Healing of Memories: Overcoming the Wounds of History

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Healing of Memories: Overcoming the Wounds of History

This dialogue on ‘Healing of Memories: Overcoming the Wounds of History’ was facilitated by the Institute for Healing of Memories based in South Africa.

The Institute for the Healing of Memories (IHOM) is a response to the emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds that are inflicted on nations, communities and individuals by wars, repressive regimes, human rights abuses and other traumatic events or circumstances. Emotional scars are often carried for very long, hindering the individual’s emotional, psychological and spiritual development. Attitudes and prejudices that have developed out of anger and hatred between groups can lead to ongoing conflict and spiraling violence.

IHOM has developed interactive workshops that emphasize the emotional and spiritual, rather than intellectual, understanding and interpretation of the past. Through an exploration of their personal histories, participants find emotional release and as a group gain insight into and empathy for the experiences of others. These processes prepare the ground for forgiveness and reconciliation between people of diverse backgrounds, races, cultures and religions. This dialogue is an opportunity to learn more about healing memories, and to share your experiences, challenges, and successes.

The Featured Resource Practitioners participating in this dialogue include:

  • Fr. Michael Lapsley of the Institute for the Healing of Memories, South Africa
  • Glenda Wildschut of the Institute for the Healing of Memories, South Africa
  • Dr. Donald Shriver, Former president - Union Seminary in New York, USA
  • Evelyn Lennon of the Center for Victims of Torture, USA
  • Amber Elizabeth Gray of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC), USA
  • Kaethe Weingarten, Ph.D. of the Harvard Medical School and Director of the Witnessing Project, USA
  • Zvi Bekerman of the School of Education, Melton Center, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem

More biographical information on these practitioners.

The themes to be discussed in this dialogue include:

Summary of dialogue

The first topic that was covered was the process by which the victim can become the victimizer, and what happened when those who had crimes committed against them fail to address it in a constructive fashion. In particular, Israel and Palestine were considered a powerful example. This led to a discussion about the need for a national consciousness and acknowledgment about previous crimes committed, for every country, not to bury or deny them. This was followed by a discussion about the need for the United States to have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The issue of symmetry, or the lack of it, in suffering and how that affects the healing process was brought up, with participants noting that each case much be taken individually, not compared or lumped together.

Following this the participants began a discussion on various methods used in the healing process. The following methods were discussed: Tree of Life, Prayer sandwich, the use of art, The Narrative Approach, traditional methods, and community healing. The next topic was the possible uses of technology in the healing process, including cell phones and online records, both the positive and negative aspects.

This led the dialogue to the importance of understanding that healing and forgiveness are a process. Finally, there was a long discussion on the role of reconciliation in healing of memories, its necessity, importance and effectiveness.

The photo above was found on flickr and is of a prisoner and prison officer at a restorative justice programme assembly in Pollsmoor Prison, South Africa.

Remembering: Positive and Negative Aspects on Healing

In this theme area, please add your experiences, ideas, insights, and questions regarding the role of remembering in the healing of memories process. For example:

  • Are there distinctions that need to be made between personal memory, cultural memory, and official historical discourse?
  • How does remembering serve individual and collective memory and individual and communal forgetting? How is remembering a doorway to forgetting?
  • What is the role of remembering for those who did not personally experience the trauma / wounds (e.g., children, family and community members of survivors of war, genocide, crime, other trauma, etc.) in the victim’s healing process?
Healing of memories: Overcoming the wounds of history

Three months after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, in April of 1990,  I received from the South African government,  a letter bomb, hidden inside the pages of two religious magazines.  Among other injuries, I was left with no hands and one eye. For me it is always important to say that I had a sense that God was with me – that the great promise of the Christian scriptures had been kept – “Lo I am with you always even to the end of the age.”

What enabled me to heal? To travel towards wholeness. Excellent medical treatment both in Zimbabwe and in Australia, Yes.
But also I received messages of prayer, love and support from across the globe.
My own story was listened to, acknowledged, reverenced, recognised and given a moral content.
Every person has a story to tell. Every story needs a listener.

I would like to emphasize the difference between knowledge and acknowledgment and its importance for healing individuals, communities and nations.  Families can have guilty secrets. There is abuse in a family.  Everybody knows. There is knowledge but no acknowledgment, perhaps even denial.  What is true of individuals and families is also true of nations.

Where torture, or forms of abuse,  have  taken place, the torturer will tell the tortured that no mark will be left so no-one will believe that they have been tortured.  Finally healing begins, when it is publically acknowledged that yes, you were tortured, and it was wrong.  Torture inverts the moral order.  Acknowledgment helps to recreate the moral order.

I have spent some time with the Sami people in the northern part of Sweden.  There the church has acknowledged its role in oppression.  However the wider community has not been educated about the history of the oppression.  So knowledge and acknowledgment are both important on the journey to healing.

When I received a letter bomb, I became a victim. I  physically survived so I was a survivor. I realized that if I was filled with hatred, self pity,  bitterness and desire for revenge, then I would be a victim for ever.

One of South Africa's great leaders, Chief Albert Lutuli, once said, “those who think of themselves
as victims eventually become the victimizers of others.”  This is as much true of what happens in intimate space as within nations and between nations.  We don't have to look very far to find dramatic examples.  People give themselves permission to do terrible things to others because of what was done to them.  Of course sometimes there is competition for victimhood.

There is also the relationship between political violence, legitimized or not, and what happens in the privacy of the bedroom.  Armed conflict comes to an end for the society or the individual but does not necessarily end in the home where there maybe self harm or harm to others in the form of domestic or sexual violence.

The life giving alternative to victims becoming victimisers is that victims should become victors, not in a militaristic sense   Rather those who have become objects of history, become subjects of history once more.  The key as to whether victims becomes victimisers or victors often lies with whether or not there has been acknowledgment

In South Africa, we did have a considerable amount of acknowledgment in terms of the role of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission which listened to the stories of 23 000 people..

My question was what about those who did not qualify to come to the Commission.  What happened to their stories?  When horrible things happen to human beings, it is normal to harbour feelings such as bitterness, hatred and desire for revenge.  The problem is that those feelings destroy us.  For our own sake, we have to find the way of detoxifying, of vomiting out the poison.

It was in the context of reflections of my own journey and that of the nation that some of us developed an intervention, which we call a Healing of the Memories workshop.  This particular intervention takes two and a half days.  We promise people one step on the road to healing.  However for some the step maybe life changing especially if a story is being told for the first time.

We know that in situations of conflict or abuse there will be those who need clinical interventions.  Relatively speaking this is often a very small population.  There is often a much larger group of people who are sub clinical, but still have unfinished business from the past.  They need a safe space where events from the past can be addressed and where they can begin to let go of destructive feelings.  Even in situations where many have suffered, people often feel very isolated as they don't know what others are feeling.  A new sense of belonging emerges when I tell my story and there are multiple witnesses.

We often say in our Institute, those who would be the healers of others must be on their own journey of healing.  Permission and space is needed for chaplains to deal with their own stuff, and the impact of the lives we lead.  Lest we too become victimizers rather than victors.

In  conclusion may I just say that the Institute for Healing of Memories has worked in a variety of contexts across the globe, with combatants and civilians, in post and present conflict situations, in relation to HIV and AIDS, with refugees, prisoners, victims of war here in South Africa, in Zimbabwe, Uganda, the US, Northern Ireland, Fiji, Ausralia, Germany and the UK.

Every context is unique with its own particular history and circumstances.  But at the deepest level,  we are one human family, capable of beautiful and horrible deeds, sharing the same destructive and lifegiving emotions and feelings.

