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

Tel Aviv, Israel | AFP | 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 utilised his experience as a volunteer first responder in emergency medical organisations.

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.

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