Stress Management Consultation to Israeli Social Workers during the Gulf War

Article excerpt

A significant portion of the major methods of crisis intervention were developed in the natural laboratory generated by Israel's national catastrophic events, starting with the Holocaust (Ayalon & Lahad, 1990; Breznitz, 1983; Caplan, 1951, 1964; Golan, 1978; Goldberger & Breznitz, 1982; Milgram, 1986). Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has fought six wars (the War of Independence, 1948; the Sinai Campaign, 1956; the Six-Day War, 1967; the War of Attrition, 1967-1968; the Yom Kippur War, 1973; and the War in Lebanon, 1982), and its citizens have been the subject of terrorist attacks both in Israel and abroad. The Gulf crisis, starting with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and culminating in Operation Desert Storm during January and February of 1991, was the seventh war. In this article, we describe Stress Management Consultation (SMC), a short-term group for social workers working under high-stress conditions that also modeled for them a method with their own clients and with new target populations that sought help during the war.

GULF WAR EVENTS IN ISRAEL

Gas masks were distributed to the citizens in December 1990 because of Saddam Hussein's repeated threats to use chemical weapons against Israel. A few days before the war started, schools were closed, and children were sent home from all educational facilities, including institutions for mentally challenged people and for special education. Israelis received instructions from the civil defense forces on how to prepare a sealed room and what to do in the event of a missile attack with chemical warheads.

Starting in the wee hours of January 18, 1991, the first of 18 Scud missiles was Launched against the population centers of Israel. Each launch was accompanied by a siren that was sounded in all parts of the country. The radio and television news media instructed Israelis to proceed to their prepared sealed rooms, don their gas masks, and await the all-dear signal. The time interval between the siren sounding and the Scud landing was but a matter of minutes. For most people, just putting on the mask in a sealed room after being awakened by a siren was distressing (most Scud missiles fell at night). However, the necessity of waking children and of convincing them to wear the uncomfortable masks or to stay quietly in protective cribs--while trying to remember to bring the flashlight, the radio, the teddy bear, the water bottle, and the portable telephone to the sealed room in a space of minutes--was extremely stressful for many citizens.

Thirty-nine SCUD missiles fell in Israel, but none was found to carry a chemical warhead. The missiles resulted directly in one death; 12 people died either from heart attacks or from neglecting to remove the seal from their gas mask or using a heater in a sealed room, both of which caused asphyxiation. Nearly 200 people were injured, and more than 1,500 families had to be evacuated from their homes. More than 4,000 buildings were badly damaged ("Scud Toll," 1991).

In the first days of the war, everyone except for emergency security and medical personnel was asked to remain at home and to venture out only when it was essential. Many social workers remained on their jobs. Because most social workers are women, their husbands stayed home with the children, resulting in a reversal of traditional family roles.

The most extensive damage was in the area of Tel Aviv, Israel's largest city. During the first week of the war, there were five missile attacks, resulting in many injuries and much property damage. Gradually at first, and then in droves, residents of the greater Tel Aviv area began to descend on relatives, friends, and acquaintances, mostly in the southern region of Israel.

Most hospitals continued to operate under standby emergency regulations to cope with the expected large number of casualties. Although in the area of Tel Aviv it was necessary to offer psychological first aid to injured people and evacuees from damaged homes, people in other areas of the country also flocked to receive counseling to cope with stress reactions. …