866605_piggy_bank_1 A few weeks ago I found out that it was 80% likely I had caught swine flu. Interestingly, despite all I had heard, it wasn’t all that bad: a headache, sore joints and muscles and of course the well-publicised high temperature. In fact, it was so much less dramatic than I had anticipated, I had apparently contracted it at least eight days prior to diagnosis.


 When the headache didn’t shift and I started to feel pretty lousy, I went to the local clinic and it was here that I truly began to feel miserable. When the secretary understood there was suspicion of swine flu, she physically jumped two steps back, curled her mouth into a look of extreme disgust, told me not to move and left the room. A few moments later she returned dangling a surgeon’s mask like toxic waste, barking: “Put this on! Don’t sit near anybody!”

 Feeling pretty humiliated, angry and sorry for myself I looked around the waiting room, to be looked back at by sets of staring, anxious eyes. The patients were spread out more or less evenly. There was no free area for me to sit in, so, feeling pretty weak from the fever, I put on my mask and sat on the floor. Eventually a corner became free and I parked myself there, trying to ignore the stares, the whispering about my suspected condition and the pregnant lady voicing her, of course valid, concerns about me waiting with everyone else.

 The frustrating and humiliating story goes on – the wait from nurse to doctor (who both incidentally were very kind and helpful) was all in all an hour and 40 minutes. For me, however, although we all enjoy a good moan now and again, this is not the most interesting part of the story…

 A couple of things struck my attention over my period of unwellness. Firstly, how automatically our reactions of fear and disgust can be revealed by our faces (and how hurtful this can be to others). Different cultures are expressive to different extents (see this). For this secretary (of note the second secretary behind the desk facially expressed warmth and concern), despite working in a clinic which had diagnosed many cases of swine flu, could not ‘reign in’ her automatic reaction for the sake of professionalism.

 Secondly, how influenced we are by thoughts, words and knowledge. Up until my trip to the clinic I wasn’t too bothered by my symptoms. As soon as I found out there was an 80% chance I had swine flu, I felt significantly worse. Each time I measured my, continually fluctuating, temperature, my sense of illness/wellness altered according to the number on the thermometer. This is some of the theory behind Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – that the thoughts we have, or the reactions we have to physiological experiences, effect our mood and well-being.

 Certainly the most powerful reflection on contracting an infectious illness which can evoke fear or disgust in some, is the nominal insight to the lives of those who live daily with diseases such as HIV, disabilities or disfigurements. 

 Incidently, as an epilogue to this story, it wasn’t swine flu after all.


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1157590_punica The chagim can be a wonderful break from routine; an opportunity to spend time with family, eat good food, take a look back at the year gone past and look forward to the year to come. 

 Of course, it is not always and for everyone the celebratory experience we would hope for.  Dr Darnel, a Psychiatrist at the Asaf Harofeh hospital, comments on the many families in Israel who find the chagim particularly difficult. In addition to the stress and balagan of preparation and entertaining and the sometimes overwhelming combination of personalities at the dinner table, for families who have experienced difficulties, the chagim can be extremely challenging. How do you react to your recently divorced cousin? Do you sit in the empty chair of your lost family member? Do you ask your long-term looking-for-work brother-in-law if he has any leads? How do you cope with the difficulties you experience with your family in this concentrated environment?

 Dr Darnel writes that it is important in these situations we remember that such intense family get-togethers are rare and temporary. He encourages the reader to come to the chag with empathy, respect and patience and, very importantly, to think before speaking.

 But what about those without family in Israel? Chagim can be an especially difficult time for olim and other foreigners living here. Even if family occasions weren’t always perfect back home, suddenly being far away from them and with new traditions and new ways of doing things, they can seem very nostalgic or ‘right’. A chag can become a very lonely time, particularly when you look around and everyone else seems so busy and happy.

 If the chagim are tough for you there are a few things that may help. Firstly, try not to be alone as much as possible. Take advantage of the famous Israeli hospitality and if you have been offered a dinner invitation, try to accept. If this is not an option, you could try to arrange to be with other people who are alone for chag, perhaps seeing friends who are olim chadashim, or going to something organised for the community through one of the olim organisations or religious groups.

 It is important to make sure you have plans, even if they are simply to finish that book you keep meaning to, and to be in touch with those that you miss. If you find yourself extremely upset over the chagim and you become concerned about yourself, then give Eran (the hotline for emotional support) a call.

 However you spend your chag I hope it is a chag sameach and a shana tova!


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1179335_big_eyes  New research from Tel Aviv University by Yoram Barak claims that we may one day be able to find the genetic component of happiness, which may be up to 50% responsible for an optimistic outlook. The researchers are excited that we may potentially be able to manipulate systems and increase levels of happiness.

