Faculty of Psychology

Self-help method for traumatized Palestinian children in the West Bank.

- The stories health and school personnel tell about children's suffering in Gaza and the West Bank are heartbreaking and shocking, says psychologist specialist Unni Heltne.

Gutt på Vestbredden, NTB
The Center for Crisis Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen, provides training in a self-help method for treating children with war trauma in the West Bank. Unni Heltne is a specialist psychologist and participates from the Center for Crisis Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen.
John Hultgren, NTB

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- The Palestinian professionals with whom we work show great commitment and a commitment to making a difference to children's mental health in the West Bank. It is impressive, says Unni Heltne, Center for Crisis Psychology, UiB. Unni Marie Gulla Heltne | Universitetet i Bergen (uib.no)

-Personally, and professionally, I am concerned with how help for traumatized children can be made as accessible and usable as possible, and at the same time be professionally sound.

Center for Crisis Psychology, The Faculty of Psychology Senter for krisepsykologi | Universitetet i Bergen (uib.no),  contributes with training in a self-help method for treating children with war trauma. Heltne is a specialist in psychology and head of the centre. Originally, she was going to travel to the West Bank and implement training in the self-help method there. But then the war started in Gaza, and it became impossible to go to the West bank.

- There was an online course instead, and fortunately the participants managed to gather at the Red Cross' premises in Ramallah so that we could carry out the course for them.

International cooperation on children's mental health

The Palestinian children who receive help with trauma are aged seven and over, and their parents are included in community gatherings as well.

- It is an educational training that is about what the child can do to reduce anxiety and restlessness, and it applies especially to those children who have bad reactions after frightening events.

Heltne has been in several hard-hit conflict areas with this method.

- I have become involved in this work through the Children and War Foundation, which has created the material, and the foundation conducts training in the methods all over the world.

The training in the West Bank was carried out in collaboration with the Center for Applied Research in Education in Palestine (CARE) and Professor Ian Barron at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA. It is Care Palestine that recruits personnel for the training.

Training in self-help

Teaching recovery techniques, or training in self-help methods, is a group-based initiative. The method is based on recommended and evaluated methods for reducing reactions to frightening and traumatic experiences. It consists of five group sessions where the children who participate learn methods to reduce flashbacks in which they relive unpleasant sensory impressions, have nightmares, bodily restlessness, or avoidance behaviour.

First, the children must be safe and looked after. Then we check up on what they are carrying with them before we can initiate the measures that each child needs

Unni Heltne

Many of the reactions the children get are about concentration, learning and general life development. Heltne adds that these children can have an almost normal development and upbringing despite the trauma they have experienced if they receive the right support.

When a group of health and school personnel have received training in the methods, they are able to train new personnel. The Method Children and Grief manual for Palestinian personnel is designed for teachers, principals, school counselors, psychologists and social workers who work with Palestinian children in the West Bank. They have called for a concrete tool that can help children and parents.

- But it turns out that we often must do the training because of the strict travel restrictions for Palestinians at the West Bank.

Harsh restriction of freedom of movement for Palestinians

- The Palestinian professionals who participated in the training are very brave, and they participated despite several practical and security obstacles.

Heltne has previously traveled extensively in the West Bank and says that Palestinian residents cannot move around freely. This was also the situation before the war in Gaza started. Now it has become even more difficult with roadblocks everywhere and even stricter travel restrictions. It was therefore very challenging for the participants to get together for the course.

- There are dramatic restrictions and people fear for their lives. They are regarded as "free game" by the Israeli military.

Research project pending

Heltne was to start a new research project together with Ian Barron and Care Palestine. The project targets school employees and the funding is in place. Evaluation of previous measures is included in this study, but initiation was too difficult to carry out now because of the war in Gaza.

- We still did not want to stop the aid measure that the self-help course entails in the situation that has arisen, so we carried out this part of the project anyway.

Now the researchers do not know when the project can start up again, but they want to follow it up as soon as the situation is more normalized.