Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Different Perspective: Orly Gal Executive Director of NATAL

The lovely Orly Gal.
As part of my blog I am interviewing the people behind the organization who dedicate their time and efforts to aiding the victims. I had the opportunity to sit down and learn more about NATAL through the eyes from a remarkable woman with a mission. I got to sit down with Orly Gal, the Executive Director of NATAL who shared her love for NATAL with me, as well as her hopes and dreams for the future of NATAL as part of the Israeli society. While sitting down with Orly I got a chance to learn about her life’s work in NATAL, her personal connection to NATAL and her mission. 
Although Orly has never experienced the effect or aftermath of trauma through a personal   aspect, she explained that because trauma is so common in Israel’s society we are all connected to some sort of trauma, which what makes NATAL a vital to Israel. Having served in the army for 25 years, Orly gained more knowledge of the effects of trauma and what the victims needs are. Orly’s professional background helped prepare her, and enabled her to really understand what trauma patients go through and understand what they have experienced. 
As I sat down with Orly I began to understand why she is so passionate about what she does and the role NATAL plays in the country today. Orly began to describe the many aspects of NATAL and why she believed NATAL is unique. Orly explained that because NATAL serves many patients of various ages there are many different outlets to seeking help, this is why there is no single aspect that is greater than the other, and perhaps this is what is so important about NATAL. As we continued Orly shared the many divisions of NATAL, such as the Art Therapy Canter, the Open Line, and the educational center which teaches many incoming Psychology Students new methods of therapy. Orly spoke about NATAL’s strategic plan and how she hopes their model of therapy and resilience leads the way in the world of trauma. 
The Strategic Model NATAL uses, Orly was very proud
of these methods and hopes that they influence other organizations. 

After sitting with Orly I got a better sense of the people of NATAL and their passion about what NATAL stands for. Orly spoke so many great things about her colleagues and how much she admires everyone who works at NATAL, and how she hopes that NATAL and the people who work there will influence others like it has influenced her. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Birthday Gift...A Special Cause

So I figured out what I want for my birthday...


In three days NATAL will participating in a one of a kind race, the Dragon Boat Race. Dragon Boat Israel is a joint Canada-Israel initiative to introduce the sport of dragon boat racing to Israel. The boats are designed to have twenty paddlers, a drummer and a steersperson. Dragon boat races and festivals are held around the world, and this year NATAL will compete at the Sea of Galilee along with over 30 other organizations. NATAL's very own staff will be rowing in the race, including NATAL psychologists, Helpline staff and volunteers, and NATAL management.


Now for the most important part; this year the race falls right before my birthday (May 9-10th) and what better way to ask for a present by asking all of you to donate to a cause that's very dear to my heart. What's so special well... this year NATAL will be racing in order to raise awareness in international affairs as well as to raise money for children suffering from PTSD. All the donations to sponsoring NATAL's boat will directly fund the clinical treatment of children suffering from symptoms of PTSD living in southern Israel who are under constant rocket fire. Now, especially after Operation Pillar of Defense there has been a very high number of children that were living under continuous anxiety and stress as a result of the rocket attacks, and NATAL's professionals are there to provide them with psychological treatment. Early treatment of trauma is very crucial, in order to avoid chronic PTSD in the Israeli society and generations to come.


So instead of birthday gifts I would love it if you put your money towards this very important cause. How is very simple, all you do is follow either of the two links and select the amount you would like to donate; • Israel: American Friends of NATAL:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ha'kav Ha'patuach

