In the aftermath of catastrophic events that threaten lives or leave the population feeling helpless or fearful, Israel has resources to help. One, the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma at Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem, plays a central role in the emotional recovery of Israelis.
Whether from a natural disaster or more recently, terrorism, after more than 1,000 missiles launched from Gaza landed in Southern Israel and as far north as Tel Aviv, Israelis are rebounding, often with the help of ICTP programs.
Stephen Schwartz, the international director of resource development at Herzog Hospital sent two email updates to supporters on Nov. 18, during some of the early and intense rocket fire into Israel.
“Herzog’s Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, as it has done so many times in the past, has once again stepped forward to provide the needed support services to help Israelis cope,” wrote Schwartz. “The heightened sense of awareness has triggered stress and trauma in so many Israelis, many who have been living with the missile threats for years.”
The ICTP has developed a school intervention program that has, to date, trained more than 4,000 mental health providers, counselors, school administrators, and teachers in the classroom to recognize changes in the behavior of a child due to emotional trauma. From signs of depression to detecting a change in a student’s interest or participation, they can use their learning to take action. The program has already benefitted more than 42,000 children.
Its Peace of Mind program was created to help elite combat soldiers from within the same unit readjust to civilian life after three or more years of service in the Israeli Defense Forces. With the help of therapists, the ICTP works in Israel and internationally, sending these groups of men and women to participating Jewish communities around the world for a relaxing week as tourists while they continue therapy. Two more groups are currently in progress.
The Parent’s Place program in Sderot meets privately with adults in emotional need and over 60 parent-child support groups have already met there.
A newly created program, the Parent Hotline, a phone-based intake system, counsels adults who need help keeping their children calm during a crisis. The phone outreach was set up to help various cultures during the recent hostilities and it responded to callers in five languages — Hebrew, Russian, French, Amharic, and English.
On Oct. 18, 2012, the Parent Hotline fielded calls from frightened and confused parents, many of whom have endured more than 11 years of continuous rocket barrages in their towns.
Prof. Danny Brom, the ICTP’s director, described the increasing tension and fear he saw in the population as the threat from the missiles escalated.
In reporting the center’s activities, Brom documented how the beginning of the day was relatively quiet, but wrote that as the evening approached, they became “inundated with calls” from “many, many, very frightened parents.”
“‘I have two children, (a) two and a-half year-old and a baby,’” wrote Brom, quoting a parent caller. “My whole body trembles. My heart beats very fast. There was an alarm 10 minutes ago. I don’t know what to do with my children. I don’t want them to see me like this.”
Another caller, a mother of a 10-year-old, found she needed help staying calm for her boy.
“‘My son…throws up every time there is an alarm, what can I do?’” Brom quoted her as saying.
The effects of days and weeks of ongoing emergency sirens that gave families only a few seconds of warning to find shelter from incoming missiles, coupled with prolonged stays in “safe rooms,” often resulted in what is commonly known Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. For parents, maintaining courage in the face of the unknown required new skills.
“A mother called in [a] panic and told [us] that her daughter was called up for emergency recruitment,” continued Brom. “The most fearful part is that as parents, we don’t know whether our children will be called up for military reserve duty. That is a very frightening thought.”
Admittedly, The ICTP knows that most people will naturally recover from life-threatening events within a few months at the most; however, a minority of those affected with PTSD won’t find their way back to emotional health without assistance.
Individuals can take steps in their own lives to increase their coping abilities by keeping relationships close, learning and talking to others about their situation, exercising, mastering relaxation techniques, helping others, and taking pleasure in a favorite activity.