Article

Experiencing and Coping with Stress of Political Uncertainty: Gender Differences Among Mental Health Professionals

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Abstract

This study aimed to investigate how mental health professionals experience and cope with the same stressor that affects their clients. It focuses on Israeli mental health professionals who live and work in the West Bank and were exposed to long periods of terror during the Palestinian uprising (the Intifada) and to the threat of possible relocation based on the Oslo Agreement. The sample included fourteen women and eleven men, representing about 15% of the Israeli mental health professionals who live and work among Jewish populations in the West Bank. Data were collected in April 1995 during the government of the left-wing regime, when the stress of possible relocation was very intense. The results, based on quantitative and qualitative analysis, indicate that being marginalized is an important aspect of creating the stress. Commitment to the goal was found to be the stronger variable affecting coping. As for gender differences, the quantitative results and part of the qualitative results supported the “role constraint” hypothesis. However, both males and females of the mental health professions were found to experience their response to stress and to use coping strategies according to the “socialization” hypothesis.

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... Reasons for this avoidance are suggested by two papers that touch on the acrimonious right-left divide over Israel's settlement policies. Shamai (1999), writing of Israeli mental health professionals who worked with settlers living beyond the internationally recognized border, suggests that the exclusion is anchored in the fact that controversial political issues are not related to the typical problems addressed in social work and to the conviction that clients' and workers' political attitudes are not appropriate issues for intervention or discussion. Baum (in press), writing of a group of Jewish social workers who ignored the fact that the case that was brought before them involved a Palestinian, suggests that the avoidance may also be anchored in the social workers' feelings of helplessness to resolve or ameliorate the political conflict and their reluctance to stir up a political debate. ...
... Baum (in press), writing of a group of Jewish social workers who ignored the fact that the case that was brought before them involved a Palestinian, suggests that the avoidance may also be anchored in the social workers' feelings of helplessness to resolve or ameliorate the political conflict and their reluctance to stir up a political debate. Both authors note the fear that dealing with controversial political matters would be disruptive, whether to the client-worker relationship in which client and workers are of different political persuasions (Shamai, 1999) or to the educational purpose of the practicum (Baum, in press). ...
... Other scholarship has recently been carried out on the impact of various aspects of the political conflict on Jewish professionals. Shamai (1998Shamai ( , 1999 examined the effects of political uncertainty on the personal and professional lives of Jewish mental health professionals living and working in the West Bank, where they were exposed to long periods of terror and to the prospect of relocation. Ramon (2004) explored the impact of the second Intifada on the personal and professional lives of both Jewish and Arab Israeli social workers. ...
Article
This paper tries to raise awareness of the distortions that violent political conflict may introduce into social work practice with members of the rival community, and proposes training guidelines for social workers to help reduce those distortions. The understanding of the impact of political conflict on practice is based on the Israeli–Palestinian experience. The suggestions regarding what social workers should be aware of when practising in situations of political conflict, however, and the training guidelines that are offered can apply to practice in other conflict-ridden areas worldwide.
... These doubts are a natural outcome of the students position as trainees whose skills are not yet honed, whose working experience is limited, and whose professional identity is still being formed. However, as can be seen from the students' assertions, these doubts were intensified by the terror attacks, which overburdened their emotions, drew their attention and energy, and in addition, raised the specter of their having to perform tasks-that is, dealing with newly bereaved and often traumatized individuals-which even professionals find extremely difficult (Landau, 1997;Shamai, 1998Shamai, , 1999. ...
... Whether or not this is really so is a moot point. Other studies have already documented the great stress experienced by therapists working under conditions of war and terror as well as the fact that they experience similar doubts about their pro-fessional competence as the students raised (Campbell & Healey, 1999;Landau, 1997;Shamai, 1998Shamai, , 1999. Moreover, the question of space for self vs. space for others that so concerned the students is a question that vexes professional counselors and therapists throughout their careers, for the work requires its practitioners to be simultaneously in touch with their own feelings and to contain the feelings of their clients. ...
