Trauma Group Meeting and Presentation at the United Nations, Thursday February 8, 2018

The NGO Committee on Mental Health in Consultative Status with the United Nations was established in 1996. The primary mission of the committee is the promotion of psycho-social well-being, the improvement of mental health care services, and advocacy and education in the prevention and treatment of mental illness. The committee works with the UN and its specialized agencies to ensure the inclusion of mental health issues within a broader context of concerns, such as vulnerable populations, human rights, poverty, violence, the environment, peace and well-being.

The upcoming meeting of  the NGO will be dedicated to Working Group on Trauma and Mental Health, which I co-convene together with Dr. Karen Hopenwasser, MD. The program, on Thurs. Feb. 8 from 1 – 4 pm, is entitled “Shared Trauma: The Impact of Working with Traumatized Groups”. Dr. Hopenwasser and I will moderate the discussion following the presentations by our invited guests.

This program is open to the public. For further information please go to at this link.

                 Irit Felsen

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REMINDER: Come Join Me for “Intergenerational Legacies of Trauma in Families”: A Full-Day Workshop In West Palm Beach, FL

On February 5th-6th, 2018, I will have the honor of presenting a professional training about trauma and aging for the Alpert Jewish Family and Children’s Service in West Palm Beach, Florida. The workshop will take place at the Marriot, West Palm Beach and is organized and supported by Herzog Israeli Center for Treatment of Psychotrauma; Next Generations; The Jewish Federations of North America Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care.

The first day of the workshop will consist of professional training sessions for the staff, while the second day is a workshop for second generation and family members of Holocaust survivors. Registration and other information about the public workshop on the second day is presented in the flyer displayed below.

Much of what is known about the intergenerational transmission of effects related to parental trauma is based on the vast body of studies and observations related to the children of Holocaust survivors, which by now span an entire lifetime, manifesting the way the so-called “Second Generation” navigated important life transitions and challenges from adolescence through adulthood. The knowledge that has accumulated about the impact of a legacy of trauma in the family shows that there are significant effects on the relationships between children and survivor parents as well as among siblings, and long-reaching effects on later relationships of the children of survivors with spouses/partners and with their own children. This accumulation of knowledge that led to the recognition of “historical trauma” has implications for many other populations exposed to extreme and prolonged traumatic experiences. This workshop aims at increasing the knowledge understanding of trauma, its immediate and in particular, its long-term effects, and increase familiarity with the symptoms and signs of it in individuals, especially in elderly individuals, as well as in staff.

Finally, the workshop will discuss recent insights from neuroscience about processes involved in dehumanizing perceptions of others, their origin in evolutionary psychology, and the evidence for prevalence of dehumanization in modern medical settings. The presentation aims at education those working with trauma survivors and their families to know about the risk for dehumanization of elderly patients, especially of elderly trauma survivors, in medical settings and at increase ability among well-intentioned healthcare providers to self-regulate non-conscious bias and prevent re-traumatization of those who had already experienced malignant cruelty and aggression.

               Irit Felsen

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United Nations Holocaust Memorial Ceremony, Wednesday January 31/2018

On Wednesday January 31, I will be joining the Board of the Holocaust Council of MetroWest and its members in attending the Holocaust Memorial Ceremony, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the United Nations in NYC. The ceremony will take place from 11 am – 1 pm in the General Assembly Hall of the UN Headquarters in NYC.

We, the children and descendants of survivors of the Holocaust, remember on this day the destruction of the world of our parents and grandparents, and honor our parents’ strength and faith in life, and the continued existence of their families and of the Jewish People. The Holocaust Council of Metrowest works to increase awareness among educators and the general public to the memory of the Holocaust, and to the lessons to be learned from it about bigotry, discrimination, and personal and civic responsibility.

For more information about the United Nations Department of Public Information
2018 Holocaust Remembrance Calendar of Events, including how to register to attend, follow this link.