Healing of memories- from Israel

I’m supposed to be a resource person in this dialogue…have yet not found what to say…and yet have found what to learn

I find your note touching and the following paragraph very relevant to the realities I live in.

One of South Africa's great leaders, Chief Albert Lutuli, once said, “those who think of themselves as victims eventually become the victimizers of others.”  This is as much true of what happens in intimate space as within nations and between nations.  We don't have to look very far to find dramatic examples.  People give themselves permission to do terrible things to others because of what was done to them.  Of course sometimes there is competition for victimhood.

Would much appreciate a full reference if you have one on Chief Lutuli statement I would also appreciate if you have some literature to suggest developing these ideas.

I live in Israel where Jews victims of the Holocaust victimize Palestinians. Jews have been acknowledge for their suffering and still find no way to overcome their sense of victimhood (or is it that they use victimhood for their political interests).

Any further comments will be appreciated




I find your inference about

I find your inference about the victimezed becoming the victimizer very interesting. In the case of Israel there has been something of a 'transgenerational trauma'  where most of the 'actual victims' have  passed on and the inheritors are using their newly aquired status to justify their actions. Appropriate healing of memories interventions has most likely been, and continues to in adequate on the ground level.

This could easily be the case in South Africa, only that  the 'inheritors' have not bequeathed the power/wealth  that would be needed to back the action. Transgenerational truama amongest the white and black communities remain. Nelson Mandela also foresaw the horror of this possiblilty when he condemed (in advance) the poassibility  reverse domination of one group by another.

The Institute for Healing of Memories workshop creates a safe place where the victim / victimizer  can tell their story and pain can be acknowledged . This might enable the individual, community or nation to begin the healing journey and reconciliation.

Documented work on the Institute for  Healing of memories workshop methodology is available on request  on our website.



on my inference on Israel

True in Israel there is a somewhat transgenerational trauma but i doubt this could be seen as an individual phenomena.The state has been strongly involved mostly through educational efforts in sustaining the trauma. The state seems many times to be involved in using this transgenerational traumea (that is to say creating it) so us to sustain its hegemonic power

Please send the web site address you mention will be happy to learn from it



power is the means of producing a consensus

Thank you for your comment, amplifying and extending Zvi's.  It is so important to maintain diversity of opinion, not reach premature closure or consensus.  I believe that Sami Adwan and Dan Bar-On (now deceased) have developed the innovative curriculum materials you refer to in your comment.  This url has links to these materials and interviews with each of them.  http://traubman.igc.org/textbooknight.htm

I am very interested in your final statement and wonder if you have ideas about how individuals or a society works on healing memories when the conflict is ongoing?  What constitutes the temporal division between a memory and a distant event?

healing in the midst of conflict

Thanks for your comment and yes it is PRIME...
interestingly enough in Judaism, when referring to one who has passed away we say, of "Blessed Memory" although I met Prof. Bar On only once or 2x I can say that his memory indeed is for a blessing because of what he gave and continues to give.

I am not an expert in peace education, have engaged in HRE which I think is complementary but it seems to me that, esp. in a situation in which conflict is so ongoing so long, 60+ years since 48,  41+ years of the Occupation and in which the power balance is so one sided in many ways one needs to somehow infiltrate the process in which - in the minds of all parties to the conflict, the oppressor community and also the oppressed community - these memories, past memories and future memories are being created... My concern is with the oppressor community... those who run the Occupation, those who benefit from it and those also who have benefited and continue to benefit from the Nakba of 48... that is there is still much memory
of that oppression that is ongoing. I just did a tour of huge park near Jerusalem that was conquered in 67.  3 Palestinian Villages were destroyed and the NGO, Zochrot, that deals with this issue cannot even get the authorities to recognize and acknowledge the history of what was there... the Palestinian villages with people, who were forced out and their homes destroyed, not in the course of fighting but after...

That is what concerns me most of all... In many ways we
are imprisoned by the paradigms in which we live, those that we allow, those that are the products of the ideological and hegemonic systems in which we live... I think that in order to transcend these paradigmatic prisons we need to have a different focus... I am trying to figure out how I can do a better job of working toward such goals and actions.  One thing that is important, I think, is adult learning, human rights learning for example and for, in our case, here in Israel, Israeli Jews.  I put together such a course in which we tried to reach such an outcome… This needs to be done while the the conflict is ongoing esp. In a conflict, such as this one...

There are interesting articles by theoreticians in gender (masculinity studies) and adult learning that speak very well to these issues. 

Here are the citations:

Jewish mentality in the US

As an American Jew and peace educator, I can comment on what I learned as I grew up in the NYC area.  Attitudes like this are prevalent although, of course, not universal: "There are so few Jews - we must support the state of Israel - because if we don't no one will. Therefore, we cannot question the government of Israel, in part because it would be a stain on the memories of those who perished in the Holocaust."  There is also some guilt that American Jews escaped the terror in Europe, and must help Jewry in any way possible.

Teachers like Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun Magazine boldy question the tactics of the Israeli government, as do many American Jews such as myself.  The sadly obvious shift from victim to victimizer is not lost on many of us here. Yet the 2 ingredients in the Jewish story - that of being such a tiny population worldwide, and of being the USA's darling and therefore given vast money and power - are active in the Israeli story, from my point of view.

It is interesting that in this case, as well as others in history, memories are kept alive in order to control the populace and maintain the status quo for those in power.  Humans are so susceptible to being controlled by guilt, and Jews are no exception.

What is that? "Supper Cool Healing"

When was the last time I said to myself, I am cool. I am supper cool.I CANNOT REMEMBER why I am not cool any more? But I used to be cool. Now I am not sure any more. Infact what is the meaning of cool now, now that I am not cool? Then, it meant a lot to me.I was proud of who I am. I was consumed by the desire to be smart. look smart and act smart. I was not adapting to the conditions. I was confident and excited about life and living life with people. I appreciated nature and prayed more. I was grateful to God. I was feeling light and walking with pride.I was not defined by mystified identity because I HAD MY OWN IDENTITY. I created it, I earned it, I owned it and I cherished it. I was supper cool!

Why am I not cool any more. Maybe "cool" is not appropriate for me any more. OLD AGE is creeping in I guess. How AM i FEELING NOW? Am I cold without life?

When I was cool I could protect myself in any kind of weather. I was enjoying life in any kind of weather. I was not adapting but living life to the fullest.Our lives and reality is like any kind of weather. We need to condemn injustice and reconcile with human family. We need to appreciate what is life giving and cherish who we are. Our families, friends, challenges and victories must be acknowkedged with wisdom. We cannot make a positive impact in our society if we are lifeless and hostile. WE MUST BE SUPPER COOL. COOL to me means to be fully humane and is a revelation for soicial change and social healing.

Be supper cool for a change.Greet somebody, ask how she/ he is? Show dignity and intergrity. So if you are not Cool, you may be hurting somebody right now. Free yourself and stop the cycle of violence


Even if I am not a psychologist or psychotherapist. This make sense to me.






Madoda Gcwadi


Institute for Healing of Memories

Capetown South Africa

The role of conscience in going to war

I found the discussion of the oppression of the Palestinian people very interesting and inforrmative. I left Palestine as an infant, having been born in Jerusalem of one Palestinian and one American parent before the founding of the State of Israel. Though I've never been back, I feel a strong emotional connection to the Middle East and its travails.