Article
This study examines the responses of social work students to the wave of terror of the Second Intifada, focusing on issues of professional identity raised by the terror. The study, based on statements of students who lost meaningful persons in the terror and on class discussions, identifies four key issues involving the formation of the students' professional identity that were accentuated by the terror. These are: (1) the conflict between personal needs and professional needs; (2) doubts about professional competence; (3) the conflict between carving out personal space and meeting professional responsibilities, and (4) the difficulties of doing fieldwork under terror. The study also observes the discomfort of the Arab students in the situation.
... The literature indicates that, as in other such contexts, they were faced with a variety of complex challenges, including threats to their own well-being; yet they appear to have remained committed to delivering interventions that could address the needs of victims and survivors. There is evidence that, in such circumstances, practitioners understandably seek safety in apolitical, neutral positions (Smyth and Campbell, 1996;Shamai, 1999;Shamai and Boehm, 2001;Baum, 2006). Whilst acknowledging that some of the social workers in the study felt that this position was the most viable and rational response, other more nuanced strategies were also evident. ...
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This article reports on a retrospective study of social workers experiences and perception of practice during the height of the political conflict in Northern Ireland (1969–1988). The article describes the qualitative research methodology used to access the sample, design of interview schedule and data collection. Data were analysed using an iterative process to highlight emergent themes. Interviews were carried out with twenty-eight social workers who were employed in a range of agencies. The findings explore how social workers routinely had to negotiate access to communities in the midst of this violence, sometimes through paramilitary organisations. Respondents identified a range of coping mechanisms that they had used to make the ‘abnormal normal’. This included adopting apolitical, neutral stances, yet taking risks in the everyday tasks of meeting the needs of individuals and families. There was, however, limited evidence of employers providing support for practitioners, with peer support most prevalent and purposive forms of education and training during this period. The authors argue for greater attention to the skills and knowledge required for interventions with victims and survivors of the conflict and a more holistic approach to the analysis of social work and political conflict across international contexts.
... Campbell et al. (2013, 509) helped to highlight this focus when they previously argued, citing Ramon (2008), that: 'Because of the intractable nature of many political conflicts and the dangers associated with practice at times of violence, social workers often have to make judgments about how to position themselves between the state and civil society.' This struggle for 'positioning' highlights the dilemma which social work faces but has been replicated in other contexts which have political conflict in the background such as parts of Africa , the Middle East (Shamai, 1999;Nuttman-Shwartz and Dekel, 2008) and Northern Ireland , the latter authors using the term 'benign detachment' to refer to this type of distancing and reluctance to politically engage (90). ...
... Campbell et al. (2013, 509) helped to highlight this focus when they previously argued, citing Ramon (2008), that: 'Because of the intractable nature of many political conflicts and the dangers associated with practice at times of violence, social workers often have to make judgments about how to position themselves between the state and civil society.' This struggle for 'positioning' highlights the dilemma which social work faces but has been replicated in other contexts which have political conflict in the background such as parts of Africa , the Middle East (Shamai, 1999;Nuttman-Shwartz and Dekel, 2008) and Northern Ireland , the latter authors using the term 'benign detachment' to refer to this type of distancing and reluctance to politically engage (90). ...
Chapter
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... In Israel, Shamai (1998Shamai ( , 1999 examined the affect of political uncertainty on the personal and professional lives of mental health professionals living and working in the West Bank, where they were exposed to long periods of terror and to the threat of possible relocation. Her main finding was that they experienced high levels of stress. ...
Article
The aim of this study is to direct attention to the impact of political conflict on social work. To this end, the responses of a group of Jewish Israeli social workers to a knotty labor relations dilemma between a Jewish Israeli mental health facility director and a paraprofessional Palestinian employee were analyzed. This report presents a picture of social workers' active avoidance of the cultural and political aspects of the problem. The loaded political conflict between Israelis and Palestinians undermined the social workers' ability to respond to the problem with the requisite cultural sensitivity. It is imperative that greater professional attention be given to the impact of political conflict on social work.
