Presentation at Trauma Institute of Orange County in Goshen NY, Nov. 30/2017

On  Thursday November 30, 2017,  I will be giving a presentation entitled “Trauma, Aging, and the Implications for Treatment at the Trauma Institute of Orange County, in Goshen, NY. The program offers 2 Continuing Education hours for Licensed Social Workers, Licensed Mental Health Counselors, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and Psychoanalysts.

The presentation will focus on the impact of various types of traumatic experiences in prior phases of life on the way aging trauma survivors experience the process of aging and the losses that often accompany it. Studies have shown that healthcare providers might perceive elderly trauma survivors as difficult patients, and experience hopelessness, helplessness, anger, and distancing in the relationships with them. However, better knowledge and understanding of the survivors’ historical background and potential triggers has been shown to improve the care they receive. This presentation will focus on articulating the potential sensitivities of elderly individuals previously exposed to interpersonal cruelty, and offer ways to address difficult dynamics with the aging survivors of trauma and their family members.

The program is organized by the Geriatric Mental Wellness Alliance and The Trauma Institute of Orange County. More details can be found from this link, or by downloading the flyer for the event.

                   Irit Felsen

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Thoughts About My Participation in Panel on “Medicine After the Holocaust”, Museum of Jewish Heritage, Nov. 9/2017

On Thursday November 9th, the 79th Yahrzeit of Kristalnacht, I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion addressing lessons that can be drawn from the Holocaust which might be relevant to healthcare today. The discussion emanated from the well-known and horrifying facts about the active role of healthcare professionals, especially physicians and nurses, in the Nazi murder of those considered unfit to live and a threat to the purity of the Aryan nation.

The historical facts discussed included the disproportionately high percentage of physicians who joined the Nazi party, in comparison to other professions, and the role of physicians in devising the method of murder and administering these terrible operations. One of the most important lessons to be learned includes the fact that medical staff behaved according to what they came to believe was ethically and morally correct, as the ethical codex was not abandoned, but subverted to Nazi ideology. Lessons for education of current medical staff and the need to find ways to include and highlight ethical aspects in their already-overloaded curricula were addressed.

I chose to focus on the problems that still exist regarding accessibility of palliative and pain relief care. As it has been pointed out in the recent Lancet Commission report, published in October 2017, there are still often highly charged disagreements among health professionals about the use of palliative care and pain relief at the end of life, even in high-income countries where good health services exist, and even where palliative and pain relief services are available. I argued for the importance of clear guidelines that guard against personal prejudice and misinformation about the difference between palliative care and “euthanasia”, and for accountability frameworks such as bioethics committees in hospitals. Such committees should be multi-disciplinary and easily accessible to patients and their loved ones, so they can step in to assist patients, family members and healthcare providers during the desperate moments in the face of extreme suffering at end of life.

This was a spectacularly enriching discussion, and I hope to continue working to educate healthcare providers and the systems in which they work about inherent risks for dehumanization of patients, even by generally well-intentioned individuals in the helping professions. It is our duty as a society and as healthcare providers to learn the difficult lessons from the Holocaust, and from medicine in the Holocaust: none of us are above the processes that might lead to dehumanization of others, but as a society we have to strive to transcend these dangers by being aware of them and putting the appropriate investments and attention to preventing them.

                  Irit Felsen

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Reflections about Person-Centered Trauma-Informed Workshop that I Gave in Atlanta Last Week

This past week I gave a two-day workshop for JF&CS in Atlanta, GA, focused on Person-Centered Trauma-Informed Care. The workshop included a presentation to clinical staff, an agency-wide presentation to administrative staff and all those who come in contact with the service consumers, such as receptionists, drivers, and all other staff members, a supervision session with the team who works specifically with Holocaust survivors, a meeting with the “Second Generation” (adult children of Holocaust survivors), and a “Train the Trainer” presentation to professionals who lead teams in other social service agencies in the community. Some more information is available from the Facebook page of JF&CS Atlanta GA.

Over two days, I gave a total of five different presentations to a variety of audiences:

  1. A two-hour presentation for clinical staff about the prevalence, impact and responses to various traumatic experiences. The presentation elaborated how a history of traumatic experiences in prior years might interact and affect the elderly survivors when they come to need our services.
  2. A one-hour agency-wide presentation about potential difficult interactions with trauma survivors and the connections between their responses to past traumatic experiences.
  3. A two-hour supervision session with the team of professionals working specifically with Holocaust survivors, discussing particular issues related to experiences of surviving extreme genocidal trauma, the unique issues of Holocaust survivors from the former USSR, and characteristic features of the family relationships and dynamics between survivors and their adult children.
  4. A two-hour meeting with a group of adult children of Holocaust survivors from the community.
  5. A two-hour “Train the Trainer” session for the professionals from a variety of agencies in the community, who will use the training to further train staff in their own agencies about the particular potential sensitivities of trauma survivors and the ways to be aware of these and be able to de-escalate negative interactions.

It was a great honor to be given the opportunity to share my deep personal passion for care of survivors of trauma, and for the aging population of elderly Holocaust survivors, with the different groups that attended the training organized by JF&CS Atlanta. Empirical studies show that professional healthcare providers, including physicians, psychologists, social workers, nursing and para-medical staff, often find trauma survivors to be difficult patients and working with them can be experienced as hopeless, leading to demoralization in staff and a wish to resign. Studies also show that, when the staff feels that their agency and supervisors care about them and when education is provided about the history of the patients and why they might be exhibiting difficult behaviors at times, staff expresses more understanding, more compassion, and less wish to leave the job.

