Working with Survivors

Across the United States, professionals in a variety of disciplines encounter survivors of torture or war trauma. This section contains a list of treatment guides, screening instruments, asylum information, and other resources for healthcare, social service and legal services providers. We hope that these guides will enable professionals to better assist refugee torture survivors in the U.S. Please Note: This list is a work in progress. Please let us know if you feel that any of the material below is inaccurate or unclear, or if there are other things you think should be included.


  • Breaking the Silence and Circles of Support: Assisting Survivors of Psychological Trauma, Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. Guidelines for caregivers or service providers dealing with victims of torture.
  • The Center for Victims of Torture offers a wide range of publications for those working with torture survivors. Many can be downloaded from the CVT website.
  • Communicating Torture and War Experiences with Primary Care Providers, Erin Mehta, RN, PHN, and Maureen E. O’Dougherty, PhD, Center for Victims of Torture, Minneapolis, 2006. In detailed interviews with refugee clients at a clinic, 72% reported they had never brought up with their physician the ways they had been affected by violence. 66% reported that no doctor had ever asked, but 81% said they would like to talk to their doctors about war trauma if asked, or if it would be of help to their health.
  • The Continuing Ordeal: Long Term Needs of Survivors of Torture, Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. Long-term care guidelines for service providers.

  • The Cost of Survival: A Needs Assessment of Survivors of Torture and Service Providers, University of North Texas, Denton, TX, 2008. A valuable new study conducted for the Center for Survivors of Torture, in Dallas, by graduate student researchers in the UNT Program in Applied Anthropology.
  • First Light, Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. A biennial publication intended for those interested in understanding more about torture, its impact, and how to best aid survivors. Issues include interviews, articles, news updates, and book reviews.

  • Harvard Guide to Khmer Mental Health, Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, Cambridge, MA, 1996.
  • Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World, Richard F. Mollica, MD. Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, FL, 2006.
  • Healing the Hurt: A Guide for Developing Services for Torture Survivors, Center for Victims of Torture, Minneapolis, MN. A multi-disciplinary primer for practitioners who are just beginning their work with torture survivors and need an introductory resource that is both basic and broad in scope.
  • Helping Refugee Trauma Survivors in the Primary Care Setting, Center for Victims of Torture, Minneapolis, MN, 2005. A clinical resource written by David R. Johnson, MD, MPH, to help primary care physicians better understand the normal effects of trauma, the unique needs of  their traumatized patients, opportunities for self-care, and how to direct patients towards mental health services when appropriate.

  • Istanbul Protocol: The Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Physicians for Human Rights, Boston, MA. The first set of international guidelines and official United Nations protocol documents for the assessment, documentation, and reporting of torture.

  • A Look at the "Healing Images" Experience, Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma, Baltimore, MD, 2007. Documents a photography-based therapeutic program in which torture survivors engage in creative self-exploration within a supportive group setting. Published in Torture Journal by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. Direct link to article...
  • The OMCT Handbook Series: From the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), these four publications are intended to provide practical advice to persons wishing to bring complaints concerning violations of the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment before various international bodies. Available for download in English and other languages:

Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights: A Practitioner’s Handbook

The Prohibition of Torture and Ill-Treatment in the Inter-American Human Rights System: A Handbook for Victims and their Advocates

The Prohibition of Torture and Ill-Treatment in the African Human Rights System: A Handbook for Victims and their Advocates

 Seeking Remedies for Torture Victims: A Handbook on the Individual Complaints Procedures of the UN Treaty Bodies

  • Responding to the Needs of Women Who Survive Torture: From Silent Torment to Speaking Out, Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. One of a number of practitioner-oriented materials available online from this organization.

