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Despite the momentum behind British efforts for an academic boycott of Israel, UK psychiatrists and academics listened to and watched by videoconference a discussion by Israeli and Palestinian counterparts of the interaction of mental illness and religion.
The first-ever such event was the first stage of an international debate called "The Interface Between Spirituality, Religion and Mental Health Services," which linked Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem with University College London Medical School and Staffordshire University on Thursday.
The Israeli participants were Prof. David Greenberg, director of the Herzog Community Mental Health Center, who is an expert in the treatment of haredim, and Dr. Yakir Kaufman, the haredi director of Herzog's neurological services.
Dr. Bassam Al-Ashhad, a psychiatrist and professor at Al Quds University, who is director of community mental health services of the Palestinian Authority, spoke about Islam and mental health after being introduced by Herzog director-general Dr. Yechezkel Caine.
Those in Jerusalem did all the lecturing, while the British audience - who live in a much more secular society and represented the multi-faith National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum - listened. Greenberg and Al-Ashhad have known each other for 30 years, as they trained together in England.
The Israelis and the Palestinian psychiatrist noted some similarities among their very religious patients in that many regard mental illness as a "punishment for sins," who had difficulty relating to - and being understood by - non-religious therapists. They also described the stigma of mental illness and fear that when disclosed, it would harm the marriage chances of the patient and family members.
However, the Muslim community was different in believing in jinns (spirits) living inside individuals and causing trouble, and the fact that 91% of Muslims consult religious healers before or after they see a psychiatrist.
The Israeli, Palestinian and British participants noted that psychiatric treatment is more effective when therapists fully understand the cultural and religious background and precepts of devout patients. They said they hoped the dialogue by videoconference would continue.
A feature on the dialogue will appear on the Health Page on September 23.