Untwisting power asymmetries through accopainment

Untwisting Power Asymmetries Through Accompaniment

Untwisting power asymmetries through accopainment

Event details

Calendar 446ec8456ba7ad618eac98f1ba957dc7149c5a5ee2199f86a462dc0b8a2ab967


Watch 806e8b46ae3876e9c820aad855f58962700b25e75eb232411cfd6fd7c981a572

1:00 pm - 2:30 pm EDT

Map point 943fe283e7b2dd1114f831ac402f96ea4d771d5606de68a487064cffbea3d808

Stillpoint Spaces Berlin
Hobrechtstrasse 66, Vorderhaus EG
Berlin, 12047

In this Lecture Series on critical psychological engagement with asylum-seeking survivors of torture, we will explore how an asymmetric power dynamic within a western clinical context threatens the healing process. Particularly when examining the “mental health” of the survivor, in what ways is the already powerful role of therapist prone to re-creating the powerful-powerless torture dynamic? I argue that without a layered and critical analysis of power, the therapeutic dynamic unwittingly condenses power structures existing far beyond and prior to the therapeutic encounter. Moreover, we will explore how western worldviews and paradigms in their naïve views of empowerment, lack of critical consciousness, and power-blindness offer inadequate preparation to therapeutically engage with survivors of torture. As clinicians, in what ways can we develop our conceptualization of power with contributions from critical theorists like Foucault? Lastly, can the promise of radical and liberation-based theories such as “accompaniment” be used to more effectively promote the healing process for survivors of torture? Implications of this lecture series are not limited to working with asylum-seeking survivors of torture, but to anyone facing asymmetrical power structures in helping, service, or healing arenas.

The lectures will be held on three Thursdays in May (9th, 16th & 30th) and one Thursday in June, from 19:00 to 20:30h.

9th of May, Part I: Understanding power and power dynamics
Power has been a major theme in critical studies fields, but also in more sterile, data-driven psychological research aiming to explore its impact on cognition and social relationships. Keeping in mind the context of this lecture series, we will explore a range of findings from the psychological literature on power, compare these to critical studies fields, and begin to imagine how these might manifest in a therapy setting that has the potential to be highly activating. During the discussion, the audience is invited to begin applying these ideas to various arenas of interest inside and outside of psychology and “mental health.”

16th of May, Part II: Special challenges to therapeutic engagement
We will review findings based on 11 interviews with clinicians in the United States discussing their work with survivors of torture. Among other questions, we will explore the following: How does the therapist’s position of power disrupt the therapeutic process and what can be done about this? Does an awareness of cultural diversity provide us with the tools to mitigate these challenges?

30th of May, Part III: Language and the power to name another’s experience
Naming and diagnosing are thought of as central clinical tasks. Indeed, the succinct summarizing of an experience, identification of a symptom, or assignment of a disorder can provide great relief to some who seek psychotherapy. But how does this naming serve the healing process when working within a multiply asymmetric power dynamic? When working with survivors of torture, if we don’t use (clinical) language in this way, what tools do we have and to what effect? Foucault’s exploration of power and language can help guide our attempts to answer these questions.

6th of June, Part IV: Worldview
This last section focuses on how having a “critical” worldview—with respect to the phenomena of power and power-abuse—can mitigate the severity and duration of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Conversely, when such a power analysis is absent, one is at risk of developing more severe post-trauma symptomatology. We’ll explore how a critical power analysis of the oppressed and oppressor protects the psyche as well as the healing relationship. Lastly, we will incorporate ideas from the fields of liberation theology and radical psychology and consider their impact on the healing process with survivors of torture or others who have experienced multiple oppressions.

Intended audience
This lecture series is intended for those concerned with asymmetric power dynamics in their clinical work, political activism, humanitarian efforts, social work, or volunteer efforts with survivors of torture or other marginalized individuals. Students of mental health, social work, and psychology fields are particularly valued as audience members, as much of the original research I present here is based on students’ critiques of their education and training.

Jessica Harbaugh, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist from New York City, now living in Berlin. She completed a training year at the Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture and collected original data from students in various mental health fields throughout the U.S., who worked with survivors of torture as part of their training experience. Jessica has also worked extensively with LGBTQ individuals and underserved adults presenting with complex trauma. She has worked as a clinical supervisor for psychology practicum students in underserved areas of New York City. Her theoretical orientation is psychodynamic and is heavily informed by a queer, feminist, humanistic paradigm. Her dissertation research is entitled “Power, multicultural competence, and trainees’ preparation for treating survivors of torture: A qualitative inquiry”.



The entrance to The Lab of Stillpoint Spaces Berlin is directly from the street Hobrechtstraße 66 - front building, ground floor (Vorderhaus, EG). We kindly ask you to arrive at least 15 minutes before the official beginning of the reading group. Please, do not ring on any of the doorbells, as our colleagues might be having counselling sessions.


Please note that the views, opinions, and values expressed by presenters, participants, or any other individual in relation to this lecture are not necessarily those of Stillpoint Spaces Berlin. Our aim is to provide a respectful space for open dialogue between our presenters, facilitators, or workshop leaders and those who attend. If you would like to ask specific questions or provide feedback for any presenters please contact us at berlin@stillpointspaces.com.

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