HUMAN RIGHTS CLINIC: Training, Resources and Support for Clinical Volunteers





Survivors of torture and other human rights abuse seeking asylum in the U.S. may bear signs of abuse that are invisible to immigration authorities and legal professionals. In many cases, the only evidence of persecution torture survivors have to support their claims are the scars on their bodies and the consequences to their mental health. Such evidence can often only be documented by expert physicians and mental health professionals, but few academic medical programs train clinicians to recognize and document signs of torture. To fill this gap, HRC connects torture survivors and their legal representatives to physicians and mental health professionals who have been trained to objectively evaluate and document any long-term physical or mental health complications that are consistent with accounts of torture.

HRC trains and deploys US-licensed medical and mental health professionals as volunteers to diagnose and document signs of torture on people seeking asylum and other immigration relief in the United States. Volunteers are also trained to provide affidavits to be used as expert evidence in immigrations proceedings.

Volunteers are required to attend an intense half-day training that educates them about the US asylum process, prepares them to evaluate the effects of torture on survivors, addresses the importance of writing effective affidavits, and advises how to assess a client’s need for further care.

How to volunteer
HRC works with local partners in each of its sites to host trainings. It works with an array of medical institutions and provider networks to recruit new clinical volunteers. Currently, HRC offers trainings in New York, Denver, Phoenix, and the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2010, HRC will offer additional trainings in New York, DC, Baltimore, Denver, Phoenix, Seattle, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Interested clinicians must be licensed and are screened for suitability.

Please check HRC’s event page for training dates in your state or email for more information.

Meeting the clients
After completing a training, potential volunteers are interviewed by HRC staff to assess their ability to conduct evaluations and assess survivors’ follow-up needs. Staff also verify professional credentials via references and license checks. HealthRight then completes a volunteer contract with the clinician.

Volunteers are expected to see at least four clients per year. However, HRC is mindful of its volunteers’ busy schedules and accommodates as best as possible when volunteers are unable to make that commitment. Evaluations can be conducted at a clinician’s private office, a detention facility, or an HRC-acquired space.

Support for volunteers
HRC volunteers benefit from a mentoring system in which every newly inducted clinician is assigned a clinical mentor. Mentors assist new volunteers working with their first clients to ensure that the evaluations adhere to HRC standards of objectivity and professionalism and that the clinical affidavits meet the standard.. Mentors also support new volunteers who find clients’ experiences of torture emotionally difficult.

HRC provides continued support to volunteers through working group meetings featuring presentations by guest experts, case consultations and periodic newsletters. Past experts include immigration judges, immigrant health advocates, attorneys, and volunteers with expertise in photo-documentation of clinical evidence of torture. Meetings also provide an opportunity for volunteers to discuss challenges and lessons learned.

Resources for volunteers

All HRC volunteers receive the “Resource Book for HRC Volunteers,” which includes the HRC Training Manual for Physicians and Mental Health Professionals. The manual was first issued in 2003 and is regularly reviewed and edited by HRC trainers and senior clinical volunteers to reflect changes in immigration law and identify best practices. HealthRight issued the most recent edition in February 2009. Other contents of the resource book include presentations by trainers and literature on forensic evaluation of torture survivors and their treatment.

Links to relevant websites:

Resources for Volunteers:

Fact Sheet 1: Web-based Resources

Fact Sheet 2: Examining Detained Clients

Fact Sheet 3: Working with Interpreters

Fact Sheet 4: Working with Difficult Clients

Fact Sheet 5: Vicarious Trauma and Self-care

Fact Sheet 6: Writing the Affidavit

Fact Sheet 7: One-Year Filing Deadline Exception

Fact Sheet 8: Torture Treatment Centers in the United States

Fact Sheet 9: Common Types of Persecution That Leave Psychological Sequelae

Fact Sheet 10: Common Types of Psychological Sequelae of Torture

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