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

Preliminary abstract: This project engages Khmer Rouge survivors currently affiliated with different political parties to examine how two forms of therapeutic treatment affect narrative construction of trauma and psychological wellbeing. The opening of a UN-backed tribunal in 2006 to prosecute leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime — who were responsible for the deaths of some 1.7 million Cambodians — was accompanied by numerous affiliated ‘transitional justice’ efforts. These included psychosocial interventions, such as ‘testimonial therapy,’ in which survivors work with therapists to create a narrative of their suffering under the Khmer Rouge and publicly call for legal justice as rendered through the tribunal. This differs greatly from traditional approaches to healing, which focus on rituals to alleviate social and spiritual disruption. Testimonial therapy is envisioned as part of Cambodia’s development as a liberal, democratic society, though the country remains wracked by poverty, corruption and escalating political tension. My research will examine the treatment experiences of survivors affiliated with the ruling party and opposition to address the following question: how does testimonial therapy affect psychological distress in different groups of survivors — and how do treatment outcomes relate to whether or not patients adopt state-level narratives? I hypothesize that opposition supporters will respond relatively less favorably to testimonial therapy and more favorably to traditional healing because current life stress makes it more difficult for them to reach positive resolution through the construction of genocidal narratives. This project will refine anthropological understanding of post-genocidal recovery and the relationship between NGOs, national politics and psychotherapeutic healing.