                    Irit Felsen

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Remembering Our Parents’ Resilience, and Honoring Their Legacy

Growing up, my parents’ home was always full of friends. A mere handful of years after the end of the war, my parents had managed to build a business in which they worked incredibly hard, and with which they filled their home with a sense of affluence that they generously shared with anyone who came in. And many guests came in, some to stay for some weeks, and others just for the day, but there were welcome guests there every day. My parents’ friends gathered at our home on Saturday evenings, my older sister’s friends were in the room she and I shared, and my brother’s friends, a whole bunch of growing lads, were either filling his room or taking over the kitchen, eating what my hard working mother cooked for the coming days, like a ravenous bunch of locust. But my parents loved the happy gaggles of young people that filled their home and I never heard my mother complain about the disappearing food.

The kitchen was the heart of our home, with its European glass-door china cabinet that held my mother’s china, which we used daily. Since those were the days before dishwashers, these pretty dishes had a short half-life and the full sets would quickly dwindle and lose a plate here, a soup bowl there, as we kids would frequently break a piece when doing the dishes. We would peevishly tell our mother when yet another piece of china broke, expecting her to get upset. But my mother would respond with unflappable equanimity. “Mazal Tov!” she would say, without any hint of irony, as the Jewish custom views the breaking of a dish as an omen of good things to come. A strange association, when one stops to think of it, but my mother would calmly say, “It’s only a dish. What is a dish?” and what she did not say was, what is a broken dish in comparison to the loss of everyone you loved? My mother’s tone of saying it was not bitter, nor depressed. It was matter of fact, and it was comforting to see that she was not upset and not angry. It was about keeping in proportion the small losses, the small detours that life takes one on, and the annoyances of everyday life.

My mother wanted us to have some endurance for minor discomforts. She did not minimize our trials and tribulations, but out of respect to the extremes of suffering which she had lived through and which others around her did not survive, she consistently reproached us for using commonly used figures of speech such as “I am dying of hunger!” or “it was so boring I thought I would die!” When we did use such extravagant phrases, she would comment, “it is not so easy to die”. And we would realize how different her experience was from anything we could comprehend, as we were feeling the early pangs of hunger before a good meal, only a few hours from the previous good meal we had had.

As the youngest child in the family, it was my job to go to the grocery store and bring the bread home for dinner every evening. When I brought the loaf of bread, golden and fresh and sometimes even still warm, my mother would hold it to her face and, with a glowing smile, inhale deeply the fresh scent and exclaim, “what a wonderful bread this is!” Every day of her life, she was able to celebrate the marvel of fresh bread, to enjoy the house full of young noisy, happy, hungry children and friends whom she could feed, because every day the memories were still there, close to the surface, yet fueling a passion for life. This is what I would like to remember this year on the day we commemorate the end of the catastrophe that destroyed our parents’ world.  How they succeeded in moving forward, despite unspeakable pain, and the amazing resilience and vitality that they put forth in rebuilding their lives.

                    Irit Felsen

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REMINDER: Presentation at William Allen White Institute in NYC on January 23, 2018

Update: More information, including registration procedures, has been added at this link.


On January 23, 2018 , I will be giving a presentation, entitled “Trauma, Psychosis and Functionality” at the William Allen White Institute in NYC. More details, as well as the registration procedure, can be found from this link.

The presentation will describe personal experiences from encounters with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who have been chronically hospitalized in psychiatric institutions in Israel for many decades. The Holocaust survivors were interviewed in the context of a study I conducted as a member of the Yale University Trauma Study Group, together with our Israeli colleagues. The findings of the study were published in the paper available from this link, as well as in contributions I published in this paper in Kavod (the online magazine of the Claims Conference, dedicated to issues related to Holocaust survivors), and in a recently published book entitled Psychoanalysis and Holocaust Testimony: Unwanted Memories of Social Trauma (2017, Laub and Hamburger, eds., Routledge). The presentation will describe the unusual and surprising experience of taking the testimonies of the chronically hospitalized patients, most of whom had been diagnosed as schizophrenic and spent decades in psychiatric institutions.

