Online proceedings for the IRCT General Assembly and 10th International Scientific Symposium - Delivering on the Promise of the Right to Rehabilitation

Time: 15:40 to 16:00 Download Presentation

Life after torture: The use of spiritual assets by torture survivors in a clinic setting in Gauteng, South Africa

Presenter(s) and co-author(s): Ms. Lorraine Shabalala ( Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation - South Africa ), Ms. Marinda Kotze ( Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation - South Africa )


The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in Gauteng, South Africa, provides psychosocial therapeutic services to torture survivors from the sub-Saharan African region. Torture survivors present with high levels of psychological distress including clinically significant PTSD, anxiety and depression symptoms. Multiple coping mechanisms, including spiritual assets, may be used by torture survivors in order to manage these symptoms. The aim of this study is to gain a deeper understanding of the way spiritual assets are used by torture survivors in order to cope with the trauma that they have   experienced.


A mixed-methods research design was used to determine how prevalent the use of spiritual assets are by torture survivors in a clinic setting. Greater insight was also obtained regarding how torture survivors use spiritual assets in their daily lives to cope with their trauma, as well as the spiritual/religious activities that survivors engage in. Basic descriptive statistics and thematic content analysis were used to analyse the clinical records of 208 torture survivors.


Survivors of torture draw on a variety of spiritual assets in order to heal from the trauma that they have experienced. A large proportion of torture survivors in this study reported using spiritual assets as a means of coping with their trauma. Survivors described how their spirituality helped them to make meaning of their trauma and to regain hope for their future. Additionally, being connected to a religious community, such as a church, allowed survivors to obtain emotional social support and develop meaningful social bonds with others. In some instances, membership of a religious community also allowed survivors to gain access to instrumental social support, such as employment and accommodation. The findings of this study illustrate the important role spirituality plays in the lives of many torture survivors and suggest the potential usefulness of mobilising spiritual assets in mental health support programmes for torture survivors.

Funding & No Conflicts Declaration

This study was made possible through funding by USAID. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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