The Bob Shapell School of Social Work

In the past few weeks we have all followed closely the events in Haiti. Many of us have probably wondered how individuals survive and thrive under such horrific conditions and how the best possible aid could be provided to the survivors. The Israeli delegation, which opened up a field hospital in Port-au-Prince, received much positive attention around the world for its tremendous efforts to save lives and treat as many people as possible under these harsh conditions.

It is not surprising that Israel sent such a large professional delegation and that its efforts are commended around the globe. Unfortunately, our history has exposed many of us to traumatic incidents so that Israel has become a living laboratory for the study of stress and trauma. Correspondingly, professionals in Israel have accumulated knowledge and expertise in the area of coping with trauma. This has led the Bob Shapell School of Social Work at the Tel Aviv University to launch a new MA program in Coping with Stress, Crisis and Trauma. The program will be based on state-of-the-art knowledge that has been developed in Israel and internationally and is relevant to professionals working in this area.

What is included under "stress, crisis, and trauma?"

Intuitively, when talking about stress and trauma at the national level, we tend to think of natural disasters, military actions and terrorism. These are indeed among the main contexts in which professional expertise has developed in Israel and elsewhere. For example, Prof. Zahava Solomon's seminal studies on victims of combat stress reaction and on prisoners of war have raised awareness in the military, government and the public at large, to the traumatic effects of combat and of war imprisonment and have influenced the policies and practices of governments around the world. However, stress also occurs at the community, the family and the individual levels. Stress at these levels can arise from coping with life changes, health crises and social problems that affect the individual. We will briefly describe some of the relevant topics.

Much knowledge has been accumulated in Israel concerning death, dying and bereavement while paying attention to the bereaved – those who receive social legitimization of their grief reactions as well as to those who are deprived of social acknowledgment (disenfranchised grief), as well as to the various characteristics of the death and its input on the bereaved: expected, sudden, violent, socially recognized as well as under-recognized deaths (abortion, feticide). This knowledge is being successfully implemented in caring for bereaved people in both governmental as well as nonprofit organizations. 

The area of immigration and acculturation provides another prominent example. As we all know, Israel is a melting pot for immigrants from diverse origins. Many Israelis have experienced the stress of adapting to a new culture, learning a new language, being far away from places linked so deeply to their childhood memories and having to build a new life in a different place. Most immigrants eventually adapt very well and even find many benefits to the changes they have made in their lives. Others are less fortunate and require more professional support in order to find their place in the new surroundings. Israeli social scientists have vast experience in studying factors affecting the psychological well-being of immigrants as well as their socioeconomic and cultural adjustment. Based on the results of such studies, various programs aimed at improving the adjustment of specific categories of immigrants such as children, adolescents, women and elders, have been developed in Israel. Our knowledge of basic sociopsychological processes of immigration and our experience in developing programs for immigrants’ absorption help us turn immigration stress into a growth experience.

 A social phenomenon frequently discussed in the news is the growing exposure to violence in communities and families. Life stresses, including immigration, national security threats and more, further contribute to the increase in violence. Israeli scholars have also been at the forefront of the development of new ways to prevent and cope with violence among children and adolescents, violence against women and within families. Close collaborations between academia, NGOs and government agencies have advanced the systematic development of innovative and wide-ranging programs and services for victims and perpetrators of violence and abuse such as peer-mentoring for girls in distress, intensive "out-of-home" rehabilitation programs for domestic violence offenders, groups for supporting the parenting of abused women and abusive men, and coordinated multi-stage programs for youth and women in prostitution.   

What is the Bob Shapell School of Social Work offering in this area?

A new MA program in which you can learn about impacts of and coping with major life crises, natural disasters, political violence and other high stress situations. The program will be taught in English and is open to applicants from all countries with a Bachelor's degree in social work or in other fields related to social work such as psychology and the social sciences. The program spans three semesters over one calendar year. The total requirement for the degree is 36 hours. A research master's thesis is optional with an additional academic year.

Who will teach in the program?

The new program offers students the opportunity to learn from world renowned experts on the subject. For example, theories and research on the psychological toll of traumatic events as well as intervention methods with individuals suffering from post-traumatic disorder will be taught by Prof. Zahava Solomon, recipient of the Israel Prize for her lifelong contribution to the study of stress and trauma. Prof. Mooli Lahad, founder and president of the Community Stress Prevention Center in Kiryat Shemonah, will teach about research and state-of-the-art practice and applied models in dealing with the impact of disasters with the aim of promoting resilience and turning crises into opportunities. Prof. Tammie Ronen will teach intervention models based on the rapidly developing field of positive psychology which have been shown to facilitate recovery from severe pain, strengthen the immune system, increase happiness and improve coping, and therefore are eminently suitable for coping with trauma and crises. These are only brief examples of the breadth of topics and the experts who will take part in this exciting new program.

The program will also provide students with hands-on experience: Each student will take part in a practice workshop. As part of this workshop the student will work with professionals in the field in order to achieve in-depth understanding of the needs of the population they work with and to develop a new intervention or protocol for working with this population under crisis situations. In addition, the program includes a site visit course: Students will visit social services working with relevant populations to hear about innovative projects that are being implemented in the field. These visits will allow students to connect between the theoretical studies and their implications for field work.

To learn more you may visit the program website at http://www.socialwork.tau.ac.il/overseas/

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