Courses for law professionals

Understanding torture and its psychological effects: A 2-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 two decades 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 Başoğlu, 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 Başoğlu 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

Flexible. The course can be opened at any time during the year convenient to all participants. 


12,500 USD per participant


Please contact Professor Metin Başoğlu (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


10:00 – 10:45   Introduction to psychological trauma: Definition and mental effects

10:45 – 11:30   Current psychological theories of trauma: A critical review

11:30 – 12:00   Coffee break

12:00 – 13:00   A learning theory model of trauma and its empirical basis

13:00 – 14:00   Lunch break

14:00 – 15:00   A learning theory formulation of torture: The role of unpredictable and uncontrollable stressors and sense of control in helplessness responses

15:00 – 16:00   Assessment and measurement of severity of torture: Objective versus subjective measures and their relevance to definition of torture

16:00 – 16:30  Coffee break

16:30 – 17:30  “Severe mental pain or suffering” as the core criterion in current definitions of torture: Contextual determinants, definition, assessment, and measurement

17:30 – 18:00   Q &A / Discussion


10:00 – 11:00  Does the severity distinction between torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment in international law have a scientific basis? – A review of new empirical evidence and implications for definition of torture in international law

11:00 – 11:30 Coffee break

11:30 – 12:30  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

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch break

14:00 – 15:00 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

15:00 – 16:00 What do lawyers need to know about treatment of torture trauma and why? –  Recent advances in brief and effective treatment (Control-Focused Behavioral Treatment)

16:00 – 16:30  Coffee break

16:30 – 18:00 Q & A / Discussion

18:00  End of course