study is needed to verify these results, and better measures of ICF activities and participation (A&P) functions should be used. Interviews with human rights activists reveal that it is easier for survivors who have gone through testimonial therapy to give coherent legal testimony.