Academic journal article Social Work Research

Assessing the Impact of Ongoing National Terror: Social Workers in Israel

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Assessing the Impact of Ongoing National Terror: Social Workers in Israel

Article excerpt

The main goal of this study was to explore the connections between social workers' personal and professional exposure to national terror in Israel and their professional and personal distress experienced due to ongoing terror attacks. Data were collected from 406 social workers from Israel who worked in agencies that provide help to victims of terror and their families. The social workers reported low levels of burnout, low levels of stress, and medium- high levels of intrusive memories. Levels of personal and professional exposure were not associated with burnout, intrusive memories, or stress level. However, professional distress (burnout and intrusive memories) was positively associated with personal distress. In addition, a two-step hierarchical regression was conducted, revealing that when burnout and intrusive memories were added to the regression equation, the explained variance of the stress level increased. Neither burnout nor intrusive memories were found to be significant mediators between the independent variables and personal stress level, except in one case. Although the social workers coped relatively well with ongoing terror, it was clear that professional distress was associated with their personal stress.

KEY WORDS: burnout; national terror; resilience; social workers; stress


The present study focused on the impact of ongoing national terror on social workers in Israel providing help to terror victims, their families, and communities. Living under the threat and horror of national terror attacks has been part of Israelis' daily experience in recent years, especially between 2000 and 2004, a period known as the "Second Intifada" (the Palestinian Uprising). The reality of national terror attacks in Israel places social workers on the frontline at three types of agencies: (1) municipal social service departments, where their tasks are to assist families searching for missing loved ones following a terror attack, accompany them to the morgue, make funeral arrangements, and offer crisis intervention to individuals, families, and communities; (2) hospital social service departments, where their tasks include informing families about injured relatives and intervening with the injured and their families during hospitalization; and (3) the National Insurance Institute, where they engage with a victim's family several days after injury or a funeral and offer long-term intervention, including supportive treatment and case management tailored to rehabilitation process requirements.

Due to the continuous threat of national terror, most of the agencies have already developed organized operational procedures for such situations. Attention is also paid to the impact of these tasks on social workers. However, existing knowledge fails to address several main issues: What happens to social workers who intervene in an ongoing situation of terror attacks? What happens to those who have the same reality as their clients? How does the penetration of terror into the supposedly safe setting of psychosocial intervention affect social workers' professional roles and personal stress levels? Thus, the main goal of this study was to explore the connections between social workers' professional and personal exposure to national terror and the professional and personal distress they experienced due to ongoing terror attacks.


National terror is defined as an act or threat of violence against noncombatants that has the objective of exacting revenge, intimidating, or otherwise influencing an audience (Primoratz, 1990; Stern, 1999). This definition highlights the two main elements that distinguish terrorism from other forms of violence: First, it is aimed at noncombatants and, therefore, differs from conventional military action; second, it uses violence for dramatic purposes, usually to instill fear in a targeted population.

Studies of direct victims of national terror attacks confirm that these individuals are at high risk of suffering from a distress reaction. …

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