Courses for law professionals

Understanding torture and its psychological effects: A 1.5-day training course for law professionals

The so-called war on terror in the aftermath of 9/11 events has led to an increase in the number of alleged torture cases coming to the attention of law professionals, particularly in the US and other western countries. In court trials involving “terrorism” cases, confessions obtained under severe duress often become an issue with regard to their admissibility as evidence, the defense counsel arguing that such duress constitutes torture and the prosecution arguing that it does not. Formulating arguments on this issue either way and substantiating them with scientific evidence pose a serious challenge. While this is attributable in part to the relative lack of scientific evidence in this field, a lack of adequate and up-to-date knowledge of available evidence on the part of law professionals also plays an important role. A sound theory-and evidence-based understanding of what constitutes torture, the psychological mechanisms by which it impacts individuals, and its psychological effects is of critical importance in understanding the mental state of clients, establishing good rapport with them, formulating their case, and effectively representing them at court.

There have been important advances in study of torture in the last decade and this course provides a unique opportunity for law professionals who feel the need for a more scientific understanding of torture in their professional practice. Although the focus of the course is on torture, the basic issues covered apply to all forms of trauma. As such, it is also likely to be of interest to law professionals dealing with survivors of other kinds of trauma.

The course is taught by Professor Metin Basoglu, who is widely recognized as a prominent world authority on psychological effects of torture and their treatment. He has made significant contributions to the post-9/11 debate on what constitutes torture with his scientific research on definitional issues, which is widely cited in the field of human rights. His research findings are also receiving increasing attention in court trials involving tortured detainees, particularly in the U.S. Currently, he has completed an edited book – Torture and Its Definition in International Law: An Interdisciplinary Approach – (published in the U.S. in August 2017 by Oxford University Press New York) with contributions from prominent mental health, human rights, and international law scholars. This book brings together current behavioral science and international law perspectives of definition of torture. This course is based in part on the contents of his own contributions to the book.

Although Professor Basoglu provides consultancy with regard to individual cases of alleged torture, such consultancy is most useful when a law professional has gained an adequate understanding of the important issues. Therefore, with its extensive coverage of these issues, this course is highly recommended for law professionals who might be considering seeking consultancy from him.

Course dates & fees

Flexible. The course can be opened at any time during the year convenient to all participants. As fees vary according to the number of potential applicants at any particular time, please contact Professor Metin Basoglu (mbasoglu@dabatem.org) for information on this issue. 


Please contact Professor Metin Basoglu (mbasoglu@dabatem.org), providing brief information about yourself, your current legal practice, your training needs, expectations from the course, and how you think the course is likely to be useful in your future work. Such information would be useful for us in tailoring the course contents according to your needs.

Course Program


9:00 – 9:45       Introduction to psychological trauma: Definition and mental effects

9:45 – 10:30     Current psychological theories of trauma: A critical review

10:30 – 11:00   Coffee break

11:00 – 12:00   A learning theory model of trauma and its empirical basis

12:00 – 13:00   Lunch break

13:00 – 14:00   A learning theory formulation of torture: The role of unpredictable and uncontrollable stressors
and sense of control in helplessness responses

14:00 – 14:30   Assessment and measurement of severity of torture: Objective versus subjective measures and their
relevance to definition of torture

14:30 – 15:00  Coffee break

15:00 – 16:00  “Severe mental pain or suffering” as the core criterion in current definitions of torture: Contextual
determinants, definition, assessment, and measurement

16:00 – 17:00  Which aspects of captivity experiences need attention in conceptualizing torture? – An evidence-based
contextual / cumulative approach to torture, its implications for legal definitions of torture and a critical
review of common misconceptions about torture

17:00 – 17:30  Q & A / Discussion


9:00 – 10:30    Does the severity distinction between torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment in international law
have a scientific basis? – A review of new empirical evidence

10:00 – 11:00  Do “enhanced interrogation techniques” constitute torture?: A learning theory analysis of helplessness-
inducing interrogation techniques and implications for international law and US anti-torture law

10:30 – 11:00   Coffee break

11:00 – 12:00  What do lawyers need to know about treatment of torture trauma and why? –  Recent advances in brief and effective treatment (Control-Focused Behavioral Treatment)

12:00 – 13:00  Q & A / Discussion

13:00  End of course

Online training possibilities

Due to difficulties in travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, the training can also be delivered online via Zoom Meeting. Please contact Professor Basoglu for more details.