I am grateful to JS&CS Atlanta for the opportunity and for their gracious hospitality, and I deeply hope that the training will help healthcare providers from various diverse backgrounds become aware of the need to learn about patients’ traumatic histories. I also hope that the training will allow individual providers and leaders of agencies to recognize the traumatic histories of many staff members, so the painful past of both patients and providers can be dealt with respectfully and compassionately.

                 Irit Felsen

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REMINDER: Panel this Thursday (Nov. 9): “70 Years after the Nuremberg Code: What Have We Learned?”

On November 9, 2017, I will participate in a panel discussion regarding the relevance of lessons learned from bioethics and the Holocaust, for modern scientific theory, medical practice, healthcare policy and human rights endeavors throughout the world.


This program is organized by the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust, the UNESCO Chair of Bioethics (Haifa) Department of Bioethics and the Holocaust, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. The program aims at highlighting lessons and issues that need to be incorporated into the education of professionals in involved in theory, research, practice and policies in the relevant fields.

The event will take place on Tues. Nov. 9, from 5 pm – 8 pm, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. The program is free and open to the general public. Registered participants are invited to visit the galleries of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust free of charge before the program begins. Get your free ticket for the galleries upon arrival at the Museum.

To read more and to register, follow this link.

           Irit Felsen

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Video of My Lecture at Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Conference Available on Youtube

A videotape of my lecture at the Eighteenth Annual Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Conference is now available online on my Youtube channel, or by directly following this link. The video can also be found at this link to  the Youtube channel of the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

This lecture,  entitled “Defying Evil: Child and Adolescent Survivors of the Holocaust”, focused on the unique experiences of the child and adolescent survivors of the Holocaust.

My lecture, geared toward teachers, sought to make the connection between those who were exposed to the trauma of the Holocaust at such a young age and the youth they teach today, bringing lessons about trauma and resilience closer to the experiences of teachers and students. This lecture was part of a series of annual conferences for educators sponsored by Fanya Gottesfeld Heller.

            Irit Felsen

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REMINDER: Person-Centered, Trauma-Informed Care Workshop in Atlanta, GA, November 6-7, 2017

On November 6th  and 7th I will be presenting a workshop at the Jewish Family and Children Services in Atlanta, GA. The training will take place at the JF & CS offices on 4549 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody, GA 30338.

The first day’s program will include specific separate training sessions for clinical staff, agency-wide non-clinical staff, and the Holocaust Survivor Services Team. Each of these trainings will address issues relevant to the understanding of trauma, its long-term impact on survivors, its interactions with processes that are associated with growing old, the effects of parental trauma on spouses and on the adult children of survivors, and the impact on the staff working with trauma survivor clients and their family members.

The clinical trauma training will address the generational impact of multiple types of traumatic experiences in the family, and the long-term effects of distal trauma on the survivors and their family members.

The agency-wide non-clinical training session will be geared towards all agency staff, including marketing department, front office receptionists, transportation drivers, and all others. This training will educate participants on trauma, its effects on survivors, and how to appropriately and sensitively interact with trauma survivors in the course of everyday interactions with them. This training will teach staff how to best meet the unique needs of trauma survivors, whether these survivors are our clients, colleagues, family members, or others we interact with on a daily basis. Many people have survived some sort of trauma in their lives and have been impacted by it to varying degrees, and this training will help normalize this, explain how to understand our reactions to our own traumatic experiences and to the experiences of others, and offer ways in which to best interact with trauma survivors.

In the evening, there will be a presentation and a discussion with the “Second Generation”, children of Holocaust survivors, which will open to the community.

The second day will include a “Train the Trainer” session which will teach participants to train other staff and workers at their agencies who work with Holocaust survivors to know about Holocaust survivors’ unique needs and provide appropriate care. The session will provide a brief overview of Holocaust survivor trauma and ways in which to best interact with survivors given this trauma. By the end of the session, participants will be able to relay this information to their staff members in order to maximize best practices and person-centered, trauma-informed care towards survivors. This session will be geared towards people who have managerial roles at home-care agencies so that they can train their staff and aides who work with survivors.

More information can be found from this link.

Irit Felsen

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In Memory of Fanya Gottesfeld Heller

Fanya Gottesfeld Heller passed away earlier this week. Fanya was an adolescent during the Holocaust. In her life in America, she has been a generous benefactor of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – Living Memorial to the Holocaust, and a devoted educator about the dangers of prejudice and discrimination.

I had the immense honor of meeting Fanya last year and spending some time with her in preparation for a talk I gave in the context of the Eighteenth Annual Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Conference. The talk was entitled “Defying Evil: Child and Adolescent Survivors of the Holocaust”. Fanya was an amazing example of these adolescents who, despite such traumatic experiences and losses during a vulnerable time in life, went on to get an education, build families, and be dedicated to educating others and helping make the world better, whether it was to build a hostel for soldiers  in Israel or an emergency room for a hospital.

Fanya’s book “Love In A World Of Sorrow” and a documentary, narrated by Richard Geer, entitled “Teenage Witness: the Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Story” tell the story of Fanya’s ordeal with unusual candidness.

It is a great loss to all of us who knew her. May her memory be blessed.

     Irit Felsen

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