The discussion about the role of the State of Israel in controlling the field of possible solutions especially caught my attention. I work with the Institute for Healing of Memories in the United States. We are beginning the process of offering HOM workshops for returning soldiers from Iraq and veterans of other wars. In an effort not to repeat the mistakes of the Vietnam era when veterans were villified when they returned, the country has now gone to the other extreme. Iraq veterans are regarded as heroes and there is absolutely no effort to encourage recruits to consider that, regardless of the coercion of the State, they still bear a moral responsibility for their choice. The State, the media, the schools, and religious institutions all collude in avoiding this issue. In this way, young men and women fail to see themselves as moral beings and they are correspondingly diminished. Healing of Memories workshops offer participants an opportunity to restore this lost aspect of their humanity by coming to terms with their responsibility for their actions.

healing in the midst of conflict

"In many ways healing memories need to be worked on while conflict is ongoing..."

"healing in the midst of conflict"
-- Louis Frankenthaler comments

"I am very interested in your final statement and wonder if you have ideas about how individuals or a society works on healing memories when the conflict is ongoing? What constitutes the temporal division between a memory and a distant event?"
-- Kaethe Weingarten comment

I was excited to read these comments. I have been troubled for a long while by the seeming segregation of healing from the struggle a politically targeted individual is engaged in and on how difficult it is for that person to adjust to healing programs oriented to the past, to a traumatic event that was.

They are often hoping to find ways to cope with the struggle, not abandon it, and they know that the effects of victimization they are experiencing have their source in the oppression they are fighting. They know that healing can come in greatest measure with the restoration and acknowledgment of their rights.

For those still engaged but seeking help for trauma or very debilitating stress from intimidation, threats and so on, too often I hear the easy common sense advice to them to divorce the struggle, abandon it, so you can heal. This is not always appropriate, or even possible. Abandoning it is sometimes premature because avenues for success are still available and their healing potential, obviously, immense.

It must be acknowledged that in many ongoing struggles there is no escaping, people are stuck in it, not free to leave their country, divorce their government and so on.

Please correct me, but I think we are talking about coping with ongoing oppression. How do we remain healthy, heal or mitigate what is being damaged, has been damaged, will be more damaged tomorrow so we can continue to try to change the oppressive conditions, to stop them.

I know Mr. Frankenthaler your example is an ongoing struggle that is decades old, but of course it can be one that is five years old. It is whenever the conflict is ongoing, when one is in the midst as you say.

I believe there is something in this that points to the very essence or definition of activism, to the struggle for human rights and health. They merge here, are one. They must merge here in such circumstances.

I am interested in reading whatever there is on this topic.

I am late in coming to this discussion. Only posted because the note to this discussion says it is still open and I am new to the website. Thanks for this and the other really fine discussions. This is a very dynamic, creative project.

Healing in the Process of Conflict


The Zimbabwean crisis could provide a situation where communities are taking measures to heal their wounds in the midst of the on going political and humanitarian crisis in the country.

The window that has been created following the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) between President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party and the two formations of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on 15 February 2009 has given an opportuntiy for grassroot civic organisations to move into the communities, bring people together to forgive each other and have peaceful co-existence after a violent presidential election in June 2008 whcih claimed the lives more than 200 opposition supporters and displaced thousands into towns and neighbouring countries of the Souther Development Community (SADC) region.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition which brings together about 300 civic groups in the governance and human rights sector is conducting outreach programmes in the areas most affected by the violence.

The organization brings together people from different political parties and other ordinary people to educate them on the role of the GNU emphasizing on the need to stop violence, live peacfully and to use the police to report any cases of further violence.

At three meetings to far held, the villagers complain that in as much as they want to forgive it was difficult to do so becuase the police were partisan and do not act on acts of violence gainst suspected opponents of Mugabe's party.

They also noted that the police were not working with them to reclaim their property that was confiscated by militias of Mugabe's party during the violent election. They said that if they could get back their property which includes livestock it would be easy for them to forgive.

However, people also say that they expect the political leadership to stop inciting their supporters against their suspected opponents during elections becuase when there are no elections people generally leave in peace in their communities.

The Coalition's message is to encourage people to accept each other irrespective of their political differences and to make sure that when future elections take place communities should desist from being set gainst each other by politicians.

Victims becoming victimisers

Thanks for your comments - for those of us looking at a distance - Israel provides a classic example of victims becming victimisers. Of course in cnflict situations, there can also be a competition for victimhood - we are the real victims! That is very striking in Northern Ireland.

In the US respomse to September 11, the victim became the victimisers

Concerning the Lutuli quote I dont have the wider reference, but have found it very evocative of the alternative journeys of victims who become victimisers - sometimes of themselves rather than others OR  the road to victory not in a triumphalist sense but of the movement from being an object of history to becoming a subject of history.b

the key to the lifegiving road is so often acknowledgment


Institute for Healing of Memories
Director: Fr. Michael Lapsley SSM
345 Lansdowne Rd
Cape Town
Republic of South Africa
Tel: +27-21-696-4230
Mobile: +27-(0)82-416-276


Victims to Victimizers

Hi! I am a sophomore at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. I am in a Gender Politics class and am interested in the New Tactics program.

I have a question regarding the concept of victims becoming victimizer. Do the victims become victimizers in a way that they actually hurt other people, or do they become victimizers in a way that their grief is so overwhelming that it effects other people? I could see both being a problem, but am just wondering what you are referring to. 

Victims becoming victimisers - response to Lisa

"I have a question regarding the concept of victims becoming victimizer. Do the victims become victimizers in a way that they actually hurt other people, or do they become victimizers in a way that their grief is so overwhelming that it effects other people? I could see both being a problem, but am just wondering what you are referring to."

Thanks Lisa for your question.

It is important to see this as it relates to individuals, communties and nations.

Many would argue that on September 11, the US was the victim and responded by becoming the victimiser to the Iraqi people.  T hose who go to war and come back damaged may go on to victimise themselves (self harm) or become the abusers of others often in intimate relationships.   Many people who abuse others have been abused themselves.

Healing of memories seeks to contribute to breaking that cycle by creating a safe space where people can face how the "poison" inside them is damaging to self and others and begin to let go of it.

Make sense?


Institute for Healing of Memories
Director: Fr. Michael Lapsley SSM
345 Lansdowne Rd
Cape Town
Republic of South Africa
Tel: +27-21-696-4230
Mobile: +27-(0)82-416-276


Acknowledging Wounds of the Past

The past never passes but lives with us. It accompanies us in
our life journey because it is part of us. Our entire identity is a
reflection of it. The scary part of it , is the fact that it is shaped
by us, by others and by those who make decisions for us. Our history is
and has left poor communities in pain and trauma. It has also left the
priviledge with guilt and shame. These negative emotions have taken
away our humanity. We have become monsters to ourselves and to those
next to us. Silence and fear is keeping us in chains because we are
ashame to face the wounds of our past.

We don't expect much from God because our painful history has left us
with wounds and scars that are unfair. The churches appear to be
hypocritical because they are mostly led by criminals who create chaos
and controversy. Our leaders are messed up because they are products of
the past. So past is never gone but lives in us. We are so addicted to
violence and greed. Are the days of toyi-toyi gone?

If we feel numb, tired and exhausted, that is an indication that we
need help. We are screwed by others , by decision makers and we end up
victimising ourselves. Maybe we have been perpetrators ourselves and
the yoke of guilt is consuming us.

We end up addicted to drugs because we do not want to recover from
denial, guilt and shame. For an example if you smoke two cigarrettes in
two minutes, that means you need help. Stop denial and face reality.
You need help. It is time now to face our fears for the benefit of our
children. Our negative behaviour is messing our kids big time. This
denial encourages the circle of horror and pain to continue forever.

