The Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma has spent 25 years caring for the health and mental needs of survivors of mass violence and torture through a combined practice of clinical experience and medical research. Its vision has remained the same throughout this time:
To bring the advances of modern medical science to those members of our society who in spite of their great suffering have little access to care.
In December 1981, HPRT initiated its experiment in medical treatment by opening the Indochinese Psychiatry Clinic (IPC), which provided medical and psychiatric services for Southeast Asian refugees who had newly arrived in the United States. HPRT’s initial team consisted of Indochinese paraprofessional staff and American health care professionals. Its methods of inquiry were multi-disciplinary and its treatment strategies unconventional. little did HPRT’s team know that they were defining a new approach to the identification and treatment of torture and mass violence that had not previously existed in the United States. De facto, HPRT was part of an historical trend in human rights that was blossoming in medical centers throughout the world and continues to this day.
In recent years, HPRT has expanded its clinical role by introducing public health science to the emergency phase of refugee and humanitarian relief and to the international reconstruction activities in the more than sixty nations devastated by violence. HPRT along with other scientists have been able to demonstrate fr the first time the enormous psychiatric distress and disability associated with mass violence and war. These findings are especially relevant in our age of ethnic violence where 90% of all casualties are civilian. Women, children, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to violent after-effects.
HPRT has sought to build a solid scientific foundation for a new paradigm for the prevention of war and the healing and recovery of survivors of violence. The long-term morbidity associated with the social and psychological consequences of war can no longer be denied or ignored by governments and international agencies. A people-oriented or human-centered approach is necessary to reform current models of recovery that are primarily based upon material support and the repair of physical infrastructure. HPRT and its partners worldwide remain committed to placing human and mental health issues at the center of global approaches to world peace and development.