TOP STORIES Shared Suffering - The New York Times

Shared Suffering – The New York Times


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Katya Pokrovskaya, a 39-year-old psychotherapist, was sleeping at her home in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 24 when the sound of explosions woke her and her husband. Russia launched an invasion. “At that moment, our life stopped,” she said.

Pokrovskaya tried to help her patients deal with the stress and trauma of war. But she survived it herself.

“We began to sleep badly; my body was tense,” she said. “The sirens became more and more frequent, especially at night. All this was very depressing, exhausting mentally and physically.

In early March, Pokrovskaya saw on Telegram that Israeli psychotherapists were offering free support to their Ukrainian counterparts, drawing on their country’s military experience. She asked for help and found something transformative. “It is very valuable for us that we can discuss our issues with such excellent specialists,” she said.

The Israeli group was founded by Zhenya Pukshansky, a Ukrainian psychologist from Israel.
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At first, Pukshanska posted her phone number on social media offering support to Ukrainians, but she was quickly inundated with requests for help. Together with colleagues, she organized hundreds of Israeli mental health professionals who volunteered their services, first as crisis support for people seeking help, and then as a long-term guide for therapists in Ukraine.

They are now engaged in a frighteningly ambitious project: to help Ukrainians deal with the mental health effects of the war, even as the war continues.

Experts say that most people who experience a traumatic event, defined clinically as an episode of actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual abuse, experience some symptoms, such as nightmares, anxiety, or headaches, but then recover.

A smaller subset develop debilitating long-term distress or post-traumatic stress disorder. George Bonanno, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University who studies trauma and resilience, estimated the total number of cases at less than 10%. In a country where millions of people have experienced traumatic events, that means there are a lot of people. And in some cases, the percentage of people who develop post-traumatic stress disorder may be higher.

According to Patricia Resick, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University who developed cognitive processing therapy, a specialized form of trauma treatment, one factor in people developing long-term problems is whether their community shares the trauma. “We’re seeing lower rates of things like PTSD after natural disasters than after individual events because of community involvement,” she said. “They support each other and sometimes that makes all the difference.”

War can be such a shared experience, especially when a nation unites against a common enemy, like Ukraine against Russia.

But some types of injury are more isolating. “When you are raped, you are raped alone,” Rezik said, referring to both the typical circumstances of the crime and the stigma that follows.

Soldiers experience trauma but often feel isolated and ashamed of it, said Valery Khazanov, a Jerusalem-based psychologist who helps lead the monitoring team for Pokrovskaya. According to him, in the “macho” Israeli army, it used to be believed that “if you come back with post-traumatic stress disorder, then something is wrong with you.”

This mindset began to change, especially after the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. “Today, they talk about it much more,” Khazanov said. “There’s more understanding that trauma is integral to what’s going on here.”

He hopes that the Israeli project will help Ukrainian therapists to achieve a similar adaptation of consciousness. “We talked directly to them about it and kind of anticipated and thought about this shift together,” he told me.

Pokrovskaya wants to make it a priority to correct public perceptions of trauma and destigmatize the notion of going to a psychotherapist. She wants Ukrainians to, in her words, “develop a culture of asking for help from specialists, rather than doing it on their own.”

For now, the war continues for both therapists in Ukraine and their clients.

Pokrovskaya was temporarily relocated to a nearby town, but she still felt unable to escape. “There were days when the explosions did not subside. Emotionally and physically it was very hard,” she said.

Over time, she noticed the progression of the invasion according to the changing needs of her clients. “At first it was crisis aid,” she said. “There have been many requests to deal with panic attacks.”

Later, people turned for help with resettlement problems: conflicts with new neighbors or between family members who once sheltered distant relatives. Relations cracked due to stress, when mothers took their children out of the country, and fathers remained to fight.

Now, according to Pokrovskaya, many patients are struggling with chronic trauma and grief, struggling with the magnitude of their losses. “They have a hard time managing their emotions,” she said. “There is coming awareness of the extent of the losses for their families.”

In April, she and her husband returned home to Kyiv. They hope to stay, but are ready to flee at any moment. “We always have a plan in mind,” she said. We have everything ready, suitcases in case of unforeseen circumstances.

Louis Theroux, 52, is hardly a hip-hop sensation. However, a short rap by Theroux, a bookish British-American documentary filmmaker, is taking the internet by storm. If you’ve been on TikTok, you’ve probably heard the hook: “My money isn’t shaking, it’s folding.”

The song was born in 2000 in Louis Theroux’s Strange Weekend, a BBC series in which he delved into various subcultures. Reese and Bigalow, a rap duo from Jackson, Mississippi, helped shape the song. But it all started this year when Theru deadpanned a rap on the popular online talk show Chicken Shop Date.

This clip has inspired DJs and dancers alike, spawning legions of videos featuring the same sluggish moves. Stars such as Shakira, Snoop Dogg and Megan T Stallion danced to the track. Teru, not wanting to miss the moment, re-recorded it. “I sincerely hope that we can all make this phenomenon fun. Or maybe a few folds,” he told The Times. — Natasha Frost, Briefing Writer

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