We must therefore reposition ourselves and break the silence. We
must acknowledge that we cannot change what was done to us and
understand that we have responsibility to shape our future. We can
reclaim our humanity through breaking the silence and through listening
one another. Acknowledging our wounds of the past is the major step
towards healing our nations. 

Madoda Gcwadi

Madoda555 [at] yahoo [dot] com

Institute for Healing of Memories

Capetown South Africa

The US needs healing - Big Time!

Healing the wounds of history - some reflections during a short visit to the US.

The USA is in desperate need of healing - Big time!

The Institute is on the way to opening an office in New York

For the last 10 days, Madoda Gcwadi and I have been in New York

At "the castle", we did an introductory healing of memories workshop with those who have been
incarcerated for up to 45 years including former political prisoners from Puerto Rico

We met a group of native women from Maine with whom we are exploring a partnership involving
healing of memories.  They spoke inter alia about internalised oppression and the major role
in their oppression caused by the Catholic church to this day.

One evenng we met a retired General of the US military court, Jim Cullen who lead the
campaign within the military against the use of torture.  

Intersections - a program out of Marble Collegiate invited us to join them
as they explore the possibilities of working with war vets especially from Afghanistan
and Iraq.  How do you heal wounds that are still being created in wars that have not ended?

War veterans often feel that their experience is unique and yet war touches
every one: families and friends are often affected dramatically by the ones
who return from war changed for ever.

...And what about the other ... those we fought against.

Many Vietnam vets returned to Vietnam, to say sorry, to do penance and acts of restoratve

Larry Winter, a vietnam vet and now a drama therapist spoke of the intimate relationship
with those you have killed.  "The war continues but noone is speaking about it"

Ed Tick said he went to North Vietnam and there was an absence of PTSD.  Isit because the
Vietnamese saw themselves as fighting a just cause while US soldiers have not been able to convince

Two days ago we came to the Minnesota.
The night we arrived in Minneapolis we went to speak with homeless vets at a veterans

When I finished my spiel an African Amercan vet spoke about his experience of feeling
not second class but rather as a third class citizen - of being third class in the
military and how even returning home he was rejected by his family. 
As a soldier he wasnt supposed to express his emotions -
now he cries alone. 

Another said that if he was an Iraqi he too would support the insurgency.

Two days later a staff person came to a meeting and presented me with a special coin given
to those who support vets, the gift given to me at the request of the vets.

I am reading a photographic account by Riley and Monica about Riley's experience as a
nurse in Abu Ghraib prison
"..Earlier that day We treated several of the men who killed the marines...it is a
heavy burden to carry, deciding what treatment to give those who killed your brothers. When asked about
this experience, folks who have not experienced this dilemna in person frequently
respond one of two ways:

1. Of course you must treat the marines and the insurgents equally. 
They are both human and deserve equal treatment.

2. Of course you dont treat them the same. It is war and they are the enemy.
Next time you had better kill them the first time.



Institute for Healing of Memories
Director: Fr. Michael Lapsley SSM
345 Lansdowne Rd
Cape Town
Republic of South Africa
Tel: +27-21-696-4230
Mobile: +27-(0)82-416-276


The US needs healing

I couldn't agree more that the US needs healing.  I work with people on an individual, couples and group basis.  Usually, my clients are Americans.  There is so much pain and suffering going on here on all levels. People tend to keep it very hidden, and there are a lot of secrets.  So it seems that many of us are living 2 lives - our public life and our private life.  I know this is true other places in the world, but I find Americans to be very unavailable to each other in a vital, forthright way.  This is our place of healing - to heal the violence that occurs within our minds, within our families, our churches, our schools, our military and the way we have been "policing" the world.  When I've traveled (including to South Africa and Indonesia), I found average people to be much more present, open, and open-hearted than Americans.  It is really time to let down the walls of sadness and pain that keep us seemingly separated from each other, and to stop our addictions to mindless entertainment, drugs and bad food.  I'm looking forward to the next cycle of healing during which I hope that the USA takes its place as an equal in the circle of nations.

The US needs healing - response to Ana Holub

Thanks Ana for being part of the conversation and for your own reflection


Institute for Healing of Memories
Director: Fr. Michael Lapsley SSM
345 Lansdowne Rd
Cape Town
Republic of South Africa
Tel: +27-21-696-4230
Mobile: +27-(0)82-416-276


Podcast of Fr. Michael Lapsley speaking at the U of Minnesota

I would like to share a link to an audio recording (podcast) of Fr. Michael Lapsley speaking at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute for Public Policy - http://blog.lib.umn.edu/hhhevent/news/2009/03/center_for_democracy_and_citiz.php

The Center for Democracy and Citizenship's Warrior to Citizen Campaign hosted a discussion about storytelling as a way for military veterans to explore their experiences and begin the healing process. This podcast is interesting for anyone working with war veterans to help with the reintegration and healing process, but would also benefit anyone interested learning more about the 'Healing of Memories.' Enjoy!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Religion and the healing of memories

As a Christian and theological educator, I welcome occasional
references in these dialogues to religion but wish there were more
exploratory references. Sure, religion is a problem as well as a
help in this whole field.  But in their stresses on truth, moral
humility, forgiveness, worldwide humanity, and reconciliation between
enemies, the great religions have much to contribute--Judaism, Islam,
Buddhism, and Christianity.   Let me simply illustrate with a story
from the life of an academic colleague of mine who died last week:
Professor Kosuke Koyama, retrired from Union Theological Seminary, New
York and now retired from earthly life at age 79. He grew up in wartime
Japan and was 15 years old in Tokyo during the great March 10-11,
1945 incendianary bombing of that city by American planes.  An
incendiary bomb fell in front of him a few feet away.  It was a dud. 
Otherwise, he always believed, he would have died.  As it is, he lived
to become a world-famous Christian theologian.  The important part of
his story as a teen-ager, however, is this:  In the very month in which
Tokyo was being devastated by air, and as a member of the small
minority of Japanese who were Christians and who were very unpopular in
Japan in all of thsoe war years, Koyama was baptized .   As the
minister addressed him in this ceremony, he said: "As a Christian,
Kosuke, you must understand that the God to whom Jesus prayed loves
every human being--even the Americans."

That "even" stayed with Kosuke Koyama for the rest of his life.  It stays with me, too.  

--Don Shriver, New York 


Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou

Dear Friends around the world and companions on the journey to healing.

I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Institute, as the official time of the dialogue draws to a close to:

express deep gratitude to all of you who have participated in whatever way.  (The wonderful news is that the dialogue will still be open to read and add comments although the commentators are not expected to contribute further unless they so wish).

To thank New Tactics, particularly Nancy Pearson and Kristin Antin for generously offering to host our first ever on line dialogue; - to our commentators: 

  • Glenda Wildschut of the Institute for the Healing of Memories, South Africa who motivated for and lead this initiatve
  • Dr. Donald Shriver, Former president - Union Seminary in New York, USA
  • Evelyn Lennon of the Center for Victims of Torture, USA
  • Amber Elizabeth Gray of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC), USA
  • Theary Seng of the Center for Social Development, Cambodia
  • Dr. Charles Ntare of the Form for Activists Against Torture (FACT), Rwanda
  • Kaethe Weingarten, Ph.D. of the Harvard Medical School and Director of the Witnessing Project, USA
  • Zvi Bekerman of the School of Education, Melton Center, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem
  • Miriam Fredricks of the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture, South Africa

 to appreciate and acknowledge everyone who made a written contributed, to all those "silent" participants, with special apologies to those who had problems registering.

