Please note that additional news on EMDR HAP can be found in previous editions of the HAP Newsletter
Trauma therapists are not immune to the passions and emotions of longstanding political and societal conflicts. All of us have been greatly distressed by the outbreak of intense warfare in Israel, Lebanon and Palestine. By virtue of our humanitarian assistance work, many of us have friends or colleagues living in one or more of the affected areas. This is true not only in the Middle East: overt civil warfare has just resumed in Sri Lanka where recent HAP training participants are once again caught up in a traumatizing conflict that has afflicted their country for decades.
When we respond to natural disasters - a tsunami, an earthquake, a devastating hurricane - we may expect the trauma to be unmarked by human conflicts, but we often find that those most severely traumatized by these events also bear long legacies of earlier abuse or neglect at the hands of other human beings. The sad truth is that our world is a maelstrom of traumatizing events, frequently man-made or humanly exacerbated. HAP can respond to only a tiny part of the need; we are not alone in this situation. Dozens of humanitarian organizations working nationally and internationally struggle to make a meaningful difference in the face of overwhelming need. Each NGO needs to sustain focus and effort in the face of that need, even when particular circumstances threaten to draw its members into states of rage or despair.
So what is HAP's solution? We cannot overcome all evils, but how do we manage simply to endure and make a difference that can grow larger over time? I believe there are two things we need to keep in mind.
The first grows out of our understanding of trauma and the role that trauma can play in incapacitating human beings for living together in peace and justice. Passion and emotion are not inherently evil, but beyond a certain point, traumatic arousal can shut down our capacity to make prudent use of information, communicate effectively with others, or negotiate differences. And there is suggestive evidence that traumatic legacies, widely distributed in a society, can be passed on from generation to generation. That is why Francine Shapiro, in the founding moments of EMDR HAP, declared that our greatest hope was to use effective therapy to "break the cycle of violence."
In this spirit, HAP's mission is to intervene wherever possible to reduce traumatic responses in the relations among individuals and between whole communities or nations. And because this can only be done one mind at a time, we do not expect rapid miracles. But we do expect to make a growing difference, especially if we focus on training clinicians in each community where we serve, so that our impact is compounded over time.
There is also a second thing to keep in mind. The world is full of intense partisans, and we are sometimes rightly drawn to their support. Yet the unique contribution of EMDR in this troubled world is its capacity to restore antagonists to a state of greater rationality and interpersonal competence, and a heightened sense of security and sympathy for others. That transformation alone will not resolve real conflicts, but it enables the parties to achieve whatever resolutions are possible. To support that possibility, our work needs to be as non-partisan as possible, whatever our private loyalties and hopes. And for HAP organizationally, its work must be extended into all sides of major conflicts.
It is very difficult to extend our work "to all sides." Sometimes, it is too dangerous; sometimes we are denied permission by one government or another, and most often we lack the resources to send willing volunteers. Fortunately, trauma treatment is good for a person even if those he is conflicting with do not get treatment for their traumas. But, if you have to be in conflict with someone, we think it is better to have an opponent who is able to use his frontal lobes to resolve the conflict. So HAP is committed to offering its services to all parties in the great societal conflicts that generate so much of the world's humanitarian crises. And for that reason, we do not take sides on the issues in conflict. It is not our place, any more than a clinician should make fundamental life decisions for a client; the therapist's job is rather to facilitate the clients' increased capacities for rational and humane choice.
Taking a Stand
In the war now raging in Israel, Lebanon and Palestine, HAP has friends in all camps. We wish them all well, and especially we wish that the political leaders of their communities will find a way to move beyond endless cycles of violence. To that end, we specifically support the expansion of EMDR trained clinicians and treatment throughout those societies, especially among those most directly displaced and wounded in body or spirit by the war. And we also support the swiftest possible ending of violence on all sides. We take that position because we know that such violence engenders and extends trauma and traumatized forms of dysfunction in individual and intergroup relationships. It isn't good for our clients - the communities we are trying to help - and it needs to stop. We speak as therapists offering a road into a better future, not judges crafting verdicts on the past.
Making a Difference
So what can we do about the current war? In the first place, we can support those clinicians who are struggling to provide trauma services to affected communities.
- In Israel there is a vibrant community of EMDR practice. Many EMDR clinicians participate in HAP Israel, a network of volunteers similar to EMDR HAP in the US. We have worked together with them and supported them in projects in the past, most recently in Turkey and Thailand. They are currently providing relief inside Israel and planning to train additional EMDR clinicians there. We applaud that work. Readers who wish to support it directly can contribute funds by check to "EMDR Israel" care of Udi Oren, Ph.D., 43 David Elazar St., Raanana 43204, Israel.
- In Palestine, HAP this past year trained a group of 24 Palestinian clinicians at a clinic of the East Jerusalem YMCA near Bethlehem. They are accomplished and dedicated clinicians, using EMDR every day to good effect. Some members of their group are now facilitators in EMDR training and four of them are soon to be trained as EMDR trainers - the first in the Arab world so far as we know. HAP is committed to continuing its work with them and extending it to additional Palestinian clinicians. The need in their communities is greater than ever, and we are determined to resume our work with them as quickly as possible.
- In Lebanon, word from trained EMDR clinicians tells us they too are using EMDR. But there are fewer than half a dozen in the whole country. We are in discussions with HAP France to develop a substantial training program for Lebanese clinicians at the earliest feasible time. Our colleagues in Israel and Palestine have encouraged this expansion of our work.
In sum, HAP needs to sustain its presence in the region, to expand its training activities in Palestine and begin training in Lebanon, two communities where EMDR capability lags behind the level present in Israel, and to begin building professional relationships among the EMDR clinicians in all three communities, a prospect that has been embraced by Israelis and Palestinians alike.
To move steadily in this direction, we are establishing a special Middle East Trauma Fund within HAP. Donations earmarked for this fund will be used to continue training clinicians in Palestine, extend training into Lebanon, and promote professional, collegial contact among EMDR clinicians in Palestine, Israel and Lebanon.
Contributions can be made online or by check to "EMDR HAP" and designated for the Middle East Trauma Fund. Our address is PO Box 6505, Hamden, CT 06517.
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