Complementary therapies for treating survivors of torture

Vargas, C., O’Rourke, D. & Esfandian, M. Refuge: Canada’s Periodical on Refugees, 22(1), 129-137.
This article was reviewed by doctoral physical therapy student from the University of Minnesota, Angela Pitar, 2014.
Link to full text article from the Dignity-Danish Institute Against Torture is below.
Background - the assumptions that physical pain, unexplained by medical or physical findings, is psychosomatic in nature has been long standing and pervasive as was pain reported by survivors of torture attributed to psychological trauma. In this article, the use of complementary therapies in treating torture survivors at the Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture (VAST) is described. 
Purpose - proposes consideration of an integrated approach to treating survivors of torture--psychotherapy concurrently with physiotherapy or body work--after ruling out any medical problem, as practiced at the Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture.
Complementary therapies - the process at VAST begins with an intake interview in which the need of the survivor--psychological, emotional, physiologic, medical, or related to resettlement--are assessed and prioritized.
  • current models of physical therapy assume that survivors of torture have chronic pain, and treatment approaches mirror interventions for other groups who experience chronic pain.
  • physical therapy includes education, a promotion of functional capabilities through an appropriate exercise program, and relaxation and body awareness training.
  • different types of bodywork therapies used include:  bodywork that includes manipulation of the body or direct touch, bodywork that involves no touch or manipulation of the body, bodywork through soft touch of the body.
    • first category used:  Shiatsu,  massage therapy, acupuncture, and Tui Na
    • second category used:  Reike
    • third category used:  Rosen method, Alexander technique, Bio-energetics, and craniosacral therapy
Conclusion - alleviating the psychological and physiological impact of war, torture, and  trauma, as well as the reconstruction of the cultural milieu, through complementary therapies are the guiding ethical practices for VAST and for the authors.


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