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Dr. Irit Felsen on Holocaust Survivors Being Online During the Pandemic

Dr. Irit FelsenDr. Irit Felsen, adjunct professor at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, has published “‘Web-Based, Second-Best Togetherness’: Psychosocial Group Intervention With Children of Holocaust Survivors During COVID-19” in American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (Vol 91(2), 2021, 171-180).

Here is the abstract:

Evidence from multiple samples of trauma-exposed populations across the globe suggests that intergenerational trauma constitutes a biopsychological risk factor which manifests itself throughout the life cycle of offspring of trauma survivors. Prior empirical studies have shown that adult children of Holocaust survivors (OHS, also referred to in select quotes as 2G for “Second Generation”) are vulnerable to life-threatening situations.

This study aimed to examine the reactions of OHS to the COVID-19 pandemic, which posed a serious threat to the lives of many, in particular to older adults. As they enter middle age, OHS were observed to have more medical health issues and less positive perceptions of their own aging relative to peers. Less positive subjective aging was associated with more negative psychiatric symptoms in relation to Covid-19-related loneliness, further suggesting that OHS are a group of aging adults with particular vulnerabilities to negative mental health effects of the pandemic and of the social distancing and isolation it imposed.

This study is a qualitative report of experiences expressed by over 1,200 participants in several web-based interactive webinars for OHS during the period of “shelter at home” inMarch and April 2020. It is proposed that this format of “web-based, second-best” way of being together, an intervention that emerged spontaneously in response to the coronavirus and social distancing, offers a novel, nonpathologizing, effective form of supportive psychosocial intervention uniquely suited to the unprecedented challenges experienced during times requiring social distancing.

“The new web-based technologies offer novel, efficient tools for providing specific, culturally sensitive, group-relevant, psychosocial and mental health prevention and intervention strategies that are uniquely well suited for situations in which social distancing might be required,” said Dr. Felsen. “Such interventions offer collective spaces to contain common vulnerabilities and a potential space for expressing and processing trauma-related experiences that participants feel cannot be shared or fully understood elsewhere.”

Dr. Felsen believes that future research will need to examine the effectiveness of such interventions and refine the application and implementation of specific aspects based on empirical evidence because “web-based, second-best togetherness” ought to be tailored specifically for the unique challenges of each subpopulation, especially if the unprecedented circumstances that were created by the COVID-19 pandemic occur again.

See Dr. Felsen’s other recent publication on the effect of COVID-19 on Holocaust survivors, “Parental PTSD and Psychological Reactions during the COVID-19 Pandemic among Offspring of Holocaust Survivors.”