Promoting Healing and Hope Among Severely Traumatized Refugees

 A guest post from Survivors of Torture Recovery Center, Louisville 

Tariq was a bright, energetic and outgoing person with a great future as a small business owner in Bagdad, Iraq, until one day his life was turned upside down. Iraqi soldiers didn’t like him selling American cigarettes in his shop. They beat him senselessly. They harassed him and his family. He received death threats. He was forced to flee Iraq to the United States without his wife and four children. Once in the U.S. his troubles only deepened. PTSD, major depression, anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks and guilt over leaving his family behind in Iraq to face the unknown haunted him.

Tariq is a member of the estimated 5% to 35% of the world’s refugee population who have been tortured by some state apparatus within their home country for their beliefs and practices. The aftermath of such torture can linger on for a lifetime, even with the best available care after resettlement.  The physical, psychological, and social suffering endured by torture survivors ranges from chronic physical pain to PTSD, major depression and/or anxiety, as well as difficulty feeling safe around other people and a lingering struggle to feel connected to people in their daily lives. Within this backdrop, challenges abound for the newly arrived torture survivors including overcoming language barriers, navigating new and novel health and social service systems, trying to put the past (especially their torture experience) behind them, starting a new life in a new country and many other hurdles that are part and parcel of the torture survivor’s daily experience. Here in Louisville, based on self-reporting during ongoing medical and psychological screening conducted over the last four years by refugee health screening centers, 20% of refugees of the 4,322 screened have indicated that they have either been tortured or they have witnessed someone else being tortured prior to coming to the United States. 

Since 2012, to begin to address the bio-psycho-social needs of torture survivors, the Kent School of Social Work, with federal funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement has operated the Survivors of Torture Recovery Center (STRC) in a wing of the Americana Community Center (4803 Southside Drive, Louisville, KY 40214). Working in collaboration/partnership with the local refugee serving organizations (including Family Health Centers, Kentucky Office for Refugees, Catholic Charities and Kentucky Refugee Ministries), the STRC has provided holistic, integrated, individualized care for this highly traumatized population consisting of free mental health counseling, medical care coordination, case management coordination, as well as social service and legal service referrals for torture survivors in the Louisville Metro Area.  As of now, the STRC has served 230 torture survivors in Louisville (from countries as diverse as Iraq, Bhutan, Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Bosnia and Mexico) including Tariq who is now reunited in Louisville with his family. With the assistance of the STRC team of care providers (Susan Rhema, PhD, Pam Ratcliffe, CSW, Sarah Acland, MD, Giselle Mellen, MSW, Jennifer Gibson, BS and volunteers) Tariq is now on the road toward healing and hope.

In addition to direct services, the STRC offers specialized training for medical and mental health professionals and conducts outreach and education in the Louisville Metro community. Recent trainings included chronic pain management with survivors of torture. Future trainings planned include developing effective partnerships between mental health providers and language interpreters in the mental health care setting.

To make a referral for services, please contact Pam Ratcliffe (STRC Services Coordinator) at: 502-363-8606 or via e-mail at For more information about the STRC in general or to make a financial donation or to volunteer to help at the STRC, please contact Jim Guinn (STRC Sustainability Coordinator) at 502-852-7968 or via email at

About the Authors:

Dr. Bibhuti Sar is a Professor of Social Work and the Director of the Ph.D. Program at the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville. He is also Co-Founder and Director of the Survivors of Torture Recovery Center.

Jim Guinn is a Program Manager at the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville. He is also Co-Founder and Sustainability Coordinator for the Survivors of Torture Recovery Center. Jim is a life-long Presbyterian, an ordained Presbyterian ruling elder and deacon and worked many years ago as a research associate in Research Services at the PCUSA National Headquarters in Louisville. He is a member of Harvey Browne Memorial Presbyterian Church in Louisville.