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"Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence": Testimony, Traumatic Memory, and Psychotherapy with Survivors of Political Violence

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Abstract

In this discussion, I examine ways the "trauma story" is elicited and structured in the context of psychotherapy with survivors of political violence. Data from two ethnographic case studies are presented. One is based on the activities at a rehabilitation program for survivors of torture and refugee trauma in New York, where I was a participant-observer. This case deals with the themes of countertransference and the "conspiracy of silence." The other is based on interviews I conducted with clinicians and discursive materials that address the topic of a therapeutic approach called the "testimony method." Through these examples and an analysis of several ethical, normative, and epistemological assumptions related to traumatic memory and the memory work of testimony and witnessing, I will demonstrate how an ideology may form that works against restoring the full agency of clients. Conclusions of this study have relevance for anthropologists who act as "witnessing professionals."

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