Psychological Services, Health and Wellness Program

The Psychological Services team provides individual and group counseling in a safe, caring and confidential environment. Survivors have suffered horrendous physical torture including burning, sleep deprivation, beatings and sexual assault.  But the psychological consequences of torture can be even worse.  After arriving in the United States, survivors may experience depression, sleeping problems and fearfulness. They may lose trust in themselves and in others, making it difficult to establish new relationships. Culturally-based healing techniques, trauma-informed interventions, yoga and massage sessions and meditation all assist survivors to cope with multiple losses and traumas.

Individual Therapy and Psychiatric Services

TASSC’s clinical psychologist, Dr. Sheetal Patel, has worked with torture survivors for eight years. In individual therapy sessions, the psychotherapy teams uses a mix of psychological approaches to create a non-judgmental and empathic atmosphere for them to heal.

Meseret* was suffering from severe depression when she first met with Sheetal. “I felt I was below other women because I was sexually assaulted by an interrogator,” she says. “I felt like dirty material, not equal to other women, that I could not be a good wife even though I had a supportive husband. Dr. Sheetal understood what was going on inside me at a deep level. She gave me confidence and showed me I could be a strong lady again.

Group Programs

The Psychological Services Team runs group programs which restore and foster social connections for survivors by reducing isolation and helping them build new relationships. Group programs are organized around activities such as drawing and painting, gardening, or sports. Weekly yoga sessions taught by a volunteer yoga teacher strengthen the body, increase flexibility, promote relaxation and improve overall health and well-being. Massage therapists work with individual survivors to reduce pain from injuries and soothe the psychological symptoms of trauma.

Forensic Evaluations

TASSC conducts forensic evaluations and expert testimony in support of survivors’ asylum claims.  These evaluations document psychological and medical symptoms
to provide evidence of torture that survivors have suffered from such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The TASSC volunteer doctor documents the survivor’s injuries and/or scars, and prepares evaluations submitted with the survivor’s asylum application. 

Training and Externships

Dr. Sheetal and TASSC’s volunteer doctor have also provided training to Physicians for Human Rights, Howard University Family Medicine Program, American University Law School, Georgetown Law and the DC Bar Association. They cover topics such documenting symptoms and collaborating with attorneys, social workers and medical professionals. It may be stressful for survivors to share details about their torture experience with attorneys, who need these details to prepare a strong asylum claim.  

TASSC offers year-long training opportunities to doctoral students in psychology and a psychiatrist in residence in partnership with the Georgetown University Department of Psychiatry. If you are interested in more information, please contact Dr. Sheetal Patel at Sheetal@tassc.org.  

Survivors Meditating for relaxation before Life Skills Group Session.

Survivors Meditating for relaxation before Life Skills Group Session.

Practicing yoga is a great way to eliminate tension.

Practicing yoga is a great way to eliminate tension.