ITTP makes a unique and essential contribution to the healing of populations from the effects of torture, war traumas and natural disasters. Since its inception, our philosophy of training utilizes a cooperative approach between students and faculty. We collaborate, not indoctrinate. We encourage our counterparts overseas to draw upon the resources in their home countries to generate training and treatment programs specific to their circumstances. We share with them those theories and practices that have been derived from our culture as examples of what might be developed from theirs. We also encourage them to examine their own personal experiences to further their understanding of those they are helping.
As increasing numbers of practitioners worldwide develop evermore highly effective treatments for complex trauma, those who seek to debilitate entire populations through war and torture are undermined. Consequently, ITTP addresses the root causes of complex trauma while improving methods for its treatment.
Practitioners who attend our program thus become innovators, able to design unique programs to address the specialized needs of diverse groups and individuals. Moreover, practitioners are trained by the ITTP to adapt their ideas and programs to people’s needs as situations change. Thus, as methods of inflicting complex trauma become ever more sophisticated, so do our efforts to undo its effects.
Our Approach to Trauma Treatment:
“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day;
Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
We go one step further . . .
“You’ve been fishing here for thousands of years.
You know better how to fish sustainably than we do.
But if we both describe how we fish, we may discover
ways to improve.”
As every culture treats trauma, our goal is to improve what already exists, rather than to impose Western ideas on other cultures. Thus, we seek to establish an international network of practitioners who share ideas about how best to develop indigenous treatments for trauma.
History of ITTP
The International Trauma Treatment Program was founded in 1998 as a not-for-profit corporation in the State of Washington for the purposes of providing communication among the various human rights groups in Olympia and to provide in-depth training for professionals from countries experiencing war, organized violence, or other forms of political oppression. The origins of the International Trauma Treatment Program date back to the mid 1980’s, when the current Clinical Director and founder, Dr. John R. Van Eenwyk, helped to establish the Marjorie Kovler Center in Chicago for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture in Chicago. In 1989, Dr. Van Eenwyk presented his research at the Second International Conference of the International Society for Health and Human Rights, which took place in Costa Rica. After his presentations, Dr. Van Eenwyk was asked why the Kovler Center helped only those torture survivors who were able to make it to the United States. What about those who were unable to leave their countries?
In 1991, Dr. Van Eenwyk made the first of what were to become a number of training missions to areas of the world experiencing war or other forms of political violence. He has trained practitioners in Costa Rica (1989), Croatia (2009), Gaza (1991, 1993 [two visits], 1995, 1997, 2002), the Philippines (1994), Sri Lanka (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006), South Africa (1999), Tibetan Settlements in India (2004), Trinidad and Tobago (2008), Uganda (2007), and Zimbabwe (2000).
On his first visit to Sri Lanka (1997), one of the workshops had to be concluded prematurely when the town came under sustained mortar fire. To avoid such disruptions in trauma work, it became apparent that bringing people from conflict areas to the United States for more concentrated—and less interrupted—training was an alternative worth considering.
Thus, with the help of dedicated volunteer clinicians in the Olympia, Washington, area, the ITTP was born. In 1999, ITTP trained its first practitioner, a Tamil from Sri Lanka. She has since returned to Sri Lanka, where she treats survivors of complex trauma and trains local practitioners to do the same. In 2000 we trained a Singhalese practitioner from Sri Lanka. In 2001, we trained a student from Zimbabwe. A native of South Africa, he had been imprisoned and tortured there repeatedly over a ten-year period. Finally fleeing the country, he was granted asylum in Zimbabwe. At the time of his training, he was the Academic Dean of the Bishop Gaul Theological Seminary in Harare. He has since relocated to Botswana.
It soon became obvious that our work consisted less of training (in the formal sense) than of collaborating with colleagues from war zones and scenes of natural disasters to create and refine trauma treatment protocols that are based on cultural practices. That is, we look to each culture to see how people have dealt with complex trauma traditionally, and then refine those traditions into treatment protocols focused specifically on complex trauma.
