Evaluation of the Efficacy of a South African Psychosocial Framework for the Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors

Evaluation of the Efficacy of a South African Psychosocial Framework for the Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors

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To address the consequences of past torture experiences as well as current traumas and daily stressors, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) developed a contextually appropriate psychosocial framework for the rehabilitation of individuals who have been affected by torture.

Method: To test the efficacy of this framework, a quasiexperimental study was conducted with torture survivor clients of the CSVR who met the 1985 United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) definition. A comparison group of clients (n=38) was initially included on a waiting list and thereafter received treatment, whilst the treatment group of clients (n=44) entered straight into treatment.

Results: Baseline t-test comparisons conducted on 13 outcome indicators revealed significantly better initial psychological health and functioning of clients in the treatment group than those in the comparison group, with moderately large differences on PTSD, trauma and anxiety, and strong difference in depression scores. Three-month follow-up comparisons using the conservative Wilcoxon test revealed significantly greater improvement on the functioning and anxiety indicators of the treatment group relative to the waiting-list comparison group (odds ratios = 2.49 and 2.61 respectively). After a further three months, when treatment was based on the CSVR framework for both groups, fewer than half the respondents remained in the study (n=20 in the treatment group; n=16 in the comparison group), and the Wilcoxon repeated measures test results on changes since baseline were counter-intuitive: for these remaining clients, there were now more significant outcome improvements for the comparison group than for the treatment group. However, the relative odds ratios for the groups were not significant for these indicators. Furthermore, the clients who dropped out from the treatment group had shown overall improvement in their psychological health and functioning in the initial three months of the study, whereas those who dropped out from the comparison group had shown improvements on fewer indicators. Thus, the research findings on the efficacy of the framework are inconclusive.

Discussion: We suggest that this inconclusiveness can be explained by the severe challenges and ethical complexities of psychosocial research on vulnerable groups. The study highlights the serious problem of attrition of participants in the treatment programme which affected the overall study, and which may explain findings that at first appear counter-intuitive.

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CSVR is a multi-disciplinary institute that seeks to understand and prevent violence, heal its effects and build sustainable peace at the community, national and regional levels.

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