Frontline Capacity Building

28 Jul 2015

CSEL plays an important ‘back-office’ role to the many professionals who are working directly with people asking for protection in Europe. An example of this is our training sessions for the Freedom from Torture medico-legal report team. When a doctor assesses an individual asylum-seeker they gather important clinical evidence about that person, and psychological research evidence can complement and support this clinical evidence by giving a broader picture of what effects are likely, or possible. For example, a man might have inconsistent memories of his torture in detention, and research shows reasons for inconsistencies in people’s memory for traumatic experiences.

Earlier this month I was invited to run a workshop on research evidence for doctors and psychologists writing medico-legal reports in The Netherlands.

iMMO is the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights and Medical Assessment (Instituut voor Mensenrechten en Medisch Onderzoek). iMMO consists of volunteer doctors and psychologists who contribute to the protection of human rights, especially by making medical assessments of suspected victims of torture and inhumane treatment. The 45 assessors are trained by iMMO and perform assessments working independently within the framework of the Istanbul Protocol.

Dr. Jane Herlihy at Immo

Dr. Jane Herlihy

I was invited to attend iMMO’s regular study day in the beautiful medieval city of Utrecht. I spoke briefly about the notion of using the breadth of psychological evidence to support medico-legal assessments. I then ran quickly through CSEL’s existing research studies, outlined our recent studies (on overgeneral memory, and on credibility judgments about people with PTSD & Depression), and discussed potential new studies. We then spent some time thinking about different types of autobiographical memory in different cultures, working from a paper by Markus & Kitayama (1991), which reviews the robust evidence for differences between individualist, or independent cultures and collectivist, or interdependent cultures in terms of how events are described and recalled.

It was great to work and think together with these dedicated professionals, and to hear about the pressures of policy changes that they have to contend with. We talked about how these pressures interact with their focus on ensuring that individuals seeking protection get the best possible decisions in their cases, taking into account their medical and psychological needs and difficulties. We had a very fruitful exchange – they were very interested in encouraging our research – and I do hope that we will find ways to continue this connection.