Picture waking up in the middle of the night by the sounds of gunshots or rockets being fired near you, the thought of not seeing your loved ones anymore, or living everyday in the middle of no where surrounded by blood loss and war. Would you want to leave the comfort and familiarity of your home, after being exposed to all this? This concept is very  hard for many of us to grasp, the idea of leaving our homes to go out is something we do on autopilot and think nothing of. However, for those who are suffering from trauma this becomes one of the biggest challenges to taking the first steps to recovery.
Within NATAL there is a new kind of form of therapy that takes place, " ha kav ha patuach" literally "the open line" is NATAL's very own designed hotline center. NATAL's hotline center is the only one of its kind in Israel, specially designed for victims of trauma of  war and terror. The Hotline provides assistance to all ages of victims, in various languages. There is no limit to time or assistance, the hotline designs itself to the caller and their needs. The hotline was inspired by Judith Lewis Herman (Trauma and Recovery, 1983), a clinical psychologist who works with victims of violence. Judith explains that traumatic experiences affect the individuals sense of security, and causes them to lose themselves while also tearing families, friendships and community relationships apart. This allows us to better understand why so many trauma victims suffer from isolation.
The hotline serves as the first steps to those who have trouble stepping out of the comforts of their homes. It's a direct connection to the help that the victims need; each call is answered and each caller is provided with the materials they need to recover. Natal provides this service by training each of their volunteers and allowing them to learn the steps they need to go through with each caller. 
As I learned more about the hotline in NATAL a word kept reoccurring, " unique". I began to wonder why this specific hotline was so unique, there are many hotlines around the world what made this specific one so special? To understand why this hotline was so different from the rest we have to take a deeper look on how the hotline is designed. The hotline is made up of three stages, the first stage is all about gaining trust between the two ends of the line. There is no time frame on how long the first stage will take, creating trust and security takes more time for some victims. In order to create trust and security each caller has a fixed person answering their calls, this enables the caller creates a feeling of acceptance and warmth for the caller, a feeling that becomes the building blocks of trust and security. The volunteer also reveals  themselves during the first call, by giving their name and the days and hours they are at NATAL. Therefore, as soon as there is a way to contact the caller and initiate the conversation, the victim feels that someone cares about him/ her. Because most victims lack the stability of a relationship and become very passive as time goes by it is important for the volunteer to activate and maintain the relationship.
The second stage, is where the volunteer helps the caller work on re-creating the story of the trauma. Because the traumatic experience is so difficult and incomprehensible it is very difficult to share it with others who were not present at the time. Often the victims remembers the story of the trauma as a jumble of details and   not a continuous story. The victim's memory of some details is blurry and there are many holes in his story. Retelling their story is especially difficult at this point because before the hotline the victim feels that their story is illogical and their experience did not actually occur in real life. It is the goal of the Hot Line is to help the victim construct a continuous, coherent story with a beginning, a middle and an end. This is the task of the volunteer, to help the caller organize his experience for himself to create some sort of clarity.
The third stage is about recreating the connection between the victim and their community. This is made easier because of the steady contact between the volunteer and caller has already renewed this connection. This is why it is so important for the volunteer, who represents the outside world, to take the initiative to contact the caller and gives him a feeling of belonging and caring. Since the connection with the volunteer is temporary another important aspect to this step is to help the caller work on his connection to his natural environment, this part of the step is crucial since the connection with the volunteer is temporary and it is necessary for other close people to continue accompanying him such as family, friends and neighbors, community center or clubs.
NATAL's hotline is an important stepping stone to the path of a victims recovery. After learning about the three stages that are part of the hotline I truly understand why NATAL takes pride in their method and why it is truly one of its kind. The hotline opens the door to recovery for its callers and if needed leads them to other therapeutic paths of recovery that are also made possible by NATAL. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Social Therapeutic Club- Bottom Floor

As part of my blog, I would like to go more into detail about each floor and the different approaches people take to dealing with the aftermath of war and trauma. I’d like you all to first stop and think about all the simple tasks you took today, going to the grocery store, getting dressed, even having a simple conversation with someone else. These all are tasks that we think very little of and take very little effort. Now, try to think about having these abilities stripped away from you. Trauma can affect people in many ways, physically, psychologically and emotionally and its effects cannot necessarily be seen externally. Many suffering from trauma often have trouble expressing their feelings verbally, sometimes there simply are no words. In a sense they are lost and have lost the ability to find themselves on their own.
Some artwork from the
ceramic class. 
NATAL was established in 1998, and its goal is to rehabilitate those who have lost these simple skills as a result of becoming victims of war and terror. The building of NATAL houses the many approaches they take to assist and aid these victims, on the bottom floor is one that really caught my eye, the Social Therapeutic Club. As someone who enjoys all different art forms I understand the beauty of using art as an outlet in finding oneself. The Social Therapeutic Club is one of the approaches NATAL has developed to treat trauma. The Social Therapeutic Club serves as a mental health recovery group center. Here, the  most vulnerable members of the center are treated, their needs are tremendous many of them suffer from chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from their traumatic experiences from terror attacks and wars in Israel, and a result are often lost to their families, friends and to themselves. Many of the club members have remained socially reclusive for decades, and through this lack of use many have "unlearned" basic living skills and are heavily reliant on outside help for their everyday needs such as grocery shopping and cooking.
Part of the workspace at The
Social Therapeutic Club.
Stain glass artwork all done by members
of The Social Therapeutic Club.
 Some members suffer from acute Post trauma which may include some of the symptoms such as aggression, irritability and outbursts of anger, withdrawal from family, friends and society, depression, avoidance, detachment, extreme fear and anxiety, hypervigilence, nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, a feeling of helplessness, numbness, constant distractedness, increased emotional arousal, intense physical arousal (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating), feeling jumpy and easily startled. As a result this can lead to suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, physical aches and pains, severe depression, loss of family, friends and community, homelessness, inability to work.This is where NATAL's Social Therapeutic Club steps in. The club's main goal is to support these individuals by helping them reclaim their independence by relearning the  basic living skills so that they are empowered to reintegrate back into society. However this requires longterm support and rehabilitation, which is why NATAL understands that the Social Therapeutic Club should offer not just one form of art therapy but many, these club's activities are determined and reviewed by NATAL's professional steering committee which meets on a bi-monthly basis. 
Some more artwork by members
of The Social Therapeutic Club.
Some of the members of
The Social Therapeutic Club.
Through different forms of art therapy and other specially designed social activities The Social Therapeutic Club's goal re-teaches skills such as cooking, social and organizational skills to help its members to re-integrate back into society. They take this approach through a number of training programs including, cooking, painting, ceramics, stained glass, photography, movement therapy, music, drama, outdoor social activities and field trips. NATAL has also developed four programs, including Computer skills, Leather workshop, a Photography exhibition by the Club members, as well as a Candy bouquet workshop.The success of the activities is assessed by the members ability to respond effectively to the immediate and longterm emotional and psychological needs of the club members and are evaluated using questionnaires and reports throughout the year. The beauty of the Social Therapeutic Club, is that it not only enables its members to work and re-gain their gross and fine motor skills but it gives them the opportunity to communicate with one another and become part of a group.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The start of my internship!

