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Treating the world’s psychotrauma

Posted By Gilah Kahn Hoffman On January 18, 2004 @ 8:00 pm In | No Comments

Turkish girls who experienced the recent spate of terror there engage in therapy devised by Dr. Mooly Lahad.A leading Israeli expert and groundbreaking dynamo in the field of prevention and treatment of psychotrauma, Professor Mooli Lahad recently flew to Istanbul to advise community professionals following a spate of terror attacks that targeted synagogues and British facilities in the Turkish metropolis, killing and injuring scores of people.

Lahad, Director of the Community Stress Prevention Center (CSPC) in Kiryat Shmona, was invited by the Turkish Psychologists Association in conjunction with Bosporus University to advise community professionals on how to help the population cope with the emotional after-effects of a large-scale traumatic event.

Lahad is no stranger to Turkey, having offered his services there five days after a 1999 earthquake claimed the lives of an estimated 40,000 people. He arrived with the first team of professional psychologists. Through the cascade model of training a core group of professionals each of whom undertakes to train a certain number more, and so on, a total of 4,000 professionals were trained in the implementation of crisis intervention techniques in a relatively short space of time. His involvement extended over 18 months, as he studied the process from impact to recovery.

Lahad is also no stranger to disaster and the often devastating emotional trauma that it leaves in its wake, having brought his range of models of community interventions to such other war-torn and disaster-ravaged spots as Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia and Bangladesh.

“Disaster is the best place to make cooperation viable. The incredible demands on the one hand, and I would even say the altruistic tendencies of helpers, on the other, make it possible for them to open professional boundaries and work with other professionals with whom they are often in competition,” says Lahad.

Lahad, Professor of Dramatherapy at Surrey University, England, has worked extensively in Europe and the US, where the School of Social work of the University of North Carolina identified the CSPC as “the world’s most visionary and effective center for emotional and mental stress prevention.”

His two most recent projects in the U.S., both dealing with the September 11 attacks, were in New York and New Jersey. In New York Lahad provided basic training in community concepts of recovery following disaster and in developing emotional resilience in the face of prolonged stress for community workers, social workers, psychologists and mental health workers.

In New Jersey he introduced the Helping the Helpers project, which has been available in Israel for the past few years. The project targeted community and hospital workers who had lost friends or family members when the Twin Towers were destroyed. He helped them to process their grief and fears and to find their inner strengths.

While the more than three years of terror during the armed Palestinian uprising or intifada is the most overwhelming Israeli example of continuous high-level stress, as a longtime resident of Kiryat Shmona, the Israeli border town that has long been the target of Katyusha and terrorist attacks from across the border in southern Lebanon, Lahad is on intimate terms with his subject. In fact, he is on intimate terms with the necessity of coping and a convincing example of the veracity of his models.

When he was just nine years old, after extensive allergy testing, a doctor pronounced Lahad “allergic to life.” His quietly confident response – “I’ll deal with it” – was to color his future in more ways than he could know as he subsequently contended with his potentially crippling allergies, a serious traffic accident and profound personal loss.

The child Lahad found his own ways of dealing with his allergies, but after his army service they reared their ugly heads again when he wanted to study archeology, but was allergic to the dust, and then medicine, but was allergic to many of the chemicals and compounds used in the labs. “I found my way to psychology,” he smiles, “where you try to heal people by digging in their souls.”

Always involved simultaneously in a multitude of projects – “I thrive on stress,” he comments ironically – after earning his Masters in Educational Psychology, Lahad took the then-revolutionary step of reaching out to and studying people in their “natural environments” rather than treating them in a clinical setting. He worked in homes, schools and neighborhoods, providing family therapy and empowerment to those living in disadvantaged areas. He also used stress management approaches in work with cancer patients. And then he and his wife moved to the under-siege border town of Kiryat Shmona.

Upon arriving in Kiryat Shmona, Lahad recounts, “I had a fantasy, very much influenced by my background, that I would meet lines and lines of ‘patients’ waiting to be ‘therapized’, but I was wrong.” What he did discover were “people trying their best to lead meaningful, reasonably stable lives, despite their fears of the rockets and terrorists.”

So Lahad decided to find out what it is that allows people to lead normative lives under such adverse conditions, and to use his findings to develop a model. His research led to the creation of a teacher-friendly, classroom-based program, and later, a school and a community-based response plan.

The first model that he developed, called “No One is Alone,” was designed to make time spent in the bomb shelters of Kiryat Shmona meaningful and pleasant for the children. Lahad’s research into how people cope led to his revolutionary Basic PH Model that has been adapted across the globe. He identified people’s natural coping mechanisms and divided them into six categories. Facilitators trained in the method help distressed or traumatized individuals to recognize the categories that can enable them to regain a sense of control of their lives.

“I believe that the simplest things are the ones that work the best,” Lahad modestly describes his model that has been tailored to the needs of populations in Germany, Holland, Poland, Britain, France, Singapore and across the US both prior to and especially since 9/11.

At age 50, in addition to being a world-renowned expert in intervention and treatment of stress and emergencies with children, adults, communities and organizations, Lahad’s curriculum vitae includes medical and educational psychologist; drama therapist and bibliotherapist (bibliotherapy uses storytelling and writing for therapeutic ends); founder and director of the CSPC; Director of PhD studies in Drama Therapy at the University of Surrey Roehampton; Director of the Institute of Drama Therapy at Tel Hai College; Director of an international program for dramatherapy in Britain, Denmark, Greece and Cyprus; member of the Prime Minister’s Committee on Civilian Resiliency; member of the Israel UNICEF Committee; consultant to UNICEF and other international agencies and author of more than 19 books and numerous articles in his fields of expertise.

Along with his hand-picked staff, Lahad helps victims of psychological trauma to process and cope with what they have experienced as they rebuild their lives. In addition his models, which are also being implemented across Israel, teach people how to be more emotionally resilient as they deal with the effects of ongoing, prolonged stress.

But perhaps most important, Lahad’s ‘simple’ models based on research in the tiny state of Israel, have brought relief to countless desperate individuals worldwide.


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