Adult Services

Welcome! If you are a survivor of torture and are seeking services, please contact our case managers at 224-479-2705 or -2714.

Since 1987 Kovler Center has used a framework for services that is community- and volunteer-based, with services offered at no cost to survivors of torture. Drawing upon the work of developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, we view survivors seeking services from an ecological perspective that includes the context of migration, adaptation, family and professional life, and trauma suffered. With that in mind, Kovler Center has adopted the following philosophical and aspirational pillars of service:

  • Holistic approach to integrated services;
  • Trauma-informed approach that is empowerment-focused, strength-based, and survivor-driven;
  • Support of Spiritual Well-Being;
  • Culturally and linguistically sensitive services;
  • Rebuilding community;
  • Access to justice

Kovler Center’s Treatment Model follows the three stages of recovery as described by psychiatrist Judith Herman:

  • the establishment of safety;
  • remembrance and mourning;
  • reconnection with community and ordinary life.


Clinical volunteers embrace a number of theoretical frameworks and utilize a variety of interventions, however are all trained in and encouraged to adopt this model. Survivors may continue to receive supportive services after completing the three stages of treatment such as case management, organized events, and the International Cooking Group. Kovler Center’s model also includes robust partnerships addressing ongoing needs as well as new partnerships addressing newly identified needs.

To learn how medical information about our participants may be used and disclosed, as well as how participants can access this information, please read the notice below:

Joint Notice of Privacy Practices (English)

Joint Notice of Privacy Practices (Español)



As key elements of accountability, the collection and dissemination of data hold Kovler Center answerable to our participants, our funders, and to ourselves. Kovler Center’s outcome evaluation primarily utilizes three instruments:  the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ), the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25 (HSCL), and the Marjorie Kovler Center Well Being Questionnaire (MKC WBQ). These instruments are administered at intake and at 6-month intervals, up to 24 months (on average, the end of formal treatment). Additionally, Kovler Centers administers a satisfaction survey used to continually improve our program and address any needs or issues that arise. Overall, our findings show remarkable improvements over time in several domains, including a reduction in anxiety and depression, a reduction in symptoms related to trauma and post-traumatic stress, improvements in physical health, and gains in functional areas, such as legal, employment, and housing status. For more information about Kovler Center’s outcome evaluation program, click here.



Although the staffing structure has changed and the volunteer corps grown since 1987, the framework for services as originally conceptualized remains in place today. It is characterized by the following:

Community-based – Kovler Center strongly believes that torture treatment is best supported in a community context. Survivors are seen both at the Kovler Center and in the private offices of the many volunteer practitioners. The Kovler Center building, a former convent, is a solid, brick, four-story built in the art deco style and located on a quiet, peaceful residential street in the Rogers Park neighborhood. Survivors often remark on the sense of safety they feel upon entry, comparing it to a sanctuary, and ultimately to the feeling of home.

Volunteer-based- Including a volunteer component in Kovler Center’s framework for services is based upon the assumption that if torture is meant to break the bonds of the individual with their family and community, then the community needs to be involved in the response. In order to extend services to a large number of survivors and to meet complex needs, Kovler Center engages a wide range of pro bono professionals (internists, family practice and general practitioners, psychiatrists, dentists, optometrists, psychotherapists, massage therapists, physical therapists, acupuncturists), pro bono paraprofessionals (tutors, interpreters, accompaniers), and students (psychology, social work) to deliver essential services to survivors.

No cost – Kovler Center has a long-standing commitment to ensuring that survivors of torture do not have to pay for the rehabilitation needed because of what has been done to them by their own government or another.


Holistic approach to integrated services

Survivors of torture suffer from a complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which is manifested by anxiety, distrust, depression, flashbacks, intrusive memories, memory problems, a range of physical symptoms, and disruptions to many other areas of functioning. Optimal to providing the most integrated model of care is for core services (including primary care, psychiatric, psychological, occupational, social, and legal services) to be accessible in one location. This model recognizes that the fear and silence surrounding torture, combined with the loss of community and kinship resulting from forced migration, isolates individual torture survivors. Many torture survivors are reluctant to disclose their torture histories to health or other professionals due to the shame, mistrust, and desire to avoid injurious memories, and may avoid seeking treatment completely. Offering all services in one location increases the chance of a survivor’s engaging in comprehensive services by not having to negotiate a complex, confusing and frightening array of facilities, and not having to reveal their torture history to multiple individuals. With this model the multidisciplinary treatment team members are better able to communicate and provide integrated care. Kovler Center offers medical, mental health and social services on site, with referral to legal services provided by the National Immigrant Justice Center, a program under the same umbrella organization of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights.

