Like many survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide, Chan Phay still bears deep psychological scars inflicted by brutal torture at the hands of the regime.
Widowed in 1976 after her husband was murdered by cadres, the 62-year-old was imprisoned for refusing to accept forced marriage.
There, chained up and naked, she was beaten and raped by her arranged partner and other men, while watching women around her die.
“I get a headache, feel dizzy and have a fever each time the events of those days – especially what happened in that detention centre – come to mind,” she said, in her testimony to the Transcultural Psychological Organization in 2013. “When I am alone, I often cry.”
Her horrific story is one of thousands revealed through the TPO’s Testimony Treatment program which, according to research released yesterday, has proved effective at helping trauma survivors recover.
The project, started in 2007, helps those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), depression, anxiety and baksbat, a Cambodian word for “broken courage”.
Survivors are invited to talk with a counsellor about their traumatic experiences, before converting them to a written testimony which is then read aloud at a Buddhist ceremony.
According to the research, which involved 120 civil parties of the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Case 002, the number of people who met the criteria for PSTD in the experimental group dropped from 29 to 18 six months after the treatment.
The number of people exhibiting anxiety and depression also dropped six months after the treatment, the results show, while those in the control group – treated after the study – remained around the same level.
TPO executive director Chhim Soktheara said that although the study – which was supported by USAID and the Centre for Victims of Torture – showed statistical improvement, the participants’ feedback highlighted the treatment’s power.
“A lot of the clients feel that their testimony really helped them because they never had the opportunity to talk to people, to share their suffering before – it is a kind of acknowledgement,” Soktheara said.