New Hebrew U. Trauma Institute Established to Design New Clinical Approaches and Train Therapists

Israel’s foremost trauma experts have established a new Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to design new clinical approaches and train therapists to deal with the nationwide traumas as a result of the October 7th Hamas attacks.

Hebrew University’s Israel Center for Addiction and Mental Health will launch the Institute for Traumatic Stress and Recovery to create a multidisciplinary, academic-clinical hub to address trauma-related research, training, prevention, treatment, and resilience promotion.

The massive attack by terrorists, on the deadliest day Jews have experienced since the Holocaust, was immediately followed by additional nationwide traumas. Approximately 200,000 Israelis were displaced from their homes in the conflict zones and the subsequent war, which has left hundreds more soldiers dead and thousands wounded.

“These experiences are beyond anything we have seen,” said Prof. Asher Ben-Arieh, dean of the Hebrew University Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare and CEO of the Haruv Institute for the Study of Child Maltreatment, noting that some children were taken hostage and witnessed their parents’ murder or kidnapping. “The tools we have used until now are insufficient.”

Ben-Arieh estimates that 25% to 50% of those who experienced trauma are likely to develop issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, complex grief, or difficulties in marital, social, or occupational adjustments.

The Institute will seek to provide therapists and trauma survivors evidence-based practices and technologies, accessible via Israel’s public health system, to enhance the healing and recovery of Israelis grappling with the enormity of these traumas. The Institute will also conduct research, train therapists in new evidence-based practices, and provide patient-centered, comprehensive, coordinated care offering a rare combination of research with clinical practice, training, and advocacy.

“This proactive approach will not only enhance the capacity for timely and effective trauma intervention, but also contribute to a more informed and resilient community as a whole,” said Hebrew University psychology Prof. Jonathan Huppert, who is involved in the project. “Not everyone has PTSD. Some have stress, grief, and difficulty coping with the effects of being relocated. Since October 7, people are more stressed in general. They may experience more negative thinking, trouble sleeping, more physical aches and pains, muscle tension.”

Many experts in the field say it long has been clear that Israel needs to improve its overall approach to mental health. There has been insufficient training of mental health professionals using evidence-based best practices treating trauma, a lack of integration between research and practice, and a lack of awareness among the public at large about the impacts of collective traumatic stress. The events of October 7 drew attention to those problems while adding the urgent need for new approaches to trauma specific to this historical event.

After the shock of the initial Hamas attack, Ben-Arieh and his colleague Ofrit Shapira-Berman, a Hebrew University professor who specializes in treating adult survivors of complex childhood trauma, joined an October 7 National Task Force to care for children who were abducted.

Working with Israel’s Ministry of Social Services and other governmental bodies, the task force trained the security services who first greeted the abducted children upon their release in late November 2023 to ensure the children would not be retraumatized in the process of their release. They also worked with their parents.

Ben-Arieh and his colleagues immediately recognized there were no existing protocols on how to treat child hostages and that they were entering uncharted territory. The task force prepared by watching documentaries about the girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria and spoke with soldiers who had been held in captivity.

Ben-Arieh acknowledges that even this was insufficient, and the team is constantly adjusting and updating procedures as they continue to work with the children. While hoping that this sort of devastating event is never repeated, the task force is establishing pioneering procedures and research that could be used in the future around the world.

The task force identified six groups of children at high risk since October 7: child hostages; those who witnessed severe violence and murders; newly orphaned children; children who lost a parent, sibling, or other relatives; children whose friends or peers were killed or kidnapped; and children displaced from their homes.

“We need enough money to have a stable center to think out of the box,” Ben-Arieh says. “And we need it urgently. We’re not even post trauma. We are not past this. It’s still happening.”

“There is a deep issue of betrayal in childhood trauma,” said Ben-Arieh. “In these cases, these events often happened in places that their parents said were the safest in the world. Parents could not save their children. Or they had to choose. We have new forms of trauma that we don’t understand, and we need new solutions and new ideas to treat these traumas.”

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Israël Science Info