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Changing the Mental Health Landscape in Israel

ESRA interviews Tanya Prochko, Executive Director of The Israel Association of Mental Health Professionals (Get Help Israel) 

"There is no health without mental health."

Tanya Prochko begins our interview with that quote from former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, which resonates stronger than ever before with the Jewish community in Israel and around the world. Whether facing Hamas, Hezbollah, or anti-Semitism, Jewish anxiety and uncertainty are at the highest levels ever faced by today's generation. Moreover, the horrific events of October 7 have unleashed a torrent of emotions, from fear to anger, which continue to percolate within us.

This Israel-Hamas War has raised new self-awareness about our own emotional needs. The heightened focus on mental health offers an opportunity for Get Help Israel to increase understanding of and empathy toward those who needed mental healthcare even before October 7. Eating disorders, aging challenges, personality disorders, marital discord, parenting problems, substance use, spousal or parental abuse, and other conditions can be helped by psychological interventions. Prior to October 7, people were more resistant to reaching out for help, either because they felt stigmatized or because of the difficulty accessing affordable services in English. Children, soldiers, and others in need of mental healthcare often faced a six-month delay in receiving urgent help through the public healthcare system, which has been compounded by the war and the increased demand. No one should be ashamed to seek help, and no one should be turned away when they reach out.

Tanya joins us to share how The Israel Association of Mental Health Professionals (Get Help Israel) serves the English-speaking community in Israel.

Q: What kind of person benefits from your organization's services?

Tanya: We are dually-pronged, with specific programs and services that are specific to mental health professionals, and those that are geared toward the public. The Israel Association of Mental Health Professionals serves practitioners by providing a formal framework and a collegial space where the English-speaking professional community can collectively make a greater impact on the mental health landscape in Israel. It provides supplemental educational programs to advance their expertise, and support and resources to ensure that the members of the association maintain the highest standards of ethical practice. For the public, Get Help Israel offers a network of 400+ mental health professionals who have been vetted to ensure they meet the association's professional standards of education and training. We also offer regular free webinars and other educational programs to provide the public with tools and techniques that can help them to navigate through mental health challenges. We provide programs related to war-trauma, but also in a range of other areas, such as helping those with suicide ideation. As the demand for mental health support has gone up so drastically since October 7, we have launched a nonprofit organization, The Get Help Israel Fund, to provide free therapy for those who qualify, including all soldiers returning from service.

Q: What makes the Israel Association of Mental Health Professionals different from the Israeli licensing associations?

Tanya: When people make aliyah, there can be a lot of confusion and challenges for mental health professionals looking for work or for individuals seeking help. Many of the credible degrees or practice areas in the United States or England do not transfer to Israel's framework. At the same time, there are other unchecked online or non-degreed programs, some even just once-a-week recorded courses over six months that will certify you in mental health professional training. These latter programs were established to offer expedited routes for individuals to start a mental health career, but often they lack proper training and do not have credible accreditation or monitoring by higher educational bodies.

It can be difficult for most people to determine if a mental health practitioner is properly educated and trained, especially since Israel doesn't have laws or regulations around the title "therapist", which means that anyone can call themselves a therapist and start seeing clients. This poses a tremendous risk to clients. After significant discussions with Israeli government agencies and experts in the field, we recognized a need for an independent entity, familiar with education and training abroad, to review credentials and provide validation for new immigrants or people who study mental health abroad.

While we're not a licensing body, we thoroughly review credentials and provide membership to those who have received post-graduate training in mental health that is equivalent to an MA or higher degree from an accredited institution. Our verification sets us apart from other referral sources and has established trust among municipalities, embassies, gap-year programs, visitors to Israel, and English speakers who want to seek help from qualified professionals.

Q: There are a lot of organizations now during the war that are making referrals or helping people connect with mental health professionals. What makes your's different?

Some organizations are using trainees or unvetted professionals whose credentials have not been verified. Clients have the peace of mind in knowing that the credentials of each professional listed on the GHI database have been verified to be true and accurate to what is stated on their professional profile. We don't make direct referrals; we provide a fully transparent database that offers the public all the information that they need to make an informed decision in choosing the professional who best suits their needs. Clients can schedule a free consultation with therapists to further determine whether this is the right match for them.

We recommend those seeking mental healthcare to visit the public resource at www.GetHelpIsrael.com. We do not get any commission from professionals who get business through our public list. The annual membership fees that professionals pay are for the various services that we provide to the members of the organization and simultaneously enable us to continue to provide an invaluable resource to the English-speaking community.

The war initiated an outpour of demand for mental health support and, unfortunately, some organizations sprang up or deviated from their usual areas of specialization to enter the mental health arena. As the leading mental health resource since 2016, I believe that our vast multidisciplinary network of professionals and our expertise in this arena makes us unique.

Q: To help ease the demand in Israel, is it beneficial for mental health professionals in America to volunteer their time to help patients here?

Since October 7, we have received and continue to receive countless offers from volunteers from around the globe. While it's incredibly generous and altruistic, we discourage it for two main reasons. Our mental health professionals are on the ground here and really understand the nuances of the challenges and emotions of the people in Israel, and many have gone through supplemental war-trauma training since October 7. Also, Israel's economy is suffering greatly because of the war, so we prioritize giving work to the professionals here in Israel.

Q: What should we expect in the coming months in terms of mental health?

With the anticipated influx of new immigrants from around the world who are expected to move to Israel due to increased anti-Semitism, and as our families continue to grapple with October 7 and its aftermath, we will see the government working to address mental health to a greater extent. We expect greater awareness for mental health challenges and increased comfort for people in our communities to seek mental health support. This is the second-longest war Israel has ever had, and we can expect more research to study how that will impact mental health for generations to come. My job at Get Help Israel is to ensure that we as an organization are doing everything that we can to meet the overwhelming needs of our communities.

Finally, I want to acknowledge ESRA and your commitment to incorporating mental health programming for your organization. When Sunny Marshansky, your CEO, reached out to Get Help Israel looking for solutions to help train your staff and volunteers and educate them on recognizing signs of trauma and PTSD in children, I was very happy to be able to help. The kids who benefit from the English Tutoring Program and Students Build a Community will now have more equipped mentors working with them. ESRA has shown a keen awareness and value in acknowledging that mental health is extremely important with your Theater Group via Enosh and Animal Therapy for Toddlers. We need more organizations to follow your lead and strengthen our communities from within. 

 

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Friday, 19 July 2024

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