A delegation of German trauma specialists visited the town of Sderot, located just two kilometers from the Gaza Strip, to learn about local approaches to treating psychological trauma.
The city is a natural destination for trauma research. Since 2001, Palestinians in nearby Gaza have fired more than 12,000 rockets at the city from the Gaza Strip, and the Code Red air-raid siren has formed the soundtrack of the youth of a generation of Israelis. Gaza periphery residents have just 15 seconds to take cover upon hearing the siren. In order to deal with the threat, the town is dotted with makeshift bomb shelters, and some playgrounds have been covered with rocket-resistant roofs.
Psychologists, religious authorities, teachers, and counselors say the constant threat of attack has left an indelible mark on local residents. Bed-wetting, depression, stress disorders, and divorce rates have skyrocketed in the city since the turn of the century. Dr. Adrianna Katz, executive director of the Sderot Community Center for Mental Health, told TPS in 2010 that “it is a mistake to talk about ‘post’ trauma conditions in Sderot, due to the ever-present possibility of an attack.”
“People here are living in a constant state of panic,” Katz said, chain-smoking one unfiltered cigarette after another during our 30-minute interview.
As a result, Sderot has become an unhappy laboratory for the development of trauma therapies. The current visit, hosted by the Israeli Trauma Coalition (ITC), centered on a tour of the local Resilience Center, where the visitors heard about life in the constant shadow of terrorism and about the ITC’s model of bolstering communities, both during normal times and during emergencies.
In addition, the group visited nearby Kibbutz Nir Am for a view of the Gaza Strip and they visited a Resilience Center for the Bedouin community in the city of Rahat, where they learned about the challenges of providing psycho-social therapy to the Bedouin population of the Negev.
ITC Director General Talia Levanon said: “The delegation came to learn from Israel Trauma Coalition activities in the areas where we work. It is an ongoing process of learning, and we hosted a German-Israeli workshop aimed at administering, developing, and preventing therapy teams from burning themselves out.”
The delegation also met with Corinne Zeevi-Weil, an expert in child and adult psychology at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, and visited the Amcha center in Haifa they met with Holocaust survivors and heard talks by staff members about therapy and support.
The Israel Trauma Coalition was founded in February 2001 at the behest of the Jewish Federation of New York and serves as the executive arm for government ministries that deal with mental-health issues. The coalition includes hundreds of professionals and thousands of volunteers around the country operating regional preparedness centers for emergency situations. Treatment focuses on four main areas: civil preparedness for emergency situations, therapy training, preparing the education system for emergency situations, and the business community.