“Only now do I realize that my life changed twice in the past sixteen months. First unknowingly during the war, though then I had thought that it was normal to be constantly tense, and second during the workshop where I gained a perspective on how to continue with the rest of my life.”
Every year, thousands of released Israeli combat soldiers face the difficult transition back into civilian life. Many spend months overseas as a means to discharge and mitigate the psychological trauma they faced during their military service. Despite the well-known image of the resilient Israeli soldier, the long-term effects of veterans’ exposure to trauma are well documented. Released soldiers can suffer from a myriad psychological difficulties ranging from sleep disorders, substance abuse, difficulties in relationships, aggressiveness, and PTSD.
Peace of Mind is an intervention program that, as one soldier put it, “changes lives. I gained perspective on how to cope with the rest of my life.” Nearly two-thirds of participants have shown significant post-traumatic growth following their participation in the program.
We work with the IDF to identify units who would benefit from our program, choosing to work with cohesive groups largely because a level of trust already exists within a combat unit. About 15 soldiers from a high-risk combat unit work with two therapists to process their experiences and begin healing. Participants typically do not show pathological symptoms of post-traumatic stress, yet are sorely in need of a program that gives voice to the trauma they experienced, allowing them to start living their lives again.
The core of the program is being hosted by a Jewish community overseas during the most intensive therapeutic work. This is a crucial element of the program because their disengagement from Israel during the therapeutic process is central to their healing. About 73% of participants have reported that they have greater ability to process their emotions when they are abroad, but an equally important element is receiving acceptance and warmth from a Diaspora Jewish community, which gives soldiers a sense of love, support and purpose in defending the State of Israel.
Since the program’s inception, nearly 40 groups have been hosted in Holland, Italy, England, France, Canada, and the United States. The entire intervention is evaluated with pre-, post-, and follow-up questionnaires to assess its impact on the levels of distress, attitudes, emotional resilience, and well-being of the participating soldiers.
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