Intended for healthcare professionals


Caring for torture survivors: one of the most difficult but fulfilling jobs in medicine

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 06 February 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m143
  1. Joanne Silberner
  1. The BMJ
  1. jsilberner{at}

Angela Burnett has been working with torture survivors in London for two and a half decades, listening to their stories and chronicling the lasting physical and mental health effects. Joanne Silberner asked her about how and why she does it

A Burnett

Q. Doctors are used to hearing difficult stories, but a story of torture is an order of magnitude above the ordinary. Are those stories difficult to hear?

A. They are difficult, certainly, and that’s why we place huge importance on support for the people providing care. I focus very much on the difference I can make through the work that I’m doing. There’s the realisation that this person I’m seeing is a survivor and deserves to be heard. Also, it gets easier as I understand the ways that people can be supported and go on to lead really good lives.

Q: What got you interested in working with torture survivors?

A: Back in 1994 I was in Zambia with a local charitable organisation that helped people with HIV. I was sharing a house with friends, including a young man who was a refugee from Congo (then Zaire), and I got …

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