Israeli Trauma Counseling Comforts Japanese Kids

On their recent trip to Japan, Israeli psychologists Dr. Flora Mor and Dr. Shai Hen-Gal expanded the impact of their Hibuki therapy model on Japanese children traumatized by the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis.

Developed by Drs. Mor and Hen-Gal, JDC, and other Israeli partners to alleviate Israeli children’s anxiety during the Second Lebanon War, today Hibuki helps thousands of children express their fears and relive their trauma through spontaneous play with a “huggable” Hibuki doll. This enables them to process—and their caregivers to understand—their traumatic experience more fully.

The continued efficacy of the Hibuki program became eminently clear just days ago as Drs. Mor and Hen-Gal worked with traumatized children, parents, and teachers at Fuji Kindergarten, where eight children and a teacher who tried to save them were all killed when the tsunami struck. Many of the school's families and faculty members lost relatives and/or their homes during the disaster; a significant number are still living in temporary shelters, and others have refused to return to the area, fearing a repeat disaster.

In fact, the school remains in a near constant state of panic: as the Israelis were visiting the kindergarten, a minor earthquake hit, sending everyone into emergency mode.

At one point in the course of the Israelis’ visit, a little boy took his Hibuki doll and began performing resuscitation exercises on the stuffed animal. Eventually, after listening for breathing, the boy concluded that the animal had not survived. It was later revealed that this boy had witnessed the death of his friend during the tsunami, and had watched as his teachers tried desperately but unsuccessfully to resuscitate him.

Watching the little boy relive his trauma, one teacher became very sad. “He’d been exhibiting violent behavior ever since the tsunami struck, and we had not known how to help him,” she confessed. The Hibuki training that the parents and teachers received addressed precisely this concern, giving adults the tools to understand and be able to respond constructively to the children's spontaneous play.


The kindergarten’s principal, who happened to be away from the school during the March 2011 tsunami, had been plagued with overwhelming guilt and depression ever since the disaster. She had isolated herself in her home for months, unable to face the school community. Colleagues and friends brought her against her will to the original Hibuki training sessions in the fall of 2011, and today she credits the program with “giving me the strength” to finally begin to move forward.

For an update on JDC's relief and recovery efforts in Japan, visit: jdc.org

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