 Clearly, such a scenario sounds very appealing, but Katie Gilbert asks some thought-provoking questions… Is the genetic theory of happiness sophisticated or reductive? What kind of happiness are we looking for and who decides what happiness is? “Potent and staccato or diluted and sustained? Reality-enhancing or distorting? Self-aggrandizing or humbling?” Furthermore, “how do we account for the way happiness matures and transforms and takes on new definitions over a lifetime?”

 Gilbert raises the question: what if we do discover a genetic ‘switch’ (or a thousand of them) that over a life time is undoubtedly switched on and switched off an uncountable number of times, would we really want it any other way?

 Certainly Barak’s research is exciting and fascinating, but at the same time, as with any genetic research, voices such as Gilbert’s are essential to open up our discussions and consider the implications of manipulating our genes.


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 In the aftermath of shock following the shooting at the Tel Aviv Gay and Lesbian Association building last month, sexuality issues have become a popular discussion in the media. A number of articles of late have been focused on whether it is possible to ‘convert’ homosexual men and women to heterosexuals (for example click here.)

1069414_gender_symbols These articles cite the American Psychological Association’s (APA) recent statement that “there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation” and, moreover, attempting to alter a person’s sexual orientation through aversive treatments can cause harm, such as loss of sexual feeling, suicidality, depression and anxiety.

 Undoubtedly, articles such as these and the APA’s consideration of this can bring about important and helpful change. A resolution has been passed urging mental health professionals not to recommend to their clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or any other methods. A Brazilian psychologist has been publicly reprimanded by Brazil’s Federal Psychology Council for suggesting she could “cure” homosexuals.

 However, these articles leave me with different questions: I am curious to think about why the focus has been on whether it is possible to ‘convert’ homosexuality, instead of thinking about the difficulties we have as individuals and as a society, regardless of who we are attracted to sexually, in managing this difference.


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 As an English speaker living in Israel life can be exciting and exhilarating! But sometimes the pressure of living within a new culture can become a little too much and we can become overwhelmed by the ‘Aliyah rollercoaster’! In any case finding help and locating resources in a foreign language and culture is difficult, but during these times of distress especially, it can become almost impossible to find the help we need.

712793_you_are_here For this reason I wanted to concentrate in one page links to useful information for the English speaker in Israel. I also list these resources on my links page, but here I will go into a little detail about what each site offers.

 I would say for those who are classed as ‘olim chadashim’ or ‘toshavim chozrim’, the first port of call is to turn to one of the olim support organisations. They provide varied and excellent services, including help with finding employment and managing beaurocracy. The Ministry of Absorption will provide essential information and assistance to olim from any country as will The Jewish Agency.

 Esra is a social and community organisation in the central Sharon area of Israel that was set up to help English speakers integrate into Israeli society through social, cultural, educational and civic activities. Members are also able to volunteer in its community projects.

 There are a number of very helpful organisations developed specifically for immigrants from particular countries. North American and British olim can be in touch with Nefesh B’Nefesh. More specifically, Americans and Canadians can gain support from the AACI and British olim from the UJIA . South Africans can contact Telfed and Australians the ZFA .

 Of course any English speaker, oleh or not, can be in touch with their embassy of consulate. 

  If you feel that your difficulties are more of an emotional nature than it may be important to speak with a psychologist. When looking for a psychologist you should check that they are licensed and qualified. You can check that the psychologist’s license with the Register of Israeli Psychologists. Every psychologist will be registered on this site if they are licensed. You can also check out their credentials further if they have a website or, for example, if they have a profile on the networking site: LinkedIn

  It is also important to be aware of the national support organisations. Eran provides a confidential 24-hour, 365 day a year emotional support hotline for people feeling alone, depressed or in crisis. The hotline number is 1201. There are also special departments for senior citizens, soldiers, Russian and Arabic speakers and an internet hotline for youth. 

 Enosh is non-profit association for Mental Health which aims to promote mental health issues, provide rehabilitation services and support during recovery from mental health problems, encourage independent living within the community and fight stigma. It offers to its members: supported housing, vocational rehabilitation, social rehabilitation, holidays in Israel and abroad, mentoring, family counseling and support and continuing education programmes. 

 Na’amat provides support services to women, children and families in Israel. It offers educational programmes, legal counselling, domestic violence intervention, single parent family support groups and cultural enrichment programmes. Emunah promotes religious and zionist ideals through volunteering in community projects and provides spiritual and emotional support for religious women.

 The ‘Agudah’ provides individual, social and community support and information services to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (youth and adult) community and their families.

