Against the Grain: Study Proposes Psychologists Stay Out of Torture

As the use of various interrogation techniques within the military and other institutions has become a pivotal topic in recent years, interest in the potential of mental health professionals to aid in the process has been widely discussed. A number of studies and statements have been produced in support of incorporating therapists and other industry experts into potential torture settings, with the idea that they may help prevent serious physical and psychological damage to detainees undergoing interrogations. But amidst the considerable body of support for such measures, a recent report composed at Australia’s University of New South Wales has suggested that mental health professionals may not have a suitable place in such interrogation settings, a viewpoint that is bound to stir up some controversy within the field.

The report focuses its argument on the idea that the levels of pain and distress experienced by an individual cannot accurately be ascertained, or at least, cannot be approximated to a degree wherein meaningful decisions about stopping certain torture techniques or allowing more can be made. Moreover, suggests the report, psychologists and psychiatrists would be better suited to help struggling individuals free themselves from difficulty, rather than play a part in the limitation of freedom of distressed and potentially maltreated individuals. Though the authors acknowledge that torture has been identified as a contributing factor to many types of mental health concerns, they propose that the inability of modern practices to accurately predict psychological results of various events renders these attempts at preventive treatment unhelpful.

Whether the report will prove successful in changing the perspectives of those who have vehemently advocated the use of psychologists in torture settings is not yet clear, but the potential of the viewpoint to catalyze new conversations on the topic appears significant.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • vanessa


    February 2nd, 2010 at 1:01 PM

    What is required is that professionals who are trained in a particular discipline are allowed to practice it and not the others…there need to be strict guidelines as to who can and who cannot handle particular case types.

  • Dawn


    February 2nd, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    I have always thought it beneath them to participate in these types of scenarios.

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