Interview in Israel: with Prof. Daniel Brom

Prof. Danny Brom is a clinical psychologist, the initiator of the Israel Trauma Coalition, and the Founding Director of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma in Jerusalem. Prof. Brom has published his first controlled outcome study on short-term therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 1989, and has since published continuously on the topic. His main effort goes to bridging the gap between scientific data and service provision in the community.   2014-07-05 15.03.48

What is the most fascinating thing about trauma for you?

I would have to say people’s resilience: how human beings can go through so much, experience the most adverse situations, and still manage to cope, to come out of that – and allow you to help them along the way.

 How did you become interested in the field of trauma?

There are two answers to this question. One is very simple: There was an opening for a trauma psychologist in the paper and I thought to myself “that sounds interesting!” and that’s how I landed in this field. The other story is that my father, though originally a musician, started to take care of Jewish orphans after the war. My parents made the decision to help these children and so we moved from one children’s home to another over the years. Later, my father received the training necessary to be a therapist, my brother and sister became social workers, and I – almost inevitably – became a psychologist (laughs).

Do you have any recommendations for people who want to work in this field? Can you tell us of common mistakes/pitfalls?

In the trauma field the most important piece of advice I can give is don’t do things alone. This is why I founded the trauma center in the Netherlands and the Israeli Centre for Psychotrauma here in Jerusalem. Human connection is unmeasurably important for healing. As a therapist, curiosity is vital – together with really wanting to hear and understand what happened. Also, my advice is to stay open to new ideas and ways of thinking – the moment you think you know everything or that there is only one method, you’re in trouble.

Connecting research with practice can often be a challenge in psychology. How do you think we can best translate research into practice?

Fortunately, I was always able to combine both research and practice: they go together. If I only do research I often lose myself in dozens of theories, variables and statistics and miss the human component. However, if I solely focus on doing therapy I start to overgeneralize patients’ problems and don’t see the individual anymore. I know of clinicians who, when encountering a patient with a new problem, sometimes don’t even go to google scholar anymore! This is why I like the combination, i.e. scientist-practitioners or practicing-scientists (or whatever one might call it) – do both and integrate both.

Society and mental health is a big issue. How would you describe the relation between mental health, therapy and Israeli society regarding trauma?

The Piece of Mind Project
‘Peace of Mind’ is a program created by the Israel Center for the Treatment of Pyschotrauma (ICTP). It is aimed at young people who have served for 3 or more years in high risk combat units in the Israel Defense Forces and provides a pathway back to civilian life. Strengthening resilience and helping to cope with the experienced trauma are at the core of the program. ‘Piece of Mind’ brings in soldiers who have been serving together in the same unit or team.  Read more about the Piece of Mind project here.

During the past 20 years there has been a lot of change in Israel. Society has developed from a lack of recognition of symptoms and PTSD to recognizing these issues and people actually wanting to be treated. To illustrate, simply the fact that we could create the “Peace of Mind Project” was in itself an outcome of a societal process. Another example is the change in Holocaust documentation on television: we’ve moved away from heroism stories of individuals to focusing on the great suffering during this time. Generally, Israeli society has become more open and there has been a move from neglect (“we don’t have trauma”) to recognition: Israeli society is slowly coming to terms with the fact that there is a price to pay for this crazy reality that we live in.

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the DSM-V and it has been proposed that a new system is necessary – what would you think is important for such a system?

Transdiagnostic Treatment
Emerging conceptualizations of the major emotional disorders increasingly focus on emphasizing commonalities (in phenomenology, diathesis, vulnerabilities) rather than differences (Barlow et al., 2010). Barlow and colleagues (2010) aim to move away from numerous individual treatment protocols for specific disorders towards generalization of the treatment response – as a result, they developed the Unified Protocol (UP). UP is a transdiagnostic, emotion-focused cognitive-behavioral treatment across emotional disorders (Ellard, Fairholme, Boisseau, Farchione, & Barlow, 2010).

At the moment a new direction regarding Assessment and Diagnosis is developing: instead of focusing on one DSM-V diagnosis, it has been suggested to go back to the core mechanism that lies beneath, i.e., emotion regulation. We keep expanding and adding more categories, it is almost as if we want to have as many diagnoses as possible – that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Barlow, for example, has developed a unified transdiagnostic treatment for emotional disorders and I think that will be more effective than becoming broader and broader in terms of diagnosis. (click here for our Interview with David Barlow)

Is there something you would like to mention or share that is important to you?

There is an issue that is not being talked a lot about, namely coming to terms with evil. During the course of my career I have encountered and treated patients who have been horribly abused, became victims of ritual abuse or have had their minds controlled. Still, patients often feel like they are overreacting, saying “but that’s all that happened”. The concept of evil is never taught or talked about and in my opinion this needs to get a place.

References

Barlow, D. H., Farchione, T. J., Fairholme, C. P., Ellard, K. K., Boisseau, C. L., Allen, L. B., & May,  J. T. E. (2010). Unified protocol for transdiagnostic
treatment of emotional disorders:  Therapist guide. Oxford University Press.

Ellard, K. K., Fairholme, C. P., Boisseau, C. L., Farchione, T. J., & Barlow, D. H. (2010). Unified  protocol for the transdiagnostic treatment of emotional disorders: Protocol development and initial outcome data. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 17(1), 88-101.

About the author

Felicitas Huber Besides working as Junior Editor at the Journal of European Psychology Students, Felicitas is currently writing her Master’s thesis at the University of Vienna. More info: http://jeps.efpsa.org/about/editorialTeam

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