Is­raeli ‘men­tal first-aid’ method of­fered to at­tack vic­tims abroad

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

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 told AFP.

Farchi’s model was de­vel­oped dur­ing his years in the Is­raeli 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 uti- lized his ex­pe­ri­ence as a vol­un­teer first re­spon­der 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 told AFP. 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.

‘Re­set­ting’ the brain

Think­ing and mak­ing de­ci­sions are what the per­son needs to do in or­der to be freed of a “sense of help­less­ness.”“The given is that we can’t stop the threat-the rocket has hit, the event has taken place,” he said. “What we can do is stop the help­less­ness.” “The op­po­site of help­less­ness is ef­fec­tive ac­tion. That’s why first of all we need to ac­ti­vate the per­son, to di­min­ish the help­less­ness,” Farchi 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.

The idea of “re­set­ting” a per­son who un­der­went a trau­matic event us­ing Farchi’s method can have both im­me­di­ate and long-term pos­i­tive ef­fects, ac­cord­ing to the psy­chi­a­trist who cur­rently heads the clin­i­cal branch in the Is­raeli army’s men­tal health depart­ment. “The two main goals are to quickly re­turn a per­son to be­ing func­tional in a way that would re­duce the risk of get­ting killed, and re­duc­ing the risk for more se­ri­ous dis­or­ders” in the fu­ture, such as PTSD, said Lieu­tenant Colonel Dr Ariel Ben Ye­huda.

Peo­ple in life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions tend to feel con­fused, lonely, frozen or dis­ori­ented, said Ben Ye­huda, and “Farchi’s method ad­dresses these is­sues.”

“This isn’t psy­chi­atric treat­ment, rather some­thing very fo­cused. You can do it in two min­utes, but the idea is to ‘re­set’ the per­son,” Ben Ye­huda noted. The sys­tem is cur­rently be­ing im­ple­mented as part of sol­diers’ med­i­cal train­ing, and takes just a few hours to teach.

‘Not left alone’

One place where Farchi has taken his method is the Bri­tish city of Manch­ester where a sui­cide bomb­ing killed 22 and wounded more than 100 on May 22. The at­tack came as Dov Benyaa­cov-Kurtz­man, a Scot­land-born so­cial worker who had lived in Is­rael for years, was work­ing in Manch­ester on estab­lish­ing a cen­tre to pro­vide emer­gency re­sponse for stress and trauma. Benyaa­cov-Kurtz­man had planned to launch his or­ga­ni­za­tion, called Heads Up, in six months. But the Manch­ester at­tack gal­va­nized him into start­ing work and reach­ing out to Farchi to help with train­ing the group’s pro­fes­sion­als and vol­un­teers.

“At that mo­ment they called and said ‘come’,” Farchi said re­cently in Tel Aviv be­fore fly­ing to Manch­ester. Farchi has al­ready trained lo­cal pro­fes­sion­als who can carry out a “cul­tural trans­la­tion” of the method in coun­tries such as Ger­many, the Philip­pines and Ar­gentina.

He was also set to travel for train­ing in London. A key as­pect of Farchi’s method is that it should not be re­served for pro­fes­sion­als, but spread to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. 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 heavy rocket fire from Gaza, un­der­went Farchi’s in­ter­ven­tion, show­ing no oc­cur­rence 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. —

TEL AVIV: Is­raeli Moshe Farchi, the founder and head of the Stress, Trauma and Re­silience Stud­ies at Tel-Hai Col­lege, speaks dur­ing an in­ter­view with an AFP jour­nal­ist in the city of Tel Aviv. — AFP

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