In 2003, we invited two Israelis and two Palestinians to come to Olympia to work with us for three months. When the Israeli government refused to allow the Palestinians to go to Tel Aviv to receive their visas to the United States, we delayed the program while we searched for ways around the crisis. Fortunately, Physicians for Human Rights in Israel sued their government and won the right for the Palestinians to go to the U.S. consulate and receive their visas. Unfortunately, by then the two Israelis had had to return to work and were unable to accompany them to Olympia.
In 2004, we invited two practitioners from Tibetan settlements in India to work with us in Olympia. In 2005, we invited two practitioners from Uganda. In 2006, however, we once again encountered problems obtaining visas, this time for two practitioners from Sri Lanka. Section 214b of the Immigration and Naturalization Code requires those who seek visas to prove that they will return to their home countries when the term of their visas ends. To ensure impartiality, quantitative means are used for evaluation. These are financial assets, age, and marital status. As the practitioners we invite to Olympia are frequently young, poor and single, they do not qualify. Despite heavy lobbying on our part, including the intervention of our U.S. Representative in Congress, we were unable to obtain visas.
In 2007, we invited two more practitioners from Uganda. In 2008, we invited a practitioner from Trinidad and Tobago, and one from Sri Lanka. As the Sri Lankan was married to a Canadian citizen, we were able to obtain a visa. Most recently, in 2009, we worked with a practitioner from Liberia who works with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sri Lanka, and one from Serbia, who works with the International Aid Network.
We continue to make yearly trips abroad to work with our colleagues in war zones throughout the world. We then invite two practitioners to join us in Olympia for three months to exchange ideas on how to treat complex trauma. Over the years, we have built an international community of practitioners who consult with one another to develop the most effective and culturally relevant treatment protocols.
We look forward to expanding this community in the years to come. Healing the wounds of complex trauma, we believe, is the most effective way to work for peace in our world today, for traumatized populations too frequently appeal to the most brutal of their members for revenge and protection from perceived threats. When trauma is healed, that behavior is mitigated substantially.
Mission, Vision, and Values
- To identify local practitioners in conflict areas of the world who are dedicated to healing the complex trauma of their communities, but who lack opportunities for training provided by government, academia, or international NGOs.
- To travel to conflict areas to collaborate with local practitioners on the development and refinement of culturally-based ways of treating complex trauma.
- To bring two practitioners per year from conflict areas to Olympia to share with them how practitioners in the United States treat complex trauma and to learn what they have found successful in their home countries.
- To improve our local practitionersâ€™ knowledge and understanding of how to treat complex trauma.
- To increase the Olympia communityâ€™s understanding of diverse cultures through exposure to practitioners from conflict areas of the world.
- To create liaisons between the Olympia community and conflict areas of the world.
- To develop an international community of practitioners skilled in the art of creating culturally appropriate treatment protocols for complex trauma.
- Those who have been unable to prevent being traumatized often lose confidence in their ability to avoid further trauma. Practitioners who attempt to educate colleagues in less-developed nations can inadvertently reinforce, if not further undermine, that lack of confidence. Thus, well-meaning efforts may result in the inability to treat effectively. ITTP believes that every culture has its own innate ways of treating trauma, however undefined as psychological theory and technique. Just as we in the West base treatments on elaborations of everyday interactions, so can practitioners in every culture. Thus, we collaborate rather than indoctrinate. We believe that collegiality and community with practitioners worldwide are the basis for improved treatment both at home and abroad.
Board of Directors
We are very grateful to those who have served on our distinguished Board of Directors. Their vision, dedication and hard work is the foundation for ITTPs success. They are:
Current Board of Directors consists of:
Elizabeth St. Louis
John Van Eenwyk
Juliet Van Eenwyk
For general information on our program, how to make a donation, internships, or volunteer opportunities:
To send a donation or to simply write to us:
International Trauma Treatment Program
1026 State Avenue NE
Olympia, WA 98506