John Neafsey — Session III

Special issues in psychotherapy with

survivors of torture

John Neafsey, PsyD (Heartland Alliance Marjorie Kovler Center)

In this session we will explore special issues in psychotherapy with immigrants who are survivors of political torture and persecution. Most suffer from a combination of posttraumatic stress, profound grief associated with the loss of everyone and everything before their exile, and adjustment difficulties related to daunting challenges around coping and survival in a new culture. Involvement with the U.S. immigration system through the process of applying for political asylum is often overwhelming and demoralizing. Special attention will be devoted to a number of common emotional responses of the therapist to people in desperate need and pain, including vicarious trauma, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and inclinations to become either emotionally over-involved (i.e., rescuing) or under-involved (i.e., self-protective withdrawal). We will also explore the phenomenon of vicarious resilience – the potential for the therapist to feel moved or inspired by the courage and dignity and resilience of people who have experienced tremendous suffering.