Israeli mental health experts train staff for Manchester pop-up centre

Israeli mental health experts train staff for Manchester pop-up centre

Glasgow-born Dov Benyaacov-Kurtzman's charity has hired Israeli staff to help those suffering from the attack

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

A British charity set up by a Glaswegian rabbi and a French Jew is using psychological techniques from Israel to help those affected by the Manchester bomb.

Scottish Rabbi Dov Benyaacov-Kurtzman and Heads Up co-founder Maurice Benaim from France have both lived in Israel, and have imported a new two-stage technique in part focused on memory structure, which is now used by the Israeli army.

In Manchester this week, the duo opened a “pop-up” clinic when a city-centre landlord agreed to let them use his vacant city-centre premises, with up to 70 professionals volunteering their time.

The team received training from the technique’s Israeli developer Professor Uri Gidron on Sunday, and now work in shifts to help those affected by the suicide bombing of the Ariane Grande concert at the Manchester Arena on 22 May.

Benaim and Benyaacov-Kurtzman are in the process of developing a “national resilience programme,” designed for the aftermath of terrorist attacks and developed using the experience of Israelis.

“Over time they realised that the traditional approach [to counselling] based emotional support was not helpful, that it gave the victims a higher risk of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” said Benaim.

“This new Israeli method is based on cognition. When a person goes into shock, his thinking ability is not functioning – emotions are hijacking it,” he says. “The amygdala takes over the front-cortex. It’s a natural response, a defence. The idea we employ, called Cognitive Psychological First-Aid, is to reactivate the thinking part and deactivate the emotional part. This makes the person return very quickly to effective functioning, communication, actually doing things – starting with simple tasks.”

This first-stage intervention, adopted by the Israeli Ministry of Education for use in schools, is important in the first few hours, and is designed to be the precursor to more professional help if needed. The second stage, however, is about memory.

“It’s more complex, and done by professionals,” says Benaim. “Basically, it’s working on memories. Trauma victims have a confused memory. It’s not chronological. They often they say things like – ‘I went in an ambulance, then I left home, then I went to a concert.’ This leads to symptoms of PTSD, because the memory is not structured.”

He says the technique is about putting the memory of the traumatic event back into a chronological order, so the victim is better able to cope with it.

Coping seems to be something Manchester, collectively, finds natural, and Benyaacov praised the city’s response.

“Terrorism is not the act of the bomb,” he said. “Terrorism’s aim is to bring fear into people in the aftermath and the best antidote to fear is to build relationships and come together as a community. That is something that we have seen here.”
The centre is located at 53 Tib Street. It is open from 10.00 to 18.00 every day and anyone in need of support can also call the hotline on 0333 0124714.

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