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Treating War Trauma, When War Becomes Routine

Treating War Trauma, When War Becomes Routine
By Adam Dickter

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When it comes to treating stress and trauma associated with war, Dr. Gabriel Schreiber has plenty of experience to draw from. Dr. Schrieber explained that clinicians have learned to follow three guidelines based on experiences of the Israeli army treating combat soldiers. Proximity, immediacy, and empathy are key.
 



BE'ER SHEVA, ISRAEL -- When militants launched a barrage of rockets against citizens of southern Israel during a prolonged conflict in 2008, Dr. Gabriel Schreiber was called to treat a woman who was in an unresponsive state from war trauma, unable to get out of bed.

The woman was visiting relatives in Ramle, in central Israel, when the conflict broke out. One of the rockets hit in a garden that her children had been in a short while earlier. The idea of her children potentially dying because of her decision to visit relatives in the danger zone was too much to bear.

But Schreiber, director of the Psychiatry Department at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon and dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, had plenty of experience to draw from. He has been treating victims of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder for many years, in this country that has been in a perpetual state of conflict since its war-torn founding in 1948.

All Too Familiar

As rockets again put more than a million Israelis in harm's way this week, Schrieber met with a team of visiting journalists. He spoke about lessons he and other researchers have learned -- lessons that can be useful around the world for treating soldiers and veterans, as well as civilians affected by the traumas of war.

Dr. Schrieber explained that clinicians have learned to follow three guidelines based on experiences of the Israeli army treating combat soldiers:

1) Treat the victim in proximity to where the trauma occurred;

2) Deal with it immediately; and,

3) Assure the victim(s) that feelings of stress are understandable and to be expected, though they are expected to recover from the experience.

"Sometimes you have to be not only empathetic but clever," said Schrieber in our interview in Be'er Sheva this week. Indeed, as he spoke, the city was on high alert following the latest round of clashes that began last Friday, when Israeli forces struck Palestinians they said were about to carry out a terror raid.

First Steps

In the case of the young mother, Schrieber treated her by first having her sit in a chair instead of bed. When he began discussing her children, there was some sign of reaction, but still no speech.

When he suggested to her husband that he take the children home and leave the mother to recover where she was, the mother finally began to cry and talk about her feelings. (continued...)

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