New and Unprecedented
Two graduates of a “Change Agents in the Workplace” program for Israeli and Palestinian mental health professionals have initiated a training course to enhance cultural sensitivity and crosscultural competence among Arab and Jewish professionals who supervise the students at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare in Jerusalem. The Change Agents course is a project of the School for Peace at Wahat al Salam / Neve Shalom in cooperation with Hewar Center for Peace and Development in Jayyous, Palestine and is funded by USAID.
The idea for this new training initiative was raised by two social workers, Yousef Abd Al-Jaffar and Bella Sosovsky, during one of the Change Agents training workshops they attended together. Part of a fourteen-month course for mental health professionals, attended by 20 Jews and Palestinians from Israel and 20 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, this particular session was held in Jordan in July 2008.
Both Yousef and Bella serve as supervisors for social work students who are training to become therapists at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work. The two colleagues were brainstorming about priorities for passing on what they had been learning in their Change Agents program to additional target populations of mental health professionals – particularly in social work, their own field. They were thinking about the nuances of some crosscultural challenges they and their peers have encountered in their role as advisers – when an Arab is advising a Jewish student, or when a Jew is advising an Arab student.
Examples: when a (male) Arab supervisor is advising a Jewish (woman) social work student who is also a combat soldier in the Israeli army, how may her other identity as a Jewish combat soldier influence the transference and counter-transference dynamics in their interactions as supervisor and supervisee? When a Jewish (woman) supervisor is advising an Arab (man) social work student who is failing his courses and she finds herself reluctant to give him a failing grade, how should she handle this inward conflict? These dilemmas are not adequately discussed – neither in the students’ classes nor in the training given to their supervisors.
As supervisors who assist advanced social work students with their case work, the supervisors themselves attend an in-service course in the fall semester that covers basic issues in supervision. In the spring semester, a second course addresses a specific aspect of their supervision work – for example, dealing with hierarchy and authority in the supervisory context, or optimal approaches to writing case reports.
Together, Yousef and Bella proposed to the program’s director that this year, the second semester be devoted to issues of Jewish-Arab interaction. Although the School of Social Work encourages students to share their feelings in every area, somehow the omnipresent issues concerning Jewish-Arab relations – a constant source of tension and anxiety in this society – are rarely mentioned. In initiating this new in-service course for the advisers, Bella and Yousef hope to see greater legitimacy given to dealing with a range of highly charged questions relating to the conflict, to advising, and to treatment.
In March 2009, the first such course began meeting. Both Arab and Jewish supervisors are participating. The course is taught by Dr. Massalha, an Arab psychologist. The university’s approval of this innovation in the formal training for supervisors of social work students represents a notable milestone on the path to a more equitable professional milieu and a more equitable society in general.
“Advocates for Change: Israelis and Palestinians Mental Health professionals in Dialogue and Action” was made possible with the generous support of USAID and the American People in cooperation with the School for Peace at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam and Hewar Center for Peace and Development.