Complex Trauma: Training for Therapists | The Center for Victims of Torture

Complex Trauma: Training for Therapists

Friday, September 26, 2014

Faith Ray, NCB Program ManagerFaith Ray is the program manager for the National Capacity Building (NCB) project. NCB strengthens torture rehabilitation centers across the United States so that they will be able to enhance and expand treatment to torture survivors.

This month, psychotherapists from 24 torture survivor rehabilitation organizations in the United States gathered in St. Louis for a two-and-a-half day advanced clinical training on complex trauma in torture survivors.  Each year, CVT’s National Capacity Building Project holds an institute for professionals to come together to focus in-depth with their colleagues across the country on a particular aspect of torture survivor rehabilitation.

Complex trauma – or complex PTSD – can be thought of as layered and prolonged trauma, usually occurring in childhood and often resulting in the disruption of a child’s development and attachment to others.  Imagine the scenario where an older child starts to develop sexually and finds he is attracted to boys, but he lives in a culture that is deeply homophobic.  This same child also lives in an abusive and indigent household, where resources are few but shame is abundant.  He grows up with little self-worth.  He is persecuted by family members simply for being who he is.  Life is extraordinarily difficult for this boy; he eventually runs away as a teenager and is forced into survival sex for food and shelter.  He is constantly humiliated, abused – and never loved. He has never felt safe, and he does not have joyful childhood memories to draw on when he feels his deepest despair.  He is eventually imprisoned and tortured because being gay in his country is a crime.  He has no protection – not that of family, friends, or community.

The needs of survivors who are dealing with complex trauma and torture are tremendous and the path to healing can be long. The goal of the institute was to help psychotherapists deepen their understanding of complex PTSD – how it develops in children, its treatment, and the role that culture plays in the trauma response and in resilience.  The institute also provided the space for peer-to-peer consultations on the most challenging client cases – essential in this field where many clinicians report feeling a sense of isolation in their practice and must work hard at navigating burnout.  Attendees shared therapeutic strategies and techniques in treating complex trauma with one another and discussed their own reactions to the intense and special work of torture rehabilitation. 

Often, what is central to the therapeutic process is helping the survivor learn how to rebuild relationships – with oneself, with family and friends, and in relation to the world.  As one therapist at the institute said, torture takes place within a relationship – but so does healing. 

The National Capacity Building Project is deeply committed to fostering knowledge-sharing among torture treatment professionals and in strengthening organizations serving survivors. For more information on our work, visit


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