May 13, 1997
Psychiatrists at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are using a "testimony" method of psychotherapy to help survivors of the "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia-Herzegovina. These survivors of genocide have suffered extreme psychological traumas that require special attention from mental health professionals.
[UIC psychiatrists will present workshops on testimony psychotherapy at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Diego May 19 and 20.]
"This method is an innovative way of working with survivors of human rights violations," says Dr. Stevan Weine, assistant professor of psychiatry and co-director of UIC's Project on Genocide, Psychiatry and Witnessing. "The survivor tells the story of what happened when traumas shattered their life, and the psychiatrist is the witness who records it.
"Together, they make a document of the survivor's story to integrate the stress of their traumas into the saga of the rest of their lives and look for appropriate ways to make the survivor's story known to others so it is not forgotten."
Since the "ethnic cleansing" began in Bosnia in 1992, more than 10,000 refugees have fled to the United States, including more than 2,000 to Chicago.
"There are many ways in which the skills of a psychiatrist can be deployed to help survivors, uphold human rights and protect communities and societies in the face of genocide," says Weine.
"The clinical benefits of testimony for the survivor are often plain to see," Weine adds. "However, as a narrative means of exploring phenomenon on the boundaries between the self and history, and as a story that is shaped both by the survivor and also the witness, testimony narratives are not at all straightforward.
"Testimony and its narrative can be a type of psychotherapy, but it can also be considered autobiography, oral history, or even art."
Weine says his interest in helping survivors of genocide grew from his Jewish heritage, in which genocide "has always been a part of my historical memory and cultural experience."
"When I saw what was happening in Bosnia, I thought, ‘This is wrong, I want to try to do something about this as a psychiatrist.'"
Weine will chair a workshop on testimony psychotherapy at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Diego. The workshop, "Therapy, Story and History,"
will be held on Tuesday, May 20 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Solomon Room on Level One of the San Diego Marriott Suites, 701 A Street. Workshop speakers will include a Croatian psychiatrist and a Bosnian literary scholar who have extensive experience doing testimony psychotherapy with Bosnians and doing clinical, narrative and historical research and intellectual inquiry on the testimony.
Weine will also chair a separate workshop at the APA meeting, "Psychiatrists for Genocide in Bosnia: Evidence and Interpretation," focusing on the issue of psychiatrists' involvement in the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The workshop will be held Monday, May 19 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the San Diego Convention Center, 111 West Harbor Drive.
Weine will review his interviews with former psychiatric colleagues of Radovan Kardzic, the former leader of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb government, and present an interpretation on these psychiatrists' various public uses of survivors' stories to nurture nationalism, hatreds, violence and denial. The workshop will discuss new forms of psychiatric abuse in the post-communist era and the roles that psychiatrists have fulfilled in relation to the recent genocide in Bosnia and critical issues that arise in evaluating the relationship between psychiatric professionals and state-sponsored violence.
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