‘National Trauma can affect people from all walks of life'

Israel’s Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War says that compulsory army service, threat of terrorism lead to large numbers of trauma sufferers.

July 20, 2011 10:59
3 minute read.
A Sderot woman after a Gazan rocket attack.

sderot woman trauma 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Maya Ehrmann writes for No Camels.

When outsiders visit Israel, they often comment that the atmosphere in the tiny country feels like a giant, continuous party. The sun, beach and Israeli laid-back attitude help ferment the image of a country at odds with its media presentation as war-torn.

But the truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.

Israelis may often act like life is a party, but according to NATAL, Israel’s Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War, the compulsory army service and constant threat of terrorism and war lead to large numbers of people suffering from trauma.

NATAL calls it “National Trauma.”

“This form of trauma differs from other forms,” the organization says. “It is the result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) stemming from national traumas. Individuals suffering from combat stress, people injured in terrorist attacks, children who lost their parents, parents who lost their children and brothers and sisters who lost siblings in military operations or terrorist attacks are all too common in Israel.”

NATAL explains: “When these individuals overcome their initial shock and return to their normal daily routines, they remain in a state of pain and suffering. These individuals will forever pay the price of the Arab-Israeli conflict and it is up to us, to extend a hand and help them overcome their tragedies.”

To cope with the wide numbers of trauma victims from all walks of life in Israel, NATAL, created in 1998, has had to constantly innovate and create new methods of treating patients.

Beyond the organization’s clinical care center; its social rehabilitation club and training center, one of NATAL’s biggest successes has been its trauma hotline.

Unlike conventional hotlines where there are generally no follow-ups, NATAL’s offers ongoing telephone treatment with the same volunteer therapist, for as long as needed.

One of NATAL’s volunteers, who wishes to remain anonymous, told NoCamels: “Through the hotline, a real connection is made as the same volunteer accompanies the patient continuously throughout the whole treatment process, sometimes for years at a time. Phone treatment is also very clean of bias or misconception. All you can hear is a voice. You can’t see the person; whether they are old or young, scruffy or pretty. The patients never see those treating them.”

Many of the hotline’s patients are ex-army personnel (men for the most part) who are often embarrassed to seek psychological treatment. “Many soldiers only realize something is wrong with them once they go back to their daily routine, and this may only be years later,” the volunteer said.

But the trauma organization also places particular focus on its Children’s Hotline(CHI), founded following the second Lebanon war, to provide specific assistance for children. Hotline specialists realized that parents often transfer their own anxieties to their children. “As long as rockets fall into Israel from Gaza, we’ll have children calling the hotline,” one volunteer said.

The Second Lebanon War also revealed the vulnerability of the elderly, according to NATAL. “They can’t run as fast as others do to the bomb shelters in times of crisis; also, they sometimes cannot leave the house. They often feel especially afraid and vulnerable,” the volunteer explained.

NATAL’a trauma hotline provides assistance to the elderly through telephonic treatment, home visitations, as well as instructing caretakers how to handle elderly trauma victims.

The organization is also training specialists and other organizations in the Arab sector, to help provide assistance to Arab-Israelis suffering from trauma. At the moment, The Hotline provides assistance to patients in several languages, including Hebrew, English, Amharic and Russian, but is seeking to expand this pool of languages.

“The variety of services we offer allows us to create personalized treatment packages for each patient based on their needs.”

NATAL is widely recognized in Israel; so much so that it holds a special seat at the Prime Minister’s “round table” in the official Israeli Security Operations room. According to hotline specialists, NATAL’s seat at the “round table” is “a barometer of the nation’s mental health.”

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