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Bringing Trauma Therapy to China

trauma-1 Creative Movement with students in Chinese College

Gail's contributions to Israel are significant 

 When you meet Gail (Bernstein) Suskin you wouldn't imagine you were talking to someone with a PhD in Gender Studies and a whole string of other degrees. Gail is friendly, modest, and down to earth.

Gail grew up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, one of three children to Ros and the late Michael Bernstein. She attended Theodor Herzl School, excelling in sports and gymnastics. By the time she was 18 her family moved to Johannesburg, where she began her academic career at Witwatersrand University. With her Zionist background, Gail made aliyah in 1986, settling in Raanana and working in the gym of the Health Connection.

She soon met Dr. Michelle Shapiro, founder of Beit Issie Shapiro, who established the first Snoezelen Room in Israel. Later they teamed together professionally. The Snoezelen Room is an innovative, versatile approach to therapy – a multi-sensory room – today used extensively by paramedical, emotional, and movement therapists. "Imported" from Holland, the room was intended initially for children with autism and special needs. Today it is used to help both adults and children overcome a range of problems such as sensory issues, trauma, post-partum depression and more. At Beit Issie one can find a Snoezelen dental clinic for disabled children and a wet Snoezelen (in a swimming pool). As a dance/movement therapist, Gail has developed methods to treat trauma. Following the Second Lebanon War she and her colleagues treated 100 adults and children for PTSD in the Snoezelen Room, established by Gail, at the Arugot Child and Family Center in Haifa. She is presently the coordinator there of emotional therapies, and provides professional guidance to senior staff.

Gail met her husband Gary in Raanana, Gary came on aliyah when he was 14, served in an IDF Nachal Unit, and became an engineer. Gail and Gary moved to Moshav Manof in the Galilee, and have three children: Guy, Gil, and Gefen. Guy fought in an elite combat unit and is completing his degree in Sports Psychology at Tel Aviv University. Gil is presently an army officer, and Gefen has just completed her army service as a sports instructor. Gary retired early as an engineer, and uses his creative skills to restore furniture.

Gail and her family

 Gail teaches in Beit Issie Shapiro's Snoezelen Room course with Dr. Michelle Shapiro. In 2008 she and Michelle travelled to Holland to lecture at the 6th International Snoezelen Symposium of ISNA on trauma therapy.

Besides her PhD in Gender Studies, based on groundbreaking research on body image of ultra-orthodox women using dance/movement groups, her degrees include: Teaching Diploma (Wits University), BA in Psychology (U.N.I.S.A.), Diploma in Expressive Therapies specializing in Dance & Movement (Haifa University), MA in Women's Studies (Lesley University), Teaching Diploma for paramedical workers, and a course in trauma therapy at the Israel Psychotrauma Center.

Gail also holds the position of Chair in the Department of Creative Arts in Education at Oranim College of Education in Tivon. In that capacity, in the last two years she has travelled five times to China to teach the relevance and the methods of using movement in early childhood education. In China she has visited a number of preschools ranging from 450 to 1300 kids in a complex with 35 children per class. Many Chinese see Israel's creativity and approach to early childhood education as the reasons for being a startup nation and they are eager to learn from us.

Gail is a sought after lecturer both locally and abroad. At a conference in Jerusalem she gave a workshop for religious and Haredi therapists called: "When motion meets e-motion". In Germany she lectured on trauma at a conference "Mirror to the World". In Poland she presented a paper at the ECARTE (European Consortium for Arts Therapies) conference on her dissertation in gender studies on body and self-perception of Israeli women. Her research compares different sectors, using a short-term culturally sensitive Dance/Movement Model and proves the effectivity of such an approach, resulting in improved psychological wellbeing and body perception. Gail is scheduled to lecture in Vienna in the summer on creative arts in early childhood education, in addition to culturally sensitive work with both Arab and Jewish education students.

She was introduced to the Haredi sector at Arugot twenty-three years ago, developing her methods of sensitivity to culture. Over the years she has touched the lives of thousands of women and children, directly and indirectly. She also ran a creative movement group for women who benefitted from her never-ending stream of new ideas near her hometown Manof.

Working at Arugot, which services the religious and ultra-orthodox sector, Gail has come into contact with many children and entire families who benefit from her understanding of culturally sensitive issues and methods. The mix of cultures at Arugot enables non-religious staff members to treat religious children. The center also initiated an exciting outreach program to reach out to women in a shelter for battered women. Their Psychodrama Therapist whom Gail supervises, a Yiddish speaking therapist of Chassidic background, goes weekly to the shelter treating mainly Arab and other non-Jewish residents. Quoting Gail, "the only way to bridge the gaps in Israel's troubled society is to begin to create a shared society".

Today Gail divides her time between Oranim and Arugot. 

Children in the Snoezelen Room, Arugot, Haifa

In the past she has worked all over the country, going as far as Sderot to help alleviate trauma (where a missile fell next to her car as she was leaving), and providing professional guidance to educators in the all-boys school system of Bnei Brak.

Gail shares a moving story about Snoezelen Room therapy: Eitan, a boy of 12, had lost his father in a terrorist attack near the northern border. "It was a very moving case. For years, he didn't process his loss or express his grief. When he started to wet his bed, his mother, who had in the meantime remarried, brought him, with tears in her eyes, seeking help." Gail stepped in with love, warmth and understanding, meeting with Eitan once a week. "At first, Eitan was withdrawn and would keep himself occupied quietly with various pieces of equipment. One day he noticed a white board with a laser pen. He wrote his name Eitan, which slowly faded and disappeared." Gail wrote her name; it too disappeared. Then he wrote the words ABBA and his father's name. All the words disappeared. This set off a process of healing. A few months later they finished therapy. Many years afterwards Gail bumped into his mother who was overwhelmed to meet her and immediately called her son, who remembered Gail. She proudly showed Gail a picture of her son Eitan serving in the army.

Gail's contributions to Israel are significant, she has made a difference to Israeli society and is proof that one person can do so much.

Signing collaborative agreement with Dr. Gail Suskin and President of Ya’anan College


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Tuesday, 23 April 2024

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