Despite the torrent of research on PTSD since the introduction of the diagnosis into the DSM-III, studies continue to show that the disorder is grossly under-diagnosed, that many individuals suffer from sub-clinical levels of symptoms which are sufficient to create nearly as much distress and impairment as the formal disorder, and that other post-traumatic reactions, primarily depression and anxiety, often follow exposure to extreme trauma. The life trajectories described in this paper highlight the importance of diagnosis of PTSD and other post-traumatic reactions, which in turn determines the availability of appropriate treatment, and in particular, the critical role of social support in maintaining functionality despite symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

                 Irit Felsen

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REMINDER: Workshop at the LiveOn Conference in NYC, January 25, 2018

I will be giving, with Adeena Horowitz, Administrative Director of Selfhelp Community Services, a workshop entitled

When the Past is Present: What Holocaust Survivors Can Teach Us About Working With Elders Who Experienced Trauma

at the LiveOn Conference in NYC on January 25, 2018.

LiveOn is an organization consisting of 100 agencies from small, single-site centers to large multi-service organizations, representing the 3.2 million older New Yorkers and their caregivers. The organization is dedicated to improve aging in NY city through targeted advocacy, data-driven policy, direct assistance & innovative programs.

The workshop, open to all those who register to the conference, will address special issues in the care of elderly who had experienced traumatic events in prior times in life. A brief description of the workshop is as follows:

Rejecting life-sustaining services. Hoarding food. Neglecting personal hygiene. Accusing others of stealing trivial items. How do we help clients whose behaviors have the effect of pushing us away? Holocaust survivors have taught us that perplexing symptoms in older adults sometimes have their origins in early trauma. Yet trauma is not unique to Holocaust survivors – traumatic experiences have shaped the lives of many older adults we serve. Lessons learned from Holocaust survivors give us keys to connecting with aging trauma survivors, opening the door to helping. This workshop will empower participants with strategies for providing Person Centered Trauma Informed (PCTI) care that can be used by staff in a variety of settings.

The workshop will take place between 10:30 am  and 12:00 noon on Thursday January 25, 2018  at the New York Academy of Medicine at 1216 Fifth Avenue – 103rd Street, New York, NY 10028.

To learn more, and to register for the conference go to this link.

Irit Felsen

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A Video of My Presentation in Atlanta, “Trauma Informed Care of Holocaust Survivors and Other Elderly Trauma Survivors”, Posted on My Youtube Channel

In November 2017, I gave a presentation at JF&CS in Atlanta, GA.  The presentation, entitled “Trauma Informed Care of Holocaust Survivors and Other Elderly Trauma Survivors”, was focused on understanding the impact of extreme traumatic experiences in prior times on elderly individuals, and on implementing principles of Person Centered Trauma Informed Care (PCTIC) in the care of elderly survivors of the Holocaust and other traumatic events.

As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, I have a deep and personal connection to this topic. I have encountered many well-intentioned healthcare professionals who do not have any understanding of the particular meanings that various aspects of aging and ailing might have for trauma survivors. For those who had suffered terrible losses of loved ones, and had been subjected to inhumane, sadistic cruelty by other people, the inevitable loss of autonomy, the helplessness and the new losses of loved ones that aging involves can be re-traumatizing. The need to be institutionalized, the accompanied loss of one’s home and possessions, are all terrible reminders of past losses and changes, and are difficult when the past is full of forced re-locations and brutal abuse of power by authority. It is my personal mission to try increase the understanding and compassion among healthcare providers to the vulnerabilities of elderly trauma survivors and improve their care at the later years of life, when they need our help more than ever.

A video of the presentation is now available online. The video can be found posted on my Youtube channel  or directly by following  this link.

Irit Felsen

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