 This was our first ever on line dialogue and a sharp learning curve for us. We would welcome constructive criticism and any suggestions about further dialogues

 Lets continue to contrbute to the holy work of our own healing and that of others

with the deepes respect and gratitude for much given and received, for pain heard and listened to, for new insights,  wisdom shared, and hope increased

Michael ssm  

Institute for Healing of Memories
Director: Fr. Michael Lapsley SSM
345 Lansdowne Rd
Cape Town
Republic of South Africa
Tel: +27-21-696-4230
Mobile: +27-(0)82-416-276




I have a Master of Diplomay in International Conflict Management from Norwich University and Doctorate of Exeecutive Leadership candidate.  Expertise is in Security Cooperation and Building Partnership activities witht eh US military.  I am interested in working on or with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or Peacebuilding activities.  Do you have any inormation or points of contact to inquire in this endeavor.

Thank you for your assistance in this matter.

Andrew Campbell



I just saw the move Waltz with Bashir, which offers a fascinating and sobering look at memory , war, and genocide--as well as individual and collective memory. Early in the movie, there were several lines of dialogue that intrigue me; they go something like:"There is a human mechanism that keeps us from going to the dark places. Memory leads us where we need to go."Obviously, this is out of the context of the entire movie; these words, however,  stayed with me. Any thoughts? 

Waltz with Bashir


 I saw the movie and I remember that scene when the the movie's "hero" goes to talk to his friend, the psychologist... I cannot shed psychological light on that statement but it is a keen observation of the way in which memory plays a part in the social conduct of living...Memory protects, empowers and heals people and societies but can it not also cause harm, especially if it is "mistaken" or manipulated...maybe that same mechanism that protects is also a social mechanism of denial that Stanely Cohen wrote about but from a persepctive in which it is not protective but rather insidious...


memory and amnesia

The following is a part of a draft which i've been workjing on for a while referencing two South American authors who have chosen to think about memory...hope it is useful. 

In one of his famous stories entitled Funes the Memorial (http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/borges.htm), Jorge Luis Borges doubted whether Funes could think. Thinking has to do with forgetting, he thought, and forgetting was the one thing Funes could not do. In Funes' world, there were only immediate details which he could not forget and so he died trapped in memory.  True: no memory, no self; but this still does not imply an imperative to remain attached to traumatic recollections. When we choose to do so, when we organize our institutional and public spheres in remembrance of past tragedies, we may be suspect of an attempt to rally support for particular interests, not necessarily those which support accommodation. Too much memory seems to have a monologic character; it seems not to recognize other recollections or the recollections of others and, if at all able to enter into dialogue, it does so through denial.

We might be better of thinking about the need to forget. What i mean implies shrinking memory into the individual sphere (not the national) so as first to allow for the presence of other memories, hoping later to enter into dialogue with them. When flooded by memory, Funes lost his ability to think, to reflect; he drowned in almost immediate-past details. If we want to escape Funes' destiny, we need to do some forgetting without which reconciliation and co-existence seem to be unattainable.            We might wish some day to find that woman created by Isabel Allende who, as in the Eva Luna story, will offer Palestinians and Jews a new fortune for five coins of gold put in her hand, even if this fortune is to be invented from scratch. The fortune will be as good as that in the novels, extending from the day they were born to the present, and all-inclusive, containing their dreams, hopes and secrets, the lives of their parents and siblings and also the history and geography of their land. Why do you hope for so much, you may ask? It is because the current fortunes of Palestinians and Jews is full of blood and grief and is a useless path on which to travel their lives for they have been in so many battles that they have even forgotten the names of their mothers … and are at risk of succumbing where they stand, becoming a fistful of ashes as happens to those who do not have pleasant memories. Although we do not doubt that such women exist, we doubt whether we can find her – we might need to do that which is second best to changing the memories: that’s to say, change the structures which help create and sustain these memories.

Dual forgiveness

Before I begin my question I would just like to acknowledge that my involvement in this discussion comes from working at CVT and I have almost no experience in any type of TRC.

However, as I have been following this moving and thoughtful discussion I have noticed that, generally, the discussion seems to be about situations that have a very clear victim/victimizer, each with clear historical roles.  In some cases atrocities have been inflicted in equal measure by two sides sides in a conflict.  I am thinking of Columbia as an example, where the national army, militias and FARC have all been accused of a number of violations of human rights.

When two or more parties are on "equal" footing does this change the process?  Does it make it more difficult or easier to admit guilt as has been discussed in this dialogue?  I would welcome any with thoughts or experience in this matter discuss. 

Dual forgiveness

One of the things we have learnt is that all people are capable of being both perpetrator and victim - even at the same time if not in the same measure. So in South Africa there wss no moral equivalence between those weho carried out the crime of apartheid and those who fought for freedom.  But one of the things which the TRC asserted, correctly, was that torture and gross human rights violations were always wrong no matter which side carried them out.  Whilst it maybe seldom that truth lies in the middle  as conflicts continues, often both sides cross more and more moral threshholds of what they are willing to do to the "other".  I may be convinced I fought for justice but still be haunted by what I have done and be filled with guilt and shame 



nstitute for Healing of Memories
Director: Fr. Michael Lapsley SSM
345 Lansdowne Rd
Cape Town
Republic of South Africa
Tel: +27-21-696-4230
Mobile: +27-(0)82-416-276


On symmetry and asymmetry

from my experience here in Israel one of the main tools utilized by the dominant majority to sustain their power is the search for symmetry in the violence produced...they wish everyone to acknowledge that Jews and Palestinians have suffered equaly.

Even if this would be true, even if Jews would have suffered more (as if suffering could be exactly measured) the main problem in the argument is that Jews suffered in the hands of Europeans and Palestinians suffer in the hands of Jews.

It is as if Jews are asking Palestinians to acknowledge the suffering imposed by Europeans (Germans Nazis etc) on them and justify through their acknowledgement the Jewish behaviour against the Palestininas

This approach cearly does not help the situation much.

With a J Ministry of Education unwilling even to recognize the P historical narrative...there seems to be very little place for dialogue.

All of the above comes to show that the search for symmetry among enemies can not take us too far...it is really one of the main issues i find to be very difficult to overcome even at the bilingual integrated Palestinian Jewish schools in Israel were I conduct my research


Zvi's comment  is very

Zvi's comment  is very appropriate in terms of understanding the way in which Jewish memory has been navigated to serve a particular purpose in Israel.  One thing that we often hear about here and are suppossed to have our hearts warmed when we hear it, is about Palestinian kids from a refugee camp (a recent news item) who sang before Jewish Holocaust survivors in Haifa... and how when they learned about the Holocaust they were moved... That is we are impressed and moved by Palestinian children (in Israeli and in the OPT) who learn about the Holocaust but when we hear about efforts to teach about the Palestinian narrative that actually happened here (in Israel-Palestine-Palesitne-Israel) we are hear about usually in the form of an attack on those who try to teach it by the normative Israeli establishment....

 Zvi makes the clear point that the Holocaust was perpetrated by the Germans with the help of other Europeans... Not by Palestinians...

There is indeed something missing here...


Louis Frankenthaler
Development & International Outreach
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI)

Symmetry in suffering, Zvi and Lousifjer's comments

HI everyone, my comment addition got posted in the wrong topic area...still having some difficulty with "getting" this system and I hope you wil forgive, but, would like to re-post (hopefully) in the correct place. 

