Dr. Tamar Lavi serves as Director of NATAL’s Community Outreach Unit in Israel. Tamar is an Educational Psychologist and Psychotherapist with experience working and researching trauma and exposure of ongoing conflict on Arab, Palestinian and Jewish children in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. 

What drew you to NATAL and its work in the community?

A good point in time to begin with would be my Doctoral dissertation which examined Israeli & Palestinian adolescents and evaluated their psychological adaptation following exposure to political violence. This work was my first acquaintance with the realm of war induced trauma, and since that point my professional work, both as clinician and researcher, is focused mainly in this area.

I have spent the decade prior to joining NATAL working as an educational psychologist and psychotherapist in Sderot and several settlements along the border with Gaza. These years, were characterized with long periods of intensive exposure to missile bombardments including 3 major army operations. In my work I have met communities and individuals who experienced extreme distress, and witnessed their deep despair as well as their hope and resilience. Of course, I have had my own share of moments of terror, which had a great influence on my perceptions of trauma, and which lead me to study the effects of clinical work in a context of “Shared Traumatic Stress”. It is also these perceptions which lead me to understand the importance of communal interventions and finally, to join NATAL’s Community Outreach Unit a year and a half ago, which I am pleased to be currently be directing.

What is the core work of the Community Outreach Unit?

Our unit’s primary task is to build resilience and prevent or minimize the possible pathogenic effects of exposure to trauma. We are unique among NATAL’s  unites in the sense that while other unites focus primarily on providing treatment in the aftermath of traumatic events, our unite primarily acts proactively to provide universal prevention programs in times of tranquility (Of course, in Israel the period prior to crisis and it’s aftermath blend into a spiral of ongoing chronic exposure to trauma).

 How do you approach working with communities?

Community resilience is a process that leads communities to a positive trajectory of post crisis functioning and adaptation. It builds upon the physical and social resources of the community and the communities’ ability to make these resources available to the individuals. The work we carry out during times of tranquility and in the aftermath of disaster is different; however, the approach is always to join in with the community, its natural leaders and existing forces. We keep a very modest stance never forgetting that we are outside visitors in their world.

What kinds of trauma interventions do you provide? Do all people or communities receive the same approach? 

As mentioned above, we have interventions for different phases – pre and post traumatic events. Pre-event work is of universal, proactive prevention characteristics. One great example is our school program which is implemented all over the country. Our facilitators join students and teachers in the classrooms. Using video clips and interactive activities from our website: “Safe Place” they promote awareness to the possible effects of distress; teach self-regulation skills and enhance personal and group resources. Some more examples of our work during the pre-event phase are workshops for professionals in stress inoculation and psychological first aid; joining with local leadership to guide their efforts in mapping, preparing and building infrastructure that may facilitate adjustment following trauma and adversity and more.

During the aftermath of events we join and enhance efforts of local professional and first responders; we offer them interventions for ventilation, self-care and reduction of secondary traumatization and we apply psychological first aid; psycho-social interventions to groups and individuals. Some of these interventions are carried out via our Mobile Unit which provides individuals with short term CBT based interventions focused to reduce anxiety related symptoms in their homes. This is a unique and significant project, which receives both deep appreciation from our clients and has been proven to be efficient in our evaluations.

In the face of tragedies and challenges what gives you hope?

Indeed, our work exposes us to pain, suffering and distress. However, along with these, we also witness the human capacity for optimism and for compassion in face of adversity. Thus, as banal as this may seem, our main encouragement and motivation is derived from the people we work with: veterans, their family members, citizens of highly exposed cities, members of security forces and first responders. These people are paying the price of living in Israel, and they are carrying this burden on behalf of us all. It is our belief, that, as mental health workers, members of this large community we have a moral imperative to ease the burden they are carrying as much as possible. When we are able to do so, we are granted with a deep sense of completion.