Responses of mental health professionals to man-made trauma: The Israeli experience

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Abstract

The reactions and responses of mental health professionals in the area of armed conflict is the focus of this paper. It examines the way the therapeutic community has dealt with the survivors of two catastrophes-the Holocaust and warfare. A parallel process of a gradual change of attitudes towards the survivors was observed: emotional detachment, lack of recognition in the early stages and, eventually, social acceptance and empathy. The origins of these attitudes will be discussed, and three explanations will be offered. Israel is a small, stress-ridden country that has known seven full-scale wars and countless hostilities during its 47 years of existence. Our national history over 2000 years has been beset with persecution, pogroms and deportations, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust. The establishment of the State of Israel brought with it the hope of a secure existence. Unfortunately, this has not been achieved, and Israel is a natural laboratory of war stress. The reactions and responses of mental health professionals in areas of armed conflict is the focus of this paper. Presented here will be this author's analysis of the way the Israeli society and the helping professions in Israel have dealt with two kinds of man-made catastrophic events: the Nazi Holocaust and seven Arab-Israeli wars. In these different events of human violence, a parallel process of a gradual change of attitude towards the survivors was observed. This remarkable parallel presents emotional detachment, lack of recognition and at times blaming the victims in the early stages and, eventually, social acceptance and empathy. The process of social change becomes complex when the agents of change are themselves members of the social entity undergoing the change. This paper shall demonstrate that therapists and mental health planners had considerable difficulties in transcending public attitudes toward survivors of the Holocaust and psychiatric casualties of the Israeli-Arab conflict. As a result, they were unable to treat properly those injured by trauma until certain social changes took place. This paper submits that the Israeli experience is not isolated and limited to our part of the globe. It represents a general, universal process, from which parallel processes in other countries and in other man-made trauma can be drawn.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)769-774
Number of pages6
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume43
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1996

Keywords

  • Combat stress reaction (CSR)
  • Holocaust
  • Mental health professionals
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • War attitudes

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