The wish to show equal suffering--symmetry--comes partly from a misapplication of a fairly universal idea about fairness as a 50-50 split.  Sufferings are not comparable;they are to be respected and acknowledged and appreciated individually.  I do not want to dismiss another's suffering because it is less than my own; I do not want to dismiss my own suffering if it is not as great as those of others, even though I can certainly say to myself that things could be worse as a way of helping myself appreciate what I do have now.  Suffering must be acknowledged--by oneself fundamentally.  And then, one can strive to let it drift away or to cope with it as best one can while searching for what is still good and available.  I think that settling into an identity as a sufferer can be devastating to life in both the present and the future.  How can we acknowledge suffering--our own, and those of others--and take responsibility for trying to bring it to an end or even for letting it end through native resilience mechanisms?  And if it cannot be brought to an end (say, with permanent loss that is present every day such as an irreparable physical injury), then, how do we do the best that we can anyway to live a life that honors but also overcomes the suffering?

 Dwelling with suffering is important, staying stuck with it is devastating to life.  When it arises into consciousness, honor and acknowledge it but also allow the thoughts and feelings to pass.  When it comes back to consciousness--as it will repeatedly with devastating trauma--welcome it back, invite it to stay as long as it likes, but let it go on so we get to other things that also want our attention.

Beyond our individual handling of our own suffering, we also have to address suffering in collectives, especially those of which we are a part but also those of other collectives.  I feel that the biggest conundrum here is that suffering must be used/addressed for appropriate political gain when the collective is unfairly disadvantaged; but, it tends to become entrenched in collective identity especially if it is effective in achieving progress, and begins to be REQUIRED in order for the collective to feel normal (because it is a foundation of identity) even if the structural wrong has been addressed significantly.  Then, we can't acknowledge progress or betterment or the ways in which we are empowered.  And that is devastating, and against life.  And it self-perpetuates.  So, how do we move forward then?  One very tiny (and undoubtedly inadequate) offering:  we acknowledge our progress, our achievement, the ways we have found to appropriately and ethically exert power toward the actualization of life's marvelous gifts.



I'd like to introduce the concept of witness into this discussion.  Far and away the vast majority of violence and violation that we are directly exposed to comes through the position of witness.  Nor is there only one position from which we witness: we may be aware of what we are witness to or unaware, empowered or disempowered in relation to it.  Many people in the humanitarian, therapeutic and human rights fields experience themselves as aware and disempowered witnesses to what they observe daily.   The task is always to find ways to become empowered.  Healing of memories and helping others to do so is one essential way people can move from feeling disempowered to empowered.  Self-reconciliation, self-care, forgiveness, reconciliation processes can all be paths to move from the disempowered to the empowered position.  But they need not be.  The "demand" or "expectation to forgive may be disempowering in the extreme.  Shifts in the meanings of reconciliation -- as in the example about Serbia provided below -- can also foreclose reconciliation as an empowering option for some people while opening it as a path for others.  

 I have written about the impact of witnessing violence and violation on individuals, families and societies across generations and in different regions in Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day.


Not sure where this comment should go...but, I want to raise the question of friendship in healing of political trauma.  I am located in the U.S., I have worked with refugees for the past 6 years, first in resettlement and then in mentoring refugee self-help organizations.  I am not doing therapy with clients now, though I did in my first career. 

I did not witness war directly; I now witness its impacts daily.  And, what I have thought about from my current positions is the need for social support and interaction--for friendship and colleagiality--though in practice it has been at times extremely difficult for a variety of reasons.  One is that the non-war-experienced friend can become the receiver of paranoid projections that may be very hard to address since the relationship does not have the therapy contract boundaries.  I have tended to back away for a bit, accept the projection, and then ask, well, where does that leave us?  Where does that leave you?  If I am so bad, so treacherous, so underhanded, so (fill in the blank)--if I actually did the things that you are accusing me of, then we need to leave each other.

But, that separation, distancing, creates this space of abandonment and loneliness.  And this is where I see many, many refugees from places where neighbor turned against neighbor, sitting.  Struggling.  And terribly hurt.

 What can we do to heal friendships, and the capacity to be a friend outside of one's narrow familial relations?

friendship indeed

I agree with you that friendship is crucial to healing and yet when the past invades the present -- as you describe -- ruptures occur that are as apparently difficult to mend as those between states.  In my experience, talking with friends during the good times about their preferences for handling misunderstandings or disappointments can sometimes anticipate and head off full-blown ruptures by being able to reference the prior conversation. 

Are people aware of mechanisms for doing this at the level of organizations or communities?

friendship, and collectives

[quote=Kaethe Weingarten]

I agree with you that friendship is crucial to healing and yet when the past invades the present -- as you describe -- ruptures occur that are as apparently difficult to mend as those between states.  In my experience, talking with friends during the good times about their preferences for handling misunderstandings or disappointments can sometimes anticipate and head off full-blown ruptures by being able to reference the prior conversation. 

Hi, thanks for your comments.  It seems not to matter to discuss it ahead of time--with paranoia, if you refer back, you get accused of elaborately trying to conceal the problem by having the conversation in advance.  The feeling of a "real" discovery of deceit or betrayal is profound for someone in a PTSD re-call.  My sense is the storage of anger underneath for betrayals and cheatings experienced is SO profound. It can be interpreted in therapy sessions as transference, but where there IS no therapeutic contract, rather, a friendship, the friend has to respond honestly about the effect that it has on them, I think.  I don't know--what do others think about this?

But, a friend can come back; one can try again.  One can miss their friend and feel sad for their suffering.   One can talk about the impact of the paranoid accusation on one's feelings and the friendship; one can ask to not be treated so harshly.  It is actually abusive and can be frightening...it comes out of the blue through some triggering event that has nothing to do with anything that has transpired.  One can respond compassionately without accepting abuse, or, interpreting the transference.  But it does take careful awareness and acceptance of what is.  And stopping abuse.

Are people aware of mechanisms for doing this at the level of organizations or communities?

 I have experienced the problem in a U.S. institution--secondary to the Jewish/Muslim conflict and the question of a Jewish Agency resettling Muslims.  Intense blaming of the "other," refusal to look at one's own professional behavior (lack of awareness of counter-transference).  It emerged like a tidal wave that we knew was building with many other traumas in it, too, but we did not know how widespread.  When it hit, several in management were swept out to sea and blamed for all manner of things that were impossible to be true; the rest were subjected to "loyalty tests" that were sickening, in my opinion.  Impossible to pass if you weren't of the group, nor would you want to.  I have not fully recovered in that it still stirs anger and I still do not trust.  And I don't know how to handle this other than to separate and move on.  I simply want to protect myself in the future from experiencing this, and I don't want to get in the path of that sick institutional behavior again if I can help it.  I do not trust that my attempt to seek reconciliation would be met with anything other than threats and defamations, because the sense of victimization "as a people" is SO STRONG, so easily and so understandably triggered.  But even with understanding, I cannot address it. 

When we talk about these things of friendship and social connections...they exist on a continuum from individual to collectives.  But we have to be clear about which level of the system to which we refer--because, they look different depending on the level, and the risks are different and must be acknowledged.  I tried once to talk about this institutional experience in a group of professionals treating individual refugee trauma.  And they likened  the situation to a Tavistock group, placed the blame on me as not being an effective leader or staying in charge. or providing direction 

 Wow, it was so much bigger than that..and was so terribly invalidating to have the whole trauma of the Holocaust/Israeli trauma placed on my shoulders to fix as one manager in a large agency. 