... Recent years have witnessed a growing awareness of the importance of incorporating political activity into social work training (Hamilton & Fauri, 2001). The importance of bridging the interface between the professional role of social workers and their political involvement in such situations is also recognised in research (Nuttman-Shwartz & Dekel, 2008;Shamai, 1999;Weiss, 2005). ...
Article
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... Reasons for the avoidance include the widely-held belief that political issues are irrelevant to supervision, just as they are to clinical work ( Bar-On, 2001;Berman, 2003;Shamai, 1999;Shamai and Bohem, 2001), as well as supervisors' fears of the strong negative feelings that acknowledging the conflict and making room for it may evoke, whether in themselves or in their supervisees. The avoidance, however, may have undesirable consequences. ...
Article
This article considers some of the impacts of armed political conflicts on field supervision where supervisor and student are affiliated with different sides, as exemplified by the Jewish supervisor/Arab student dyad in social work training in Israel. This conflict, it suggests, impedes the development of a trusting supervisory bond, makes it difficult for supervisors to provide candid feedback and evaluation, and impairs the students’ development of professional identity. The article ends with detailed recommendations for dealing with the many practical issues that arise in field supervision in the context of armed conflicts.
... These limitations notwithstanding, this study goes beyond the understanding, voiced by other scholars (Baum, 2006b;Campbell & Healey, 1999;Ramon, 2004;Shamai, 1998Shamai, , 1999Shamai & Bohem, 2001), that political conflicts enter into the therapeutic relationship to provide empirical findings about the feelings and thoughts that such conflict can evoke in practitioners. More specifically, the study findings suggest that treating clients of an opposing group in a violent political conflict may raise apprehensions, anxieties, and concerns that treating clients from a different culture do not. ...
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... The paucity of the literature may be attributed to the tendency to exclude any kind of political matter from clinical activities (Berman 2003;Shamai and Bohem 2001). Shamai (1999) suggests that the exclusion is anchored in the fact that controversial political issues are not related to the typical problems addressed in clinical work and to the conviction that clients' and workers' political attitudes are not appropriate issues for intervention or discussion. Baum (2006) adds that it may also stem from clinicians' feelings of helplessness to resolve or ameliorate the political conflict and their reluctance to stir up a political debate. ...
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This study examined personality, social assets, and perceived social support as moderators of the effects of stressful life events on illness onset. In a group of 170 middle and upper level executives, personality hardiness and stressful life events consistently influenced illness scores, the former serving to lower symptomatology, the latter to increase it. Perceived boss support had its predicted positive effect. Executives under high stress who perceived support from their supervisors had lower illness scores than those without support. Perceived family support, on the other hand, showed a negative effect on health when reported by those low in hardiness. Finally, social assets made no significant impact on health status. These results underscore the value of differentiating between kinds of social resources, and of monitoring the effects of two or more stress-resistance resources in a single study.
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This study identifies the types of social support available to the families of social work officers activated during Operation Desert Storm/Shield and determines which social supports were utilized by these families and the degree of perceived satisfaction with those social supports. This is a post-event assessment on a one-time basis. A Social Support Questionnaire was sent to the spouses of all activated Social Work Officers. Findings suggest no correlation between amount of social support and perceived effectiveness. Findings also suggest a need to assist families of military social work officers with informal and formal social support connections.
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This article describes and analyzes a 2-year supervision process with social workers and family therapists who live and work under conditions of uncertainty on the West Bank. The systemic orientation used in this specific approach to supervision emphasizes the double role of the therapist: one as part of the therapeutic system, and the second as a member of the same community that is living in political uncertainty. The analysis revealed that a long-term supervision process, in which the supervisor encouraged a containing context, was meaningful to the group. As a result of this secure atmosphere, the group was ready to talk about painful issues like loss as the result of war and terrorist attacks, loss as a result of immigration, and loss of ideals. Furthermore, the members of the group were ready to confront the possibility of relocation and their role in such a situation. The techniques used in the process, such as narrative and metaphors, were implemented by the members in their daily professional interventions. The flexibility between working on regular professional issues and issues related to stress and uncertainty seemed useful to the supervision, as well as the political dialogue that was created between the supervisor and the group.
  • Carver C. S.