 The Association of Rape Crisis Centers provides confidential, crisis-oriented assistance to victims of sexual assault and those close to them. The 24 hour crisis line number is 1202 for women and 1203 for men.

 If you are having difficulty managing alcohol or drug misuse you can turn to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.


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 It has been widely researched and assumed since the work of American Psychologist Paul Ekman in the 1970’s,  that human facial expressions are universal. That is, no matter where you grow up and who you encounter, you will always be able to recognise the six basic human emotions of happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, anger and disgust on the face of another.
 Ekman famously found that tribespeople in Papua New Guinea, having never been in contact with Westerners before, were able to recognise facial expressions from photographs. From this he concluded that these facial expressions must be universal.
 Also interesting to note is that Ekman furthered his research into what he termed  ‘microexpressions’ and other verbal signs, which he said could detect lying. He claimed through this he was able to tell that Clinton was not telling the full truth about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
 New research from England,however, by Rachel Jack has found that East Asian research participants frequently confuse fear for surprise and disgust for anger. The researchers noticed that whilst Caucasian participants look at all facial features for cues, Asian participants focus on the eyes. 
 Jack explains that this does not mean that people from East Asian countries don’t notice facial expressions of fear and disgust, but that they may be perceived and conveyed in a different way. She notes that in East Asian cultures showing negative emotions  in public is usually avoided. Perhaps people have learnt to pay close attention to eyes to try to find emotional clues?
 Interestingly, the East Asians’ focus on eyes can even be seen in their ’emoticons’. In the West we are used to seeing ‘happy’, ‘sad’ and ‘surprise’ virtually expressed like this:

: )     : (      : o

 Asian emoticons for ‘happy’, ‘sad’ and ‘surprise’ focus more on the eyes instead of the mouth and look like this:

(^_^)    (T_T)   (*_*)


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 Making Aliyah and the years that follow bring with it a rollercoaster of different emotions and experiences, some liberating and exhilarating and some more complex and stressful. So how can we better acclimatise to a new culture? What predicts a softer landing and an easier ‘settling in’? When are we more likely to adapt in a relatively straightforward way and when are the changes necessary too much for us?

 What does the research say?

 Moving to a new country can potentially be a positive experience; an opportunity for personal growth and self-development [i]. In fact in 2006, Berry and his colleagues found that in the thirteen countries they studied, immigrant adolescents were just as well adapted as their peers and even reported slightly fewer psychological and behavioural difficulties.

 However, as a result of the sudden loss of the “average expectable environment [ii]”, immigration can also potentially be a negative experience, with harmful effects on one’s identity and self-esteem. For example, Berry writes that the loss of one’s own culture (‘culture shedding’) can result in heightened levels of depression and that uncertainties about how to live within the new culture (‘culture learning’) can result in heightened levels of anxiety. Walsh and Horenczyk [iii]found that English-speaking olim, often lose their sense of feeling competent and belonging. Ben-David (1996) found that Russian Olim were less confident in their external environment and their own internal resources. Walsh and her colleagues [iv]found that the stress of Aliyah impacted significantly on the ability of young Russian olim to make independent decisions.

 What is acculturative stress?

 In the past, the term ‘culture shock [v]’ was used to describe the process of moving to a new society. Shock, however, implies that only difficulties arise from contact with a new culture. These days the term ‘acculturative stress’ is preferred (e.g. Berry [vi]). ‘Stress’, as opposed to ‘shock’, is a term that is likely to generate coping strategies rather than helplessness. The term ‘acculturative’ takes into account that stressful experiences lie in the interaction between cultures rather in one culture or the other.

 Furnham [vii]describes six common aspects of acculturative stress:

  1. The strain of making necessary psychological adaptations
  2. A sense of loss of friends, status, profession and possessions
  3. Being rejected by and rejecting members of the new culture
  4. Confusion of roles, values, feelings and self-identity
  5. Surprise, anxiety, disgust and indignation after becoming aware of cultural differences
  6. Feelings of impotence due to not being able to cope with the new environment.

 Stress is worsened when there is a culture clash, in particular when there is a scarcity of resources, such as jobs or education. Just as stressful, however, can be a clash of values or cultural behaviours. Which, when very different, may lead to uncomfortable internal, psychological conflict. For example, ways of interacting, conceptions of courtesy, expressing points of view, getting needs met and so on may not fit in the new society – so waiting in an orderly queue for help may be culturally appropriate in the UK or the States, but may not get you very far at an Israeli shuk!

 What factors affect acculturative stress?