My response was to simply thank these professionals for their insights and teaching me about Tavistock groups. But, we missed the opportunity to talk about the true issue--the terrible trauma that stays in the collective and rears up as paranoia with the right triggering incident.  It threatens/ends your collegial relationships, and it ruins the work relationships which--in the US since we all work 60 hours a week...tend to BECOME your social relations of importance.  And what can you do about it, as an individual, when the insitution has the power of economic life and death over you--other than to try to get out of the way? No shots were fired, no murders, no blood.  But the hurt and pain of not being the right identity occurred, nonetheless.

Thanks for listening....we need to tackle how trauma plays out in collectives operating below the nation-state in the system.  Metteb

It's personal!

I recently travelled to Southern Sudan for the first time; arguably amongst the most traumatised societies in Africa and beyond. In listening to people's stories-and each and every person had experienced some level of unimaginable trauma due to the 20+ year war- I found it fascinating to observe how each individual has managed to live with and digest his/her story in a totally different way. In some instances people had lived through very similar experiences- two friends who had faught the Arab regime together for 15 years told me their story in separate situations. If I had not known, I would never have guessed they had been through the same trauma. Another man had lost his ability to speak. Another had turned to the church. Yet another had taken his physical disability and used it as a tool to heal others...

So I conclude that our raw material- who we are emotionally, psychologically, socially and experientially before living through a traumatic episode, significantly affects the way we remember, forgive, heal and overcome. 

Just a thought...from a relative newcomer to this fascinating conversation.


(Friederike Bubenzer)


Some observations from Don Shriver

I have a few almost random responses to a number of issues that come through the contributions of other partners in this multilogue.

     --The relation of retriibutive and restorative justice.  Undergoing or imposing some punishment for sins is old in the norms ofs religion and social ethics. Can punishment be so guaged as to SERVE restoration of the humanity of both victims and perpetrators?  I believe it can, but not if punishment is defined as revenge-in-kind or in isolation from restorative measures.  Our USA penal system is rife with that very isolation.

      --Does the USA need a TRC?  I think so, but as with other nations it needs a process on several levels of legal and non-legal measues.  I see from Michael Lapsley that he believes that we can get a Healing-of-Memories center in New York City. I would gladly collaborate with that, but hopefully around the current discussion of reparations to the African American and Native American communities, and in communication with certain  members of the US congress.

      --One contributor--mb--notes that "we must acknowledge our progress" in the healing of our histories.  That is very important, I think.  It gives folk a preliminary assurance that some healing, some reconciliation, some new civic peace can be built upon. But it muste be in data empirically verifiable or in testimony from the healers and the healed. (This would be one use of  the principle of positive reinforcement.  It is one of the best of educational principles, which I have tried to follow in narratives of GErmany, S.Africa, and the USA in my recent book HONEST PATRIOTS.)

     -- INTERGENERATIONAL  transmission of memory is a vital issue for politics and civic culture, and I'd like to see more insight on how that happens, if at all.  In the USA, e.g. leaders of our civil rights movement already have sighed with disappointment over the ease with which many African American young people seem to have slight awareness of what struggle the ancestors had to effect the changes of the 1960s lawS.  Some veterans of the Movement are wondering if even President Obama is giving strong enough recognition to that history in his speeches. You can legitimately begin to forget the evils of the past by accurately remembering them: I see this as a task which belongs to every generation's just appropriation of history.  It poses a delicate task for those who teach and interpret history in educational and other public circles.  

      --Related to the above is the question of what are the benefits and harms to a second generation of children of those who suffered most in the original trauma.  My best acquaintance with that question has been in some of the data on how Japanese Americans did or did  not acquaint their children of what it was like to be in the internment camps of 1942-45.  And the work of Yael Daniell on children of Holocaust survivors.  Perhaps our Israeli partner--Professor Zvi--is well acqainted with her extensive work.

        If Michale Lapsley reads this, I'd be eager to hear from him about a New York office for Healing of Memories.    Don Shriver



acknowledging progress

Hi, thanks so much for your thoughts.  It seems easier, ,doesn't it, to do it at the individual level especially with the the help of a therapist or supporter.  In a quiet time, when you can review what you, yourself, have been able to do.

At the level of collectives, the acknowledgment still must come from those who have been suffering at the hands of others.  And yes, it must be documentable.  But so much is also the case  with individuals and their own progress.  Must be documentable, ratifiable, there must be evidence, otherwise, it is self-deception (in the case of individuals) or appropriation and deception by the state or nation (in the case of macro-level collectives). 

But at the level of collectives, who will acknowledge, and how?  Healers and those healed, how are they defining this healing?  Who is the "healer " of a collective? Our leaders?  Ourselves?  Do we set this out institutionally?      

This is one vulnerability in the issue of healing social memory, and for the industries/professions that are based on critique (universities),  as well as those based in healing (we ourselves).  We have to understand what we are after--which changes from time to time--and what we've actually been able to accomplish, or we wrap ourselves in the cloak of suffering and despair.  It is we, ourselves, our collective in which we participate, that must pay attention to what is improved.  It doesn't mean that more work isn't needed at a given time, or that we relax our vigilence about human rights protection.  But, we need acknowledgment of improvements, though it cannot be empty optimism or cheeriness. 

 And, by the way, what happens when the wrong is righted?  A whole lot of time becomes available for something else. (example--not a great one, but one, nonetheless:  I get revenge, and justice is served.  Wow, I am released.  Finally....but, what now?  Or I get reparations...is it enough?)  Being released makes a big empty hole, and people are often at loose ends for awhile.  We have to be present for that, too.  It is another tipping point of great promise, and great risk.


Methods Used to Facilitate Healing of Memories

In this theme area, please add your experiences, ideas, insights, and questions regarding healing methods being used. For example:

  • What methods are being used to assist individuals and communities in their healing of memories?
  • What are the stages and signs of healing?
  • How does the healing of memories liberate, constrain, or otherwise affect the ability of individual and collective social and political action?

TREE OF LIFE - ABAI would like to sign up for full participation in this conference, but getting on the Internet twice daily is not possible. Some interaction should be possible before the end of the conference.We have been running counselling workshops for survivors of torture and other forms of political violence since the beginning of last year: 10 in 2008 and the fourth for 2009 is due this weekend, 27-31 March. The parent organisation who teach the ‘Tree of Life’ method want to see the method spread rather than grow a big organisation, and they call us ABA because our first groups of participants came from that organisation, but now we are reaching out more widely and have selected three more for facilitator training in the near future as more demand emerges.Follow-up interviews show a reduction of 30-100% in symptoms of disturbance and also show an increasing desire of participants to forgive the perpetrators. They now propose workshops for perpetrators, who are also very hurt people.

Brian MacGarry

 How do I add a picture?

Tree of Methodology


Welcome to the dialogue. It would be great to learn more about what the "tree of life" methodology is that you are using. Can you provide information about the kind of facilitation you provide when training others to use the method?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Tree of Life methodology

 1.    The basic method is very simple: a three-day workshop with, optimally, eight new participants who work as a circle with two facilitators, who are themselves survivors or the kind of trauma the other participants have suffered. It is called 'Tree of Life' because it leads participants through a reflection on stages in their life by comparison with a tree: roots, early growth, damage suffered and prospects for further growth. Workshops are held in places with sufficient indigenous trees; not necessarily woodland, as one good venue we have used is a small training centre on a plot of less than a hectare in a Harare suburb, but almost undisturbed natural tree growth over most of the area.

I have found in other settings that leading people to talk first about their roots is a very good way to  open the way to go deeper.

There is a strong emphasis on participants (including facilitators) being 'a circle' of equals. In the opening session they define their own ground rules for conducting the subsequent sessions. One rule, that nobody should be interrupted while they are speaking, is introduced by using the simple ritual of a 'talking stone': when you hold the stone, you have the floor, and place it back in the centre of the circle when you have finished.

