For almost four weeks now, psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals have been volunteering 24/7 to staff a hotline for Ukrainian residents in need of mental health support.
Jenia Pukshansky, a social worker and psychotherapist, is behind a private initiative to create a hotline offering psychological support for Ukrainian residents either currently living under fire or who have left their homes and become refugees. She has been joined by more than 200 Israeli professionals who have mobilized to support this crucial need.
Among the group's volunteers are Liat Ariel, Director of the Psychological Service at Rambam Health Care Campus, who also coordinates the committee for supporting emergency and crisis teams at Rambam, and Dr. Zina Levitan, the head psychologist in Rambam's psychiatric hospitalization department.
“This group consists of Russian and Ukrainian speakers – Israelis and residents of other countries who are touched by the situation in Ukraine,” Levitan explains. “The initiative was launched immediately after the war in Ukraine began and gained momentum. More and more people became involved, and at the same time, more people contacted the line and asked for help. The evidence coming from there is harsh. People are in distress, and it can be quite extreme. These individuals need help to continue to function and survive physically and mentally, to take care of themselves, their children, and their parents.”
Levitan, an expert clinical psychologist and counselor, also volunteers to provide guidance and personal support to professionals who staff the Israeli hotline as well as group support for Ukrainian professionals – both those still working in Ukraine and those who left and are refugees themselves. “These are people who have lost confidence and stability and sometimes even those closest to them, and continue to cope through community involvement. The project is one of many that have been established in Israel and around the world to support people in war zones and the resulting refugees.”
Therapy for Therapists
However, not only are people in the combat zones in need of assistance – the teams that provide them with support can also experience difficult emotional situations. As part of the project, the volunteers receive individual and group training and instruction by the best professionals in the country.
Ariel, who also serves as chair of the Israeli Institute for Group Analysis (IIGA), is a member of the institute's social involvement team, which works with the Institute for Contemporary Analysis to provide group guidance to treatment teams, helping them to maintain mental resilience and prevent burnout. "Unfortunately, we have gained quite a bit of experience in dealing with crises and trauma in our small country, both in terms of our suffering in general, and in the hospital in particular,” explains Ariel, adding, “We know that professionals aren’t immune to every scenario. Caring for victims and being exposed to such difficult and traumatic events can get to each of us, creating a painful, complex inner reality even for those who provide support and assistance. We see how important this is to them and see their commitment. We can say that it is a privilege to provide them with a warm, safe space where they can share their feelings and thoughts, process their experiences, and learn ways of coping from each other. This strengthens their sense of self-worth and belonging, which are challenged as they transition between their own lives and providing emotional and psychological support for others.”
Following the dramatic events in Ukraine, Levitan and Ariel also opened a psychological counseling center for Rambam employees from Ukraine and for those who feel emotionally involved in what is happening in the face of the war. “Now, when immigrants and refugees are arriving in Israel from Ukraine and Russia, the various organizations work together to provide a psychological solution that is suitable in Israel.”