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Training Suggestions
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Paula David, MSW, Coordinator, Holocaust Resource Project, Baycrest Centre

The Holocaust and its effects on the post-War world in general, and on Jewish people in particular, have spawned a large and complex range of historic and social study. Although liberation occurred nearly 60 years ago, so long as there are living witnesses to the mass genocide, the final chapter cannot be written. In fact, it's quite possible that understanding of the depths of degradation and pain may be beyond our reach.

Survivors who are still alive today are nearly all in their 70s, 80s and 90s. They survived and an incomprehensible assault, but like all of us, they must face the uncertainties of age and poor health. Like all of us, they, too will one day pass away.

Clinicians who work with these elderly Survivors can easily be overwhelmed by the scale of the atrocities, and also by the resilience and strength these men and women showed in the post-War years. Even those with professional training in family violence issues or post-traumatic stress other than the Holocaust experience may not be prepared to work with this group of clients.

The importance of professional development in all disciplines cannot be underestimated. In order to meet the various needs of an agency or institution, trainers must have a flexible range of options. Such options must be relevant. They must effectively address the issues, yet be compatible with the needs and requirements within each discipline.

Here are two models for such training:

One Hour Training Session
This one-hour presentation utilizes material from this Manual. Customized Xeroxed handouts can make the session relevant to the trainee audience. Based on a traditional one hour in-service, the session provides an overview of the issues and directs attendees to follow-up articles specific to their own role. If the group is mixed, case examples from the participants can provide excellent material for discussion. Participants should be aware that this is an overview only, and should be left with a desire to learn more. Comprehensive handouts are critical, and sections from this Manual can be photocopied for this purpose. A possible structure for the session might be as follows:
  • a Chronology of the Holocaust
  • presentation of a 20-minute video relevant to the topic (recommended are Menorah Park's "Painful Memories", Baycrest Centre For Geriatric Care's, "CBC News, Baycrest Cares for Aging Holocaust Survivors" or a video relevant to your agency)
  • a summary of "Environmental Factors and Potential Triggers" and "Communicating with Survivors - Terms and Translations"
  • group discussion of personal experience and reactions to subject matter
  • a selection of one to three articles chosen by the Trainer and maintained by the Coordinators given as part of the Training Manual Handout (Please refer to the Further Reading Section)
  • standardized evaluations completed by both participants and trainer
A Model for Intensive Professional Development

In all professional disciplines, experienced clinicians should attend ongoing professional development sessions as a vital part of their practice. Often, in the course of daily practice, the occasional specialized workshop or lecture is offered. But such sessions do not usually recognize the range and richness of the participants' experiences and practical knowledge. The single lecture cannot ensure a sustaining confidence in change and the development of new approaches.

In highly specialized areas, the practicing clinician often proves to be more cognizant, flexible and responsive to changing clinical issues than the visiting "expert." It 's important to remember that the most relevant learning tends to happen on an informal basis, when practitioners feel comfortable and are willing to share questions, vulnerabilities and new approaches.

The challenge in forming this Professional Development Model is to capture and sustain both the spontaneity and sharing of the informal model, combining it with enough formality to define a common baseline of new information. The goal in developing an educational tool for practicing clinicians is to promote clinical expertise, collegial interaction and professional development in a way which is both cost- and time-effective.
Holocaust Education Group: A Pilot Project

Based on a pilot project with seven experienced clinicians from a range of services in a geriatric setting, the group model with a pre-defined structure has proven effective. Subsequent groups have expanded the concept and confirmed the success of the model. The resultant Holocaust Education Group combines the theory of the task-oriented group with the motivational benefits of the self-help group. In the task-oriented group, the product - in this case, increased clinical expertise - is the tangible and re-directing focus that allows members to enjoy the benefits of group participation. The self-help component empowers members to organize and sustain the Group based on mutual need and concerns. The leader becomes an external facilitator in both instances, ensuring that members proceed independently, taking full ownership of the Group's direction and the ultimate achievement of goals.

It is important to develop an atmosphere of mutual trust which is free of pressure, especially during the initial Group session. The topic is an emotional one, the time commitment is a large one for busy staff, and exposing vulnerabilities to one's peers can be threatening. However, the opportunity to learn in a supportive inclusive environment more than compensates for the difficulties. Articles and resources are distributed at each meeting for discussion at the next meeting, but there is no pressure to comply, and the Group might decide to use the articles only as shared ground for examining different issues. When the expectations and standards are defined by the participants, the resultant effort is often more ambitious.

Both individual members' perspectives and the mutuality of the Group process allows for unique learning. Participants in these study groups have unanimously defined the experience as positive, citing new knowledge, heightened sensitivity and increased mutual respect for colleagues as the most positive outcomes. Obviously, regardless of professional commonalties, the individuals within each Group define the direction, tone and outcome of the series. Therefore, each Group series examines the issues from different perspectives, using different case studies, and contributes unique insights, approaches and conclusions. The potential for professional growth in this context is open-ended and dynamic.
The Development of a Peer Study Group on Caring for Aging Survivors
  1. Convene a small group for mutual support and professional development. Five to seven members are an optimum number for both diversity and group intimacy.

  2. The facilitator should develop guidelines, learning goals and documentation format prior to the first group meeting to allow members scope for discussion and further development.

  3. Establish a theoretical theme of mutual interest to all group members.

  4. Six sessions of one-and-a-half hours each (timing and frequency of sessions to be determined by group members at the first meeting) allows for group formation, academic development and practice-related analysis.

  5. In order to develop the pilot group, a facilitator was assigned, as was the topic. This is recommended for initial group series, after which continuation would be based on group discussion, commitment and joint participation in preparation, subject matter and evaluation.
Recommended Group Meeting Outline

Session One:
This meeting should deal with both "housekeeping" concerns and clarify individual and group goals. A definition of practice area and methods of operationalizing the sharing of knowledge and new material is established. Members divide responsibilities such as room bookings, photocopying and accessing articles for the duration of the series.

Session Two:
This is the opportunity to develop a group definition of the subject matter and to explore personal and professional experience within the topic area. A relevant article that has been read prior to attendance is useful as a basis for discussion.

Session Three:
This session bases a "round-table" discussion of individuals' personal life perspective on the topic area, encouraging biases, questions and the use of self in light of the particular subject matter. Individualizing members' experience both academically and experientially highlights how personal styles and individual differences further enrich the learning in the safety of a group experience.

Session Four:
Individual members who feel comfortable resenting an article, which should be pre-distributed and pre-read by members, should be prepared to lead the discussion. By this time, the group format encourages lively debate, personal perspectives on the topic at hand and a continued discussion of actual case examples.

Session Five:
At this stage, the group should be assessing the topic area for its role in a geriatric setting and how to make practical use of discussion material within individual services. Consideration should be given to evaluating the learning process, the results obtained and concrete methods for translating new learning to everyday practice.

Session Six:
This is a session for evaluation and closure. Each participant should complete a brief, written evaluation. This ensures an assessment of the group learning approach, the expansion (if this has occurred) of a knowledge base, and predicted effects on current practice. A group member must take responsibility for preparing and collating the evaluations. Part of closure should allow group members to decide whether to begin another group series on another topic and what steps are necessary for that process. Copies of articles discussed should be attached to the final evaluation.