January, 2016 will be 30 years since I started working in the mental health field, predominantly with trauma survivors. My work has taken place in three countries; the United States, Canada and over the last five years, Israel. The people I have worked with experienced a range of traumatic experiences, for example; childhood trauma involving physical, emotional and sexual abuse, witnessing violence in the home or community, adult survivors of rape or domestic violence, or even losing relatives prematurely due to accident or a disease.

As a trained therapist I know how to ensure safe boundaries and create a safe space for the individuals to do the work necessary to heal from their traumatic experiences. I know I need to be involved with a supervisor to bring my challenges and struggles to the supervision work and to be involved with my own therapy work to make sure I know where my issues start and stop versus those of my clients’.

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So who is the “I” that I bring into the therapeutic relationship? What are those boundaries and issues?

I am the adult child of Holocaust survivors who was born in Israel and at the age of 6 moved to Canada because my mother needed medical treatment that wasn’t available in Israel in the 1950’s.

My journey takes me back to Israel many decades later. The “I” has had to adjust to an environment in which in addition to the traumas related to childhood abuse, accident, disease, and domestic and community violence, there now exists a whole new set of realities such as all 18 year olds are drafted into the army and wars with countries on all borders. This means that as sirens go off during one of these wars, me having to assist my mother make our way towards the nearest bomb shelter. And terrorism; terrorist acts that take place anywhere and anytime such as suicide bombings in pizzerias, bombs at bus stations, cars ramming into people waiting to board a train, stabbings in the streets.

“I” texts messages checking in with loved ones when I hear that a stabbing took place on a bus on which they often travel. The reality of security checks at all entrances to malls, restaurants and public buildings. Even to the point where a terror attack ends with one person moderately lightly wounded thanks to the quick response of the Jerusalem Mayor (a former paratrooper) who was present at the scene and overtook the terrorist.

The “who” I work with includes individuals who witnessed or were injured in terrorist attacks, experienced high levels of stress due to living in a rocket attack zone, individuals suffering from combat stress, children who lost their parents, parents who lost their children and brothers and sisters who lost siblings in military operations or terrorist attacks.

The supports I connect with are organizations like NATAL: Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War. NATAL is an apolitical nonprofit organization, founded by the late Dr. Yossi Hadar, M.D. who conceived and initiated the idea, and Judith Yovel Recanati who serves as a Chairperson. NATAL was established in 1998 with the aim of increasing public awareness of National Psychotrauma caused by the Israeli-Arab conflict. This form of trauma differs from other forms, as it is the result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) stemming from national traumas.

Personal trauma and national trauma, is there a difference? From the point of view of experiences, yes, from the point of view of what is involved, no.

A traumatic experience shakes us up from the core. Our sense of self and the world we live in is shattered, meaning is lost. The work that takes place post trauma is a healing that involves rebuilding, reframing and redefining. Sometimes based on the age of the trauma survivor it means building, framing and defining for the first time.

Human development needs to take place in a safe, familiar and predictable environment, whether that means the internal environment within the self, the body, or the family, community or nation. If trauma took place because that doesn’t exist, then that’s where the professional “I” comes in. I am responsible for creating a safe environment for healing; a familiar and predictable place where the building, framing and defining takes place. I have chosen the medium of the creative arts because trauma takes place in either a preverbal or nonverbal level. I use music, the visual arts and movement to allow the communication and expressions of thought and feelings that are beyond words.
“The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.”
― Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery

I want to be there for the trauma survivor to find his or her will to proclaim the traumatic experience aloud.

Understanding the culture in which the trauma takes place is crucial; the meanings, associations and expectations are all as important as the language. That is another reason the creative arts are an important means through which the healing work can take place. The arts have the potential to transcend cultural and national boundaries, help to find that will to proclaim the horrible event and move the individual to that core in which healing needs to take place.

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