Elena Lesley

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Emory U.

Grant number

Gr. 9418

Approve Date

April 18, 2017

Project Title

Lesley, Elena S., Emory U., Atlanta, GA - To aid research on 'Testifying to Trauma in Cambodia: Post-Genocidal Justice, Politics and Narrative Therapy,' supervised by Dr. Bruce Knauft

ELENA S. LESLEY, then a graduate student at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, received a grant in April 2017 to aid research on “Testifying to Trauma in Cambodia: Post-Genocidal Justice, Politics and Narrative Therapy,” supervised by Dr. Bruce Knauft. This project examines the treatment outcomes and historical narrative construction of two groups of Khmer Rouge survivors, those who consult traditional healers for symptoms associated with psychological distress, and those undergoing “testimonial therapy,” an imported psychotherapy associated with transitional justice efforts in the country. In testimonial therapy, patients work with a counselor to create a narrative of their suffering under the Khmer Rouge and publicly call for justice as rendered through the country’s UN-backed tribunal. Along with the broader transitional justice project, it is envisioned as a healing mechanism for the populace, one that will transform Cambodia into a liberal, democratic society. Yet Cambodia remains wracked by corruption, growing inequality and political persecution. This was particularly true during the research period leading to the highly fraught July 2018 national election, which many international observers saw as a final turning point toward authoritarianism in the country. Tracking the treatment experiences over time of Khmer Rouge survivors, this project traces how people come to develop new narratives of their country’s divisive history – and the related impact on mental health – during a period of acute political tension.