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

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Applying culturally relevant method of psychosocial treatment is important for torture survivors who are not familiar with Western-based psychotherapies. For this reason, expressive art therapies with their focus on somatic aspects of the individual have gained popularity in working with trauma survivors from various cultural backgrounds. Despite the popular use of expressive art therapies in many torture rehabilitation settings, relatively little effort has been made in describing the principles of the therapeutic process. Understanding the working principles of any expressive art therapy is important because it is more persuasive in convincing the state that specific expressive art techniques may work better for specific populations.


This study examined how `Pansori', a traditional Korean vocal music, was used to improve the psychological well-being of political torture survivors. `Pansori' is a musical storytelling that involves songs, narrations, and gestures. It is also one of the traditional ways of expressing `han' which is an emotion that is known to be central to the Korean character in the older generations. `Han' is a mixture of angst, deep sorrow, grief, and resentment towards injustices with no direct English translation. Such complex emotional experiences were often observed to be present in the Korean political torture survivors mostly in later adulthood. In the first part of this study, a case study was conducted to describe the recovery processes of 12 political torture survivors or their family members (aged 50s to 70s) that had participated in the 12 session-length `Pansori' activity group. The participants were mixed regarding age, gender, socio-economic and educational background, and came from diverse political events that led to imprisonment and torture. In the second part of this study, a focus group interview was conducted with four leaders of the activity group to examine the therapeutic factors across the `Pansori’ activity sessions.


The results showed that participating in the `Pansori' activity group gradually improved the subjective well- being, with the most positive impact on relieving the suppressed emotions, increasing the flexibility of emotional experience, and on enhancing interpersonal relations (e.g., rebuild trust towards others, a sense of strong cohesion and communal support). Since many participants had reported that the `Pansori' activity was more helpful than the other expressive art therapies that they had participated in the past, four group leaders were interviewed on what they perceived the critical factors in `Pansori' activity that led to such positive outcome. Interview results involved such factors as being sensitive to the inter-generational cultural differences and matching the appropriate expressive art, respecting the participants' psychological experiences that are difficult to measure by standardized assessment tools, and maximizing the unique characteristics of `Pansori' (e.g., the singers eliciting empathy from the spectators, expressing sorrow and joy through satire and humor).

Funding & No Conflicts Declaration

This study was funded by 'Healing and Support for the Victims of Human Rights Violation Project" of Seoul Metropolitan Government in Korea.

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