Mental first-aid shared abroad
TEL AVIV, Israel — An Israeli who developed an unorthodox model for treating mental trauma and preventing post-traumatic stress disorder during his years in the military is now sharing it with first responders in other countries.
Moshe Farchi says Israel’s decades of conflict have afforded it “lots of experience” in dealing with trauma, leading to effective and science-based models of work.
“We made many mistakes and are learning from them,” the head of stress, trauma and resilience studies at Israel’s Tel-Hai College said.
Farchi’s model was developed during his years in the army, where he served as a mental health officer.
He saw shortcomings in such treatment because it “failed to reduce the element of anxiety and perception of the event as traumatic”.
Farchi, a clinical social worker by training, also utilized his experience as a volunteer in emergency medical organizations.
His principles are simple, easily applicable and, to the layman, possibly counterintuitive.
They are employed in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event such as an attack, serving as mental first-aid.
“One thinks that a person in distress should be contained, held,” he said.
But providing emotional support activates the recipient’s emotional part of the brain at the expense of the area responsible for the ability to think and make decisions, he said.
“The opposite of helplessness is effective action. That’s why first of all we need to activate the person, to diminish the helplessness,” he said.
Activating the person includes asking concrete and factual questions, giving him or her the ability to make decisions — initially easy ones, such as if they want to drink a glass of water or take a break.
Farchi has taken his method to the British city of Manchester, where a suicide bombing killed 22 and wounded more than 100 in May.
There are plans for it to be employed in Germany, the Philippines and Argentina.
A key aspect of Farchi’s method is that it should not be reserved for professionals, but spread to as many people as possible.
Closer to home, the 2014 conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip was an opportunity to examine Farchi’s method.
Residents in Ofakim, an Israeli town that was subject to rocket fire from Gaza, underwent Farchi’s intervention, showing no signs of PTSD in the months following the war, Farchi said.
“The chance that a person (experiencing trauma) will be next to a professional is very small, but that a layman will be next to him is very high,” Farchi said.