Lisa Fliegel
Trauma Specialist

Dispatch From Eilat #2

Greetings from Eilat, where trauma specialists, grief counselors–all variety of health experts–are trying to, as master saxophonist John Coltrane once put it, “be forces for real good.”  We assist teachers from the attacked kibbutzim in hotel event spaces that they’ve converted into classrooms.

One of our social workers is having trouble with a third-grader. She says, “He is completely apathetic.” She can’t connect. This conversation takes place in a meeting (so many meetings…) guided by Litosh, one of the incredibly skilled young leaders I’ve met down here.

“Okay,” she begins, “what I’m wondering is, tell me the difference between being apathetic and being detached.”

Social Worker: Apathetic means you just don’t care. Detached is disconnected, you don’t know how to participate.

Litosh: He is intentionally, wantonly, not participating.

Social Worker: Yes, a real power struggle.

Litosh: I tell clients, I’m not a teacher or cop or detective or lawyer or judge. It’s my job to be curious. It’s the child’s job to teach me. I say, “You’re you. You’re the expert. You have a PhD in being you! If I’m not getting it, you gotta be a better teacher. Get with the program!”

Immediate laughter. We laugh a lot in meetings.

Litosh: Let me ask you, when do you get disconnected?

Social Worker: When I have a fight with my sister, I’m so mad I want to go in my room and not talk to anybody.

Litosh: Then what do you do?

Social Worker: I’m so mad! I sit there two or three hours, until I calm down. And then I go back.

Litosh: I imagine the boy is incredibly angry. And frightened that if he expresses the anger someone is gonna die! It is so potent! To protect himself from that anger, he detaches himself. You might sit and say to him, ”Sometimes I’m so angry with my sister, I want to punch her in the face! I’m so angry! Then, I step away. I go to my room until I calm down.” And then he’s gonna ask you about it. That gives you an opportunity to talk, and see why he’s detached. He may be disassociating, separating his mind from body. You’re saying he’s not involved? Your little boy might not be there at all!

About the Author
Lisa Fliegel is a Boston-based trauma specialist and American-Israeli writer who has worked internationally, including in Ireland, Israel and Palestine. She is a special clinical consultant to The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, a grassroots non-profit serving survivors of victims of homicide.