CORRECTIVE POLITICAL EXPERIENCES? A GROUNDED THEORY MODEL OF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACTS OF PUBLIC TESTIMONY FOR SURVIVORS OF TORTURE
Kivlighan, Jr., Dennis M.
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Finding a path to recovering voice and confidence is as an important part of healing from torture-related trauma. Participating in public testimony may be one such path. However, there are gaps in our understanding of how giving testimony impacts trauma survivors—both positively and negatively. Although international research suggests a number of therapeutic benefits of testimony within the controlled space of therapy, studies of participants who give testimony in tribunals in the countries where their torture occurred have raised concerns about potential triggering of traumatic stress and fears for safety. To date, however, published literature has not focused on the impacts for survivors of torture engaging in testimony in the USA—a context that may elicit some feelings of safety (e.g., no chance of direct retaliation), but also of exposure. To address these gaps, this study undertook an in-depth qualitative study of 11 adult (7 men, 4 women) survivors’ experiences using a grounded theory methodology to develop a model of the impact of testimony on survivors’ healing. The resulting healing through testimony model illustrates how a survivor’s personal identity interacts with their experiences in the broader United States context to shape how they situate, experience, and digest testimony. In turn, the survivor’s identity evolves through corrective political (and personal) experiences. The findings highlight areas of important variation in the way survivors benefit and suffer adverse effects related to their identities, contexts, motivations, experiences, and reflections. Reflecting on the model, ways in which survivors could be most effectively supported by counseling psychologists before, during, and after testimony are suggested.