Treating Jerusalem’s families, regardless of finances

One of Israel’s first family therapy centers, Shiluv aims to provide high-quality, professional therapy to residents of the greater Jerusalem area regardless of their financial situation.

A treatment room at the Shiluv Institute (photo credit: UDI SHAHAM)
A treatment room at the Shiluv Institute
(photo credit: UDI SHAHAM)
In a typical Jerusalem stone building in the heart of Nahlaot stands the nonprofit Shiluv Institute.
Founded by a group of family therapists in the early 1970s as one of Israel’s first family therapy centers, Shiluv aims to provide high-quality, professional therapy to residents of the greater Jerusalem area regardless of their financial situation.
“We try to emphasize family system therapy, a treatment that involves the whole family,” says Shiluv executive director Edna Bronstein. “From our point of view, there is no use in therapy if you don’t consider a patient’s immediate surroundings – the family.
“Subsidized treatment is one of our cornerstones. We get citizens of all backgrounds and ages: ultra-Orthodox, secular, English speakers – everyone.”
The institute’s psychologists and social workers have special training in family treatment. “We choose our therapists carefully, only the best,” she explains, “and we meet regularly to ensure we learn from one another, consult and support each other.”
The year 2000 was a particularly rough one for Jerusalem. “I remember how every Sunday we heard about a suicide attack. For a period, there were at least two explosions a week,” Bronstein recalls.
The institute decided then to open a new unit specializing in trauma victims.
“All of our therapists specialize in the eye movement desensitization and reprocessing method, focusing on victims’ eye movement. We understand that in trauma talking isn’t enough; there needs to be a component that can be seen through the eyes of the patient that can change the way the brain functions. That helps with the trauma and its side effects, such as memories and flashbacks.
“Unfortunately, the current period of terrorist attacks isn’t behind us yet, so we keep getting this type of patient,” she reports sadly.
Not only victims of domestic terrorism come to Shiluv for therapy. “We had a case of a father who returned from duty in one of the wars during which his vehicle suffered a direct missile hit,” recounts Bronstein. “He had bursts of rage at his little girls, and they suffered from having a [difficult, abusive] father,” she says. “We knew that we had to involve the whole family, because the father’s rehabilitation process wouldn’t happen in a single day.”
In addition to the trauma unit, the institute provides treatment after sexual assault – one of the few programs in Israel to provide comprehensive treatment under one roof for offenders, survivors and other family members who may not have been directly involved with crimes such as incest, but are nonetheless affected by the family crisis.
“Incest concerns the whole family,” says Bronstein.
“We were the first institute in Israel to provide such treatment, working closely with the Jerusalem Municipality’s welfare units. However, two years ago, the field began a privatization process and now the municipality doesn’t direct victims to us. In spite of this, because of our reputation, people keep coming to us for treatment.”
Bronstein says that this privatization brought change to Shiluv and to the way it operates: “There are many dimensions to that change, but it’s mainly felt professionally. For instance, we previously dealt only with incest, but now we also treat sexual assault outside the family.”
Regarding reporting such cases to the relevant authorities, Bronstein notes, “You cannot receive treatment if the assault wasn’t reported to the police or to a welfare officer. Whoever wants to get treatment must know that this is a basic condition, but they should also know that we accompany them throughout this difficult process.”
Shiluv’s other services include family and couples therapy and mediation, as well as a new program for at-risk children – offering child/parent psychotherapy to families with young children who have experienced or been exposed to traumatic events like hospitalization, violence, illness, neglect, abuse, terrorist attacks, family stress or developmental challenges.
Despite the vital services it provides, Shiluv has been facing financial difficulties that threaten its regular operations. Bronstein laments, “Since I undertook my training 30 years ago, Shiluv has been a sort of lighthouse for everything that had to do with therapy in Jerusalem. It is an amazing place that has helped so many people over the years in overcoming their crises. It’s hard to see the limitations imposed on us solely because of financial issues.”
She attributes these difficulties to worldwide economic crises such as those in 2007-8, as well as the appearance of many other new NGOs that increase the competition for donations.
Having said that, Bronstein smiles and insists that Shiluv is here to stay. “So many people are involved in this picture, and with all of their heart. The board of directors and staff are devoted to their work.
“Moreover, the institute operates from and for Jerusalem’s residents. We have people coming from all backgrounds and all groups of society, and Shiluv is a natural extension of the capital’s mosaic.”
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