A start to an amazing journey....

It has already been a month since I moved from the comforts of my home, family, and job. I came here to Israel with what I believe is not only an amazing opportunity but one that is very close to my  heart...Interning at NATAL

Being raised by two very Zionist parents, with a father who has served in the first Lebanon war, and growing up with stories about my fathers experiences in the battle field, there is little question as to why I personally fell in love with NATAL, its team, and the work they are doing. 

NATAL's front entrance to the building.

For those of you who have still not heard about the organization, NATAL is a non-profit organization that provides different paths of guidance and support to the treatment of trauma as a result of war and terror in Israel. NATAL , it's staff, and volunteers dedicate their time to the treatment of victims and guide them to the path of recovery. Many of us watch the news and understand the on going threat that the citizens of Israel go through throughout their daily lives. However, we are not as aware of the aftermath and the long term affect these situations take on the innocent lives. This is where NATAL steps in,  it's mission is  to spread awareness among the society, because the whole of Israel should properly beware of  these issues. 

Beginning of the staircase,
 connecting the four very different floors. 
Coming into NATAL I had no idea what to expect, and of course what was expected of me. The building in itself took me by surprise. Located on the busy street of Ibn Gvirol the building hides itself between two restaurants. But as you open the doors you are welcomed to an oasis devoted to the support and comfort for victims of war and terror. The building is made up of four floors, with a beautiful garden on the roof. What is so unique about this building is that each floor serves a different purpose and is designed to accomplish NATAL's goals with different approaches that fits their patients needs. 

There is a single staircases that connects these different worlds, at the bottom of the building you can find yourself rooms where patients are able to go and participate in different kids of therapeutic social activities such as art, music, and cooking. There is another room known as the hot line room, where many people work with their own phones and computers aiding those patients who have a hard time stepping out of their home. The second floor, is dedicated to the international department, and houses people with different tasks. As you walk up to the next floor you are lead to the floor that is dedicated to clinical issues, and classrooms for those who wish to learn more about the study of trauma through the trauma course run by NATAL. And at the very top is a beautiful garden overlooking the busy city of Tel Aviv. I am thrilled to start my internship here and get to know each floor in more depth. 

I joined NATAL in a very exciting and busy time with many projects underway and just being honored at AIPAC. Their experience in AIPAC  was amazing to hear about especially because I myself have been to AIPAC and experienced the enormity first hand. During the AIPAC conference a short film was presented that explained what NATAL is and their goal, through one man’s experience. This was followed by a very unique speaker and band; Yariv Peled from Israeli rock band "9 Lives" performed a moving song at the gala event, and shared his personal experiences of dealing with trauma as a result of his combat service in the IDF. The band members themselves received group treatment from NATAL's mental health professionals and are very open in public about the fact that they too suffer from PTSD. This was a very moving to watch because I was able to see how NATAL's projects and involvement can change the lives of their patients. 

Yariv Peled  gives a moving performance
during the AIPAC conference.
Follow this link to watch!

With this blog I will share my experiences here and the amazing mission that this sanctuary for victims of war and terror has to offer. Throughout my time here I will go more into detail with the projects that NATAL is involved in, and the different approaches they take in order to assist their patients. I invite you all to explore and deepen your knowledge about NATAL and its mission, and I hope to inspire many of you to become part of my journey.