Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gregory Jurkovic - Chair

Second Advisor

Roderick Watts

Third Advisor

Julia Perilla

Fourth Advisor

Gregory Brack


The traditional model of Western mental health treatment for survivors of torture has focused mainly on posttraumatic stress disorder and related conditions. This model is symptoms-focused in which the goal is to reduce pathology. In this model, the mental health professional is the expert and the survivors learn from the professionals. Using grounded theory methodology, the current study seeks to expand the understanding for treatment of torture survivors by investigating, from the perspective of the torture survivors, the process of “getting better” after torture. By asking the survivors to explain this process, this study broadens the focus of areas of healing and intervention to include social, psychological, political, and biological aspects of their lives that need to be impacted in order for them to get better. Eleven adult torture survivors (9 men and 2 women) from various African and Asian countries described their process of getting better through qualitative interviews. A model of getting better was developed to describe this process. The central phenomenon of this process is moving on from difficult past experiences. Participants described a multi-dimensional process that includes various environmental factors and intrapersonal beliefs and coping strategies that promoted moving on and getting better. These multi-dimensional themes include using belief and value systems, establishing safety and stability, and establishing social support in order to move on. Once the survivors felt a sense of safety and support, they felt empowered to take action to move on from their past. These action strategies include disclosing torture experiences, controlling memories, supporting others, and utilizing available supports. Moving on led to improved relationships, more adaptive functioning, improved health, and release from emotional pain. Findings of this study were consistent with current literature documenting recovery after torture and other traumatic experiences. Implications for both theory and practice are discussed and directions for future research are delineated.


Included in

Psychology Commons