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Difficulties Recalling and Recounting

Torture survivors may have difficulties in recalling and recounting the specific details of the torture experience and other parts of the history for several important reasons. Clinicians should be familiar with such factors as they commonly manifest as inconsistencies in the interview. Difficulty recalling and recounting may be related to:

  • Factors directly related to the torture experience
    • Factors during torture itself, such as blindfolding, drugging, lapses of consciousness, etc.
    • Disorientation in time and place during torture due to the nature of torture or extreme stress experienced during torture.
    • Neuro-psychiatric memory impairment resulting from head injuries, suffocation, near drowning, starvation, hunger strikes or vitamin deficiencies.
    • Experiencing repeated and similar events may also lead to difficulties in recalling clearly the details of specific events.
  • Factors related to the psychological impact of torture
    • PTSD-related memory disturbances recalling the traumatic event or intrusive memories, nightmares and the inability to remember important details of the event.
    • Denial and avoidance, which can be protective coping mechanisms, in these particular circumstances.
    • High emotional arousal and impaired memory secondary to trauma-related mental illnesses, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
    • Other psychological symptoms such as concentration difficulties, fragmentation or repression of traumatic memories, confusion, dissociation, amnesia.
    • Feelings of guilt or shame.
  • Cultural factors
    • Cultural differences in the perception of time.
    • Culturally prescribed sanctions that allow traumatic experiences to be revealed only in highly confidential settings.
  • Factors related to interview conditions or barriers of communication
    • Fear of placing oneself or others at risk.
    • Lack of trust in the examining clinician and/or interpreter.
    • Lack of feeling safe during the interview.
    • Environmental barriers such as lack of privacy, comfort of interview setting, inadequate time for the interview.
    • Physical barriers such as pain or other discomforts, fatigue, sensory deficits.
    • Socio-cultural barriers such as the gender of the interviewer, language and cultural differences.
    • Barriers due to transference/counter-transference reactions during the interview.
    • Inadequately conducted and/or poorly structured interviews.