Trauma-informed approach that is empowerment-focused, strength-based and survivor-driven

Torture is an affliction of the powerless, and the key objective of treatment, in addition to alleviating the symptoms of traumatic stress, is to assist the survivor in regaining agency and autonomy (Herman, 1992). Trauma-informed care means recognizing and responding to the survivor with an understanding of how the impact of a traumatic experience affects one’s emotional, behavioral, mental, physiological, and spiritual well-being. With this understanding it allows the professional to thoughtfully respond to the individual’s needs. With this trauma informed lens, Kovler Center sees safety as a core vulnerability of survivors affecting physical, psychological and relational components. As such, Kovler Center begins to engage in relationship building and establishing trust within the context of a safe environment. Kovler Center utilizes a multidisciplinary treatment approach based on strengths-based and empowerment principles in order to effectively treat and reduce debilitating psychological symptoms. Empowerment includes offering choices throughout treatment and access to a range of services that survivors request that address the complex and varied consequences of torture. Interventions are not proscribed and are based upon principles of equity supporting the delivery of what each individual needs to heal.

Supporting Spiritual Well-Being

Recognizing the importance of spirituality in a survivor’s life and world view, Kovler Center is intentional in integrating spirituality into its treatment approach. Inquiring about how survivors cope during moments of duress allows them to speak about their spiritual practices. Kovler Center’s model emphasizes the importance of staff sensitivity and competence in harnessing the power that spirituality may have in the healing process. Staff also coordinates with volunteer pastoral counselors and other spiritual healers and practitioners. Many survivors seen at Kovler Center find comfort in establishing and maintaining ties with religious communities in their new home of Chicago. Kovler Center staff and volunteers facilitate connections to communities of faith, local mosques, churches and temples. Click here to read our paper, Healing Body, Mind, and Soul:  The Role of Spirituality and Religion in the Treatment of Survivors of Torture.

Culturally and linguistically sensitive services

Serving one of the most diverse populations of torture survivors in the country, Kovler Center maintains that the delivery of culturally and linguistically sensitive services is paramount. Kovler Center works to ensure that the environment, staff knowledge, and policies are a fit for cross-cultural situations. Staff demonstrate cultural humility and curiosity. Culturally-sensitive therapists make adaptations to “traditional” forms of treatment consistent with the literature on cross-cultural psychotherapy. They also are aware of the socio-political context of the torture. Kovler Center engages interpreters using a Kovler Center designed therapeutic partnership in which the therapist, interpreter, and survivor form a collaborative team. This model acknowledges the expertise of each of these participants as an essential component of the therapy process: the therapist provides expertise on the psychological consequences of severe trauma and strategies for recovery; the survivor is an expert on what trauma occurred and its expression within his/her own cultural, linguistic, and political context; and the interpreter is the conduit for communication, an expert in the languages spoken by the therapist and survivor. This therapeutic triad translates to a therapeutic partnership that reflects respect and trust, necessary ingredients for psychotherapy.

Rebuilding community

The use of torture to destroy real or perceived threats to power can result in a strong disincentive on the part of survivors and their communities to organize, take action, or voice dissent. Forced exile separates individuals from their countries of origin, and from the comforts of daily life, culture, and society. In response, Kovler Center recreates a sense of community, helping survivors overcome helplessness and connect with their innate strengths and resilience, and breaks isolation by helping survivors reconnect with community. Kovler Center facilitates support groups to ensure a sustainable social support network, reconnecting survivors with aspects of their lives often lost to exile and creating opportunities for participation in social interaction.

Access to justice Many survivors are told that no one cares that their rights have been violated, that no one will believe them anyway, and they are treated as if they are the criminals. Access to services for the asylum process removes the stigma of criminality, increases self-esteem, and demonstrates that civil society recognizes survivors as individuals with rights. Justice in front of indicted perpetrators further restores the meaning of justice on a systemic level. And when reparations are given, the final step in obtaining justice, the things they were deprived of are revealed and the injustice is fully acknowledged.