Complementary & Alternative Medicine


Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine for Survivors of Torture and Refugee Trauma: A Descriptive Report

This article, by  Ellen Silver Highfield, Puja Lama, Michael A. Grodin, Ted J. Kaptchuk, and Sondra S. Crosby, was published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, and is available for a fee through SpringerLink.

Refugees with trauma histories are a difficult medical population to treat. Acupuncture care has gained acceptance in many mainstream hospitals in the United States, but research on acupuncture and refugee populations is limited. Herein, we report our experiences with 50 refugees (total acupuncture treatments = 425) at a major tertiary teaching hospital.

Acupuncture for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial

This article, by Hollifield, Michael; Sinclair-Lian, Nityamo; Warner, Teddy D.; Hammerschlag, Richard, was published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. Volume 195, Number 6 (June 2007). (Link is to full article.)

The purpose of the study was to evaluate the potential efficacy and acceptability of acupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People diagnosed with PTSD were randomized to either an empirically developed acupuncture treatment (ACU), a group cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or a wait-list control (WLC). The primary outcome measure was self-reported PTSD

Acupuncture for refugees with posttraumatic stress disorder: initial experiences establishing a community clinic

This article, by Pease, M., R. Sollom, and P. Wayne, was published in Explore (NY), 2009. 5(1): p. 51-4 and is available for FREE through Tree of Life TaiChi.

This article describes the establishment of an acupuncture clinic to provide free treatments to Boston-based refugees suffering from PTSD. We provide a brief overview of PTSD as viewed from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and summarize the literature evaluating the use of acupuncture for PTSD. We discuss the treatment strategies employed in treating refugees and summarize a few case reports from the clinic.

Complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of refugees and survivors of torture: a review and proposal for action

By Mckenna Longacre, MM, Ellen Silver-Highfield, Puja Lama, and Michael A. Grodin, MD. This article reviews the scientific medical literature for the efficacy and feasibility of some complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) modalities including meditation, Ayurveda, pranayama/yogic breathing, massage/body-work, dance/movement, spirituality, yoga, music, Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, qigong, t’ai chi, chiropractic, homeopathy, aromatherapy and Reiki specifically with respect to survivors of torture and refugee trauma. 

Published in TORTURE Volume 22, Number 1, 2012

Cultural Rituals Surrounding Healing

Gray, A.E.L. (2009). “Cultural Rituals Surrounding Healing”. San Francisco Medicine, 82 (5).

Link is to full article in journal, available free; navigate to page 19 in journal online.

Dance/movement therapy approaches to fostering resilience and recovery among African adolescent torture survivors

Harris, D. A. (2007). Dance/movement therapy approaches to fostering resilience and recovery among African adolescent torture survivors.Torture: Journal on Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Prevention of Torture, 17(2): 134-155.

Dance/movement therapy (DMT) interventions, if designed to promote cultural relevance and community ownership, may enhance healing among African adolescent survivors of war and organised violence.

In limbo: Movement psychotherapy with refugees and asylum seekers

Callaghan, K. (1998). In limbo: Movement psychotherapy with refugees and asylum seekers. In D. Dokter (Ed.), Arts therapists, refugees and migrants: Reaching across borders (pp. 25-40). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Link is to full chapter available for free via Google Books.

Pathways to embodied empathy and reconciliation: Former boy soldiers in a dance/movement therapy group in Sierra Leone

Harris, D. A. (2007). Pathways to embodied empathy and reconciliation: Former boy soldiers in a dance/movement therapy group in Sierra Leone. Intervention: International Journal of Mental Health, Psychosocial Work and Counselling in Areas of Armed Conflict, 5(3), 203-231.

Engaging in symbolic expression through attunement and kinaesthetic empathy enabled the teenagers to re£ect on their personal involvement in armed
con£ict in a way that encouraged enhanced awareness of belonging to the broader humanity.

Perspectives on Yoga Inputs in the Management of Chronic Pain

This article, by Nandini Vallath, was published in the Indian Journal of Palliative Care, and is available for free through PubMed.

Chronic pain is multi-dimensional. At the physical level itself, beyond the nociceptive pathway, there is hyper arousal state of the components of the nervous system, which negatively influences tension component of the muscles, patterns of breathing, energy levels and mindset, all of which exacerbate the distress and affect the quality of life of the individual and family. Beginning with the physical body, Yoga eventually influences all aspects of the person:

Refugee trauma versus torture trauma: a retrospective controlled cohort study of Tibetan refugees

Holtz T.H. (1998). Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 186(1):24-34.

A retrospective cohort study of 35 refugee Tibetan nuns and lay students who were arrested and tortured in Tibet matched with 35 controls who were not arrested or tortured was carried out in India. Subjects were administered the Hopkins Checklist-25, evaluating anxiety symptoms, affective disturbances, somatic complaints, and social impairment. The prevalence of symptom scores in the clinical range for both cohorts was 41.4% for anxiety symptoms and 14.3% for depressive symptoms.

Treating Survivors of Torture and Refugee Trauma: A Preliminary Case Series Using Qigong and T'ai Chi

This article, by Michael A. Grodin, Linda Piwowarczyk, and Robert B. Saper, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, is available for free through PubMed.

This paper seeks to explore the potential value of qigong and t'ai chi practice as a therapeutic intervention to aid in the treatment of survivors of torture and refugee trauma.

The common effects of torture and refugee trauma are surveyed with a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder. An alternative theoretical framework for conceptualizing and healing trauma is presented.


Physical Therapy for Survivors of Torture


Some specialized torture treatment centers have observed benefits among their patients from physical treatment modalities such as physical therapy or massage. Primary care or other clinics treating torture survivors may also consider such interventions when addressing complaints of chronic pain and physical symptoms.  Because torture is usually directed in part toward the physical being of the victim, attention to the body can be especially therapeutic, both emotionally and physically.

The Treatment of Chronic Pain in Survivors of Torture and Refugee Trauma: an Integrative Approach

Webinar Summary and Resources

This webinar focuses on the potential alleviation of torture-induced chronic pain through alternative medicine and techniques. While the webinar is intended for medical professionals, it is accessible to a wider audience as well. After establishing that western conceptions both of pain and the necessity of pharmaceutical or surgical treatment are not universal, the webinar elaborates on a series of alternative medicines that have clinically and anecdotally been shown to be helpful.


Creative Therapies for Adults

Johnson, D.R., Lahad, M., & A. Gray. (2009). “Creative Therapies for Adults.” In Foa, E., Keane, T., Friedman, M. & J. Cohen, Effective Treatments for PTSD, Second Edition. 2009: The Guilford Press.

Link below is to incomplete copy of the chapter available through Google Books. You may also purchase the entire book through Amazon or other booksellers.


PTSD Treatment For Monks

In this radio interview by Fresh Air, "Dr. Michael Grodin discusses his experiences treating Tibetan monks who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. Many of the monks were imprisoned or tortured because of their resistance to the Chinese presence in Tibet, and now some of them experience "flashbacks" while meditating.

"Grodin hypothesizes that meditation may reduce the brain's ability to inhibit unpleasant thoughts and memories. His treatment combines elements of Western and Tibetan medicine and therapy. Grodin wrote about his findings in the March issue of Mental Health, Religion, and