  • Responding to Victims of Torture: Clinical Issues, Professional Responsibilities, and Useful Resources, by Kenneth S. Pope & Rosa E. Garcia-Peltoniemi from Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 22, #4.
  • Social Work Practice with Refugee and Immigrant Youth in the United States, Melvin Delgado, Kay Jones, and Mojdeh Rohani. Allyn & Bacon, 2004.
  • Study Group Guide for Psychotherapy with Torture Survivors, Center for Victims of Torture, Minneapolis, MN. A self-directed curriculum for psychotherapists interested in working with politically motivated torture survivors living in exile, it covers the logistics of forming and facilitating a local study group, and includes readings and discussion questions.

  • Survivors of Politically Motivated Torture: A Large, Growing, and Invisible Population of Crime Victims, Center for Victims of Torture, Minneapolis, MN, 1998. Available from U.S. Department of Justice. A special report by CVT summarizing the findings of the 1998 Caring for Torture Survivors conference that brought together almost 300 health and human service providers to discuss the most effective methods for meeting the special needs of torture survivors as they tried to rebuild their lives in the United States.

...for Social Service Providers

  • New Neighbors, Hidden Scars, Center for Victims of Torture. Over 15,000 African immigrants now call the Brooklyn Park/Brooklyn Center community northwest of Minneapolis home. Estimates reveal that 8,500 of them are survivors of torture and war trauma. The New Neighbors/Hidden Scars project brings together schools, clinics, churches and other organizations to help these new residents heal from their physical and emotional wounds.
  • Rebuilding Communities, Center for Victims of Torture. Hosted by CVT's New Tactics project, this is an online notebook, that outlines an intensive training and supervision model for refugees that enables traumatized  individuals to use their skills to rebuild their communities and support systems.
  • Torture and Second Language Acquisition, Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. "Settlement is the first crucial step in aiding victims of torture to rebuild healthy, productive lives. Central to settlement is the acquisition of English. For survivors of torture, learning to understand and to be understood in English often becomes an illusive and unobtainable goal, in large part due to the fact that survivors have experienced a psychologically damaging event..."


  • Asylum Seeker Resource Directory, A joint project of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic of Greater Boston Legal Services, and Harvard Law School, 2004. A directory of medical, psychiatric, legal, and social services for asylum seekers and a client screening document intended for Massachusetts attorneys, psychiatric nurses, and law students.

  • Examining Asylum Seekers: A Health Professional’s Guide to Medical and Psychological Evaluations of Torture, Physicians for Human Rights, Boston, MA, 2001. A manual for health care professionals that provides an overview of the American laws on political asylum, the physician’s role during evaluation, and the preparation of medical testimony.

  • Medical Evaluations of Asylum Seekers, American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, 2004. An article on medical evaluations of asylum seekers: purpose, procedure, and interpretation of findings.

  • Screening for Major Depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Among Asylum Seekers: Adapting a Standardized Instrument to the Social and Cultural Context, Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 2006. This study defines a distinct approach to screening for mental health disorders among asylum seekers.

...for Legal Service Providers

  • Asylum Training Presentation for Attorneys. From, this visual presentation outlines the basics and procedural necessitiesof the asylum case process.
  • Basic Procedural Manual for Asylum Representation Affirmatively and In Removal Proceedings. A publication from the Midwest Immigrant and Human Rights Center that describes the basics of asylum law, the asylum process, and how to help the client after asylum is granted.
  • CALS Asylum Case Research, from the Center for Applied Legal Studies, the asylum law clinic of Georgetown University Law Center. Designed for student use, this page describes some basic sources for research on behalf of individuals seeking asylum in the United States.
  • Credible Fear, another publication from, this document explains how to make a “credible fear” determination, meaning that the asylum seeker has established a credible fear of persecution or torture.
  • Fact Sheet on the Adjustment of Status for Refugees, from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. Guidelines for refugee service providers: the benefits of lawful permanent resident status for refugees, how to pursue adjustment of status, and when to utilize group processing workshops.
  • Form I-589 Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal,, the basic asylum application form.
  • One-Year Filing Deadline, How to submit an asylum application to adjudicate in which the one-year filing deadline or a previous denial is at issue.





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