When Jon Hubbard, PhD, first got interested in treating survivors of torture, he wondered if the phenomenon would be around long enough for him to make a career of treating them.
"I had this hope that torture would just go away," says Hubbard, now director of research at the Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis.
With a background in resilience research, Hubbard was studying Cambodian refugees when he first got involved at the center in 1992. In exchange for an opportunity to do therapy with torture survivors, he began helping the center think about how to evaluate its programs. These days Hubbard is just as likely to be in such far-flung destinations as Sierra Leone, Pakistan or Peru. In 1999, he helped the center launch its first international treatment program in Guinea. He's been traveling ever since. He now teaches community-based organizations how to evaluate their home-grown efforts at treating survivors of torture, war and other traumas.
With research on torture treatment still in its infancy, it's still not clear which approach works best for whom, says Hubbard. The small community-based organizations that do the work are often in the best position to find out, but they typically lack resources and training in research methods, as well as access to journals and other information.
Hubbard helps organizations fill that gap by teaching them ways to evaluate their treatment programs no matter what their circumstances.
"My goal is to have them tell me, 'Go home. We don't need you anymore,'" says Hubbard.
Of course, the work also involves enduring long airplane and jeep rides, facing the threat of malaria and other diseases and being away from home for a month at a time. It helps that Hubbard's wife, a clinical social worker at the center, sometimes comes along. And while talking to survivors can be wrenching, says Hubbard, watching them put their lives back together and meeting the people who help them is extremely rewarding.
Back when he was on the job market, Hubbard never realized that the life he now leads was possible.
"I always wanted to do humanitarian work, but I thought you had to have a day job, then find interesting things to do on the side," he says. "This job gives me the opportunity to do that with my day job."