Other uses of ritual are developed by successive groups: early in the workshop, each participant is encouraged to find 'their' tree, where they may spend reflective time and which will provide some material they choose – leaf, flower, fruit, whatever – for a later ritual of burning a symbol of what the participants have unburdened themselves of and want to put behind them.

I nearly described that as a closing ritual, but it isn't. Before the end a session is given to the practical implications of 'further growth'. This does have a bit of input on the dynamics of working together (including whether power works as a pyramid or a circle) and has, for every group we have worked with, led them to meet regularly for mutual support since their workshop.

We admit that this is a kind of psycho-spiritual 'first aid' and therefore an important part preparing for and monitoring the process is a questionnaire that enumerates 20 common symptoms of post-trauma disturbance, from disturbed sleep and digestion to thoughts of suicide. If would-be participants are so disturbed that they clearly need more professional one-to-one counselling, we can refer them within the Tree of Life network. Repeating that questionnaire three months after a workshop, along with a more open-ended interview, gives us a measure of the impact of our workshops.

Subsequent groups show very noticeable improvement in their questionnaire scores, now averaging a 70% reduction, where the January-February 2008 groups recorded about 30%. Although our general situation has grown a bit more open, some violence continues, so I think this improvement is also a sign that the facilitators have grown into their task. They certainly look and act much more confident.


 2.    Training facilitators: Potential facilitators are selected from among participants. The facilitators will suggest after a workshop who would be suitable. I just back them up, while trying to be sure they were asking the right questions before making the recommendation. We currently have one trainee facilitator who will go for a training course with the parent organisation next week, along with three others we have chosen.

Our two experienced facilitators have been invited to take part in that course as training resource people. I have not seen a 'syllabus' for that course, if such exists. You could get more information on that from our parent Tree of Life organisation. As far as I can say, the training course tries to make trainees familiar with the facilitators' handbook. The apprenticeship aspect of training has been very important for us. Our two facilitators did not feel confident to 'go solo' until they had each facilitated a workshop with each of the three who had run their training course, because each had their own style and our two felt they needed to experience working with these rather different approaches in order to each find her own style. Their being invited to help train the next generation shows that they are considered competent for that now.

I suppose that means we will be left to organise our own training for facilitators from now on. We have recently had the first approach from a rural community and for them, the best service we can provide is to hold one workshop then, train facilitators from that community to continue the work. This is a significant step because, although the worst violence has probably been in rural areas, victims have been more cautious about drawing further attention to themselves by asking for help.

Our experience shows that both gender and age balance are needed among the available facilitators.


 3.    One other consideration on selecting participants:

Our participants for each workshop have usually come from one community, giving them something in common. Where we included people with very different experiences, that did not work so well. - survivors of torture with people who had lost their livelihoods and maybe homes in the politically-motivated attacks on the urban poor in 2005-6 without suffering assault on their persons. Therefore, although almost 90% of our participants are now urging that we offer workshops to perpetrators of violence and some are beginning to do this, we will wait for survivors to suggest before we attempt the final ideal of getting perpetrators and victims to sit down in the same circle in a workshop.

How to add a picture and participate by email

Hello Brian, 

Thank you for your contribution (and future contributions) to this dialogue. We understand that practitioners, like you, are very busy and often do not have time to login in to this website many times per day, which is why we have added the Participate by Email feature. If you click on the Participate by Email button (on this dialogue page, above the comments, below the introduction) you will receive an email containing each comment added to the dialogue. You can reply to the email to add a new comment to the dialogue! This means that you don't have to actually come to this website to participate in the dialogue! It saves people a lot of time. For more information on participating in online dialogues, watch our training video How to Participate in an Online Dialogue

You can add a picture to the comment by clicking on the button with a tree on it:

You can add a photo to your user account by clicking on 'My information and settings' under the My Details box in the top right corner of the website. Then click on the 'edit' tab. There is a field there that allows you to upload a picture of yourself.  For more assistance on this, see our training video Adding Details to Your Biography.

I hope this helps! Keep the comments coming!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Healing methods

I have read interesting applications of the Tree of Life methodology, especially with children in refugee camps in Africa.  One article, Tree of Life Project: Using narrative ideas in work with vulnerable children in South Africa, describes a modification of the Tree of Life exercise that was designed to reduce re-traumatization in both the children and the counselors.  As the author points out, it can be overwhelming to counselors to hear so many stories of loss.  How do others work with memories in such a way as to promote healing and not activate more pain?

working with memories

As a forgiveness counselor and mediator in the US, I hear many stories of pain, loss and violence. For me, being in prayer and inviting support and guidance from the Divine is a necessary component of the work. Most times, I say a short, non-religious prayer at the beginning and end of each session. I also invite participants to offer their own prayers. If I feel this is inappropriate for any reason, I say the prayers to myself.  This helps me to be ready and available to hear anything, encourage my clients to feel and release their memories, and see each individual as a child of God - not a victim or a persecutor.  I've developed a short process called the Prayer Sandwich which is available for free from my website: www.anaholub.com. Please take a look and give me your feedback. Thanks and blessings to all in this work.

the 'prayer sandwich'

yes prayer in a vital element in most of our workshops. We find everyone has their own way of praying: silent or aloud, listening or vocal, and if it is vocal and aloud, they way each one says it is different, so we invite volunteers from among the participants to lead the opening or closing prayer for the main sessions.

tree of life


Thank you for your information and now I got more interested in reading and learn more about Tree of Life - ABA ? I would be pleased if anyone can give me some more information.

I live and work in Denmark and for the last 10 years I have works with many refugees who are traumatized. I also work with the past in a pedagogical way and works with -  what I also call Tree of life. But I am sure it is not the same way. You are welcome to read more about our organization and work on www.synergaia.dk 

SYNerGAIA is an organization devoted to the pedagogical rehabilitation of traumatized people. We provide a group-oriented environment which focuses holistically on the individual. We run rehabilitation centres in four cities in Denmark and have conducted a pedagogical rehabilitation continuation training program for nine years. SYNerGAIA connects a number of existing initiatives focusing on traumatology, neurobiology, and group method. You are welcome to read more on our website www.synergaia.dk If you chose the english version you can read more about our organisation and work with traumatized people.

I look forward to further dialogue this week.

Grethe Bech


Tree of Life articles and resource links

Welcome Grethe to the dialogue.

I want to be sure that you saw the post by Kaethe Weingarten titled Healing methods where provides a link to an excellent article that outlines the components of the tree of life method when used with children, titled, Tree of Life Project: Using narrative ideas in work with vulnerable children in South Africa.

I look forward to hearing more about how you use this method in your work in Denmark.

Tony Reeler posted information about an article about the Tree of Life methodology regarding the methods "efficacy and a report will be published by TORTURE in its next edition."

Also Brian made a great post outlining the Tree of Life methodology

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

SYNerGAIA's methodology

Hello Grethe, 

Thank you for your contribution and interest in this dialogue. I looked at SYNerGAIA's english website to find more information, and found:

The pedagogical concept and language teaching are based on three-month modules, with a focus on the present, past and future by:

  • clarifying and specifying elements in the present – everyday life

  • qualifying values and resources from the past – biographical work, and

  • hence, systematizing targets for the future – work life


Could you please share more about the focus on present, past and future in SYNerGAIAs' modules? I would be interested in hearing more about this methodology to see how it is different and similar to other methods of healing and rehabilitation. 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

political sharing of stories

I am interested in the role of public story-telling from different sides of a political conflict.  How do we facilitate public listening to those stories? 


Topic locked