Iraq on the Couch: The Psychological Toll of War

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Victims of institutional chaos, Iraqis are some of the more psychologically traumatized people in the world. Yet for most of them, treatment is hard to come by: There are fewer than 100 psychiatrists in the entire country, or 1.6 mental health professionals per 100,000 people, reports HealthMatters (Summer 2008). A program run by the U.S.-based Center for Victims of Torture aims to help Iraqi refugees who have made it to Amman, Jordan, and who suffer from the psyche-scarring effects of war.

“Many of them have been subjected to targeted bombings, mutilation, rape, and threats of violence,” says Neal Porter, the center’s director of international services. “Many of the things that we’ve seen on television we’re hearing in anecdotal stories from people we’ve interviewed.”

Porter notes that mental health workers will be confronting a cultural stigma against seeking mental health treatment, especially for men. “We think women in general will be more open to therapy work,” he says. Staff members are being hired and trained for the program, and will begin seeing refugees in early 2009.