 Berry explains that the level of experienced stress depends upon an interaction between: the society of origin, the society of settlement and personal characteristics – in a sense the balance between ‘push and pull factors’. So, for example, the political, economic and demographic situation of the society of origin relative to the society of settlement will shape experience and affect motivation to migrate and settle. If the society left was perceived to be in a worse situation this is a ‘push factor’ to migrate. If the new society values multi-culturalism and provides social support this may be seen as a ‘pull factor’.

 This makes an interesting situation for the typical English-speaking oleh/olah. On the one hand the political and economic situation is easier and status higher in the country of origin; on the other, Israel, its Ministry of Absorption and the various olim agencies offer Jewish immigrants wide-ranging support and a ‘Kibbutz Galyuot’.

 When it comes to individual characteristics, the most successful immigrant is flexible in personality, somewhat of an extravert [viii] and has a sense of self efficacy and competence [ix]. Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger immigrants, particularly children, make a smoother transition to a new culture (Beiser [x]). Perhaps this is because earlier on there is less embedded culture to ‘shed’, or perhaps we are simply more able to be flexible and adaptable in our younger years. Immigration later in life, after many years of living in one cultural setting, may be more difficult (Beiser [x]). Of note, acculturation can be somewhat problematic during adolescence, perhaps due to the compounding pressure of ordinary developmental identity formation with cultural transition. 

 High status in the country of origin coupled with devaluation of credentials in the country of settlement has a big impact on wellbeing, often leading to depression [xi]. Interestingly, Kim [xii] found that Koreans who emigrated to Canada with high ‘push’ factors tended to have problems with psychological adaptation to the new environment. Immigrants with high ‘pull’ factors, however, tended to have just as many difficulties settling in, but were more able to adapt psychologically. Perhaps this was related to unrealistic expectations of the country of settlement.

 Cultural distance between the old and new societies impacts on acclimatisation, as it leads to a greater culture conflict and ‘shedding’, both resulting in poorer adaptation. For Jewish immigrants cultural distance may be bridged by shared religious and Zionist ideologies, values and perhaps even language. For non-Jewish immigrants, however, the cultural distance may be vast.

 How can we cope with stress?

 One of the most important processes in settling into any new culture is ‘cultural learning’. That is, learning a new behavioural repertoire appropriate for the new cultural context. Learning about the culture even before arriving, the language, history, norms and values can act as a kind of ‘pre-acculturation’. In fact, education in general is a protective factor against Aliyah stress, in that it promotes problem analysis and solving skills. In addition, keeping physically healthy also positively correlates with successful acculturation.

 It is important to try to be flexible in your thinking and behaving and to try and ‘get out there’ and be sociable. Social support is an excellent way of coping with stress. Some find support from those of the original culture the most beneficial [xiii]. Others find relationships with members of the new society most important [xiv]. Supportive relationships with both cultures, however, is most predictive of psychological adaptation [xv].

 What can I do if I am finding it difficult to cope?

 If you are finding it difficult to cope with the process of acculturation there are a number of things you can do. Your focus may be on problem-solving in which case the Ministry of Absorption  or any of the support organisations for olim may be able to help you. If your focus is more on coping with the emotional aspects of Aliyah then it may be helpful to speak to a psychologist or attend one of the support organisations’ Aliyah support groups. If you would like more information please feel free to contact me here.

 Concluding thought 

 This article highlights the inevitable ‘bumps’ of any big transition. I began by comparing Aliyah to a rollercoaster. Perhaps, having made this cultural leap, we can take some wisdom from the grandmother character in the 1989 film Parenthood:

    “when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster…Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!…It was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around…I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it. 

    [i] Sam, D. L. & Berry, J. W. (Eds.) The Cambridge handbook of acculturation psychology (pp. 452–468). New York, NY
    [ii] Hartmann, H. (1950). Comments on the psychoanalytic theory of the ego. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 5, 74–96
    [iii] Walsh, S., & Horenczyk, G. (2001). Gendered patterns of experience in social and cultural transition: The case of English speaking immigrants in Israel. Sex Roles, 45, 501–528.
    [iv] Walsh, S. D., Shulman, S., Feldman, B., & Maurer, O. (2005). The impact of immigration on the internal processes and developmental tasks of emerging adulthood. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34, 413–426.
    [v]Oberg, K. (1960). Culture shock: Adjustment to new cultural environments. Practical Anthropology, 7, 177–182.
    [vi] Sam, D. L. & Berry, J. W. (Eds.) The Cambridge handbook of acculturation psychology (pp. 452–468). New York, NY
    [vii] Furnham, A. (1990). Expatriate stress: The problems of living abroad. In S. Fisher & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), On the move: The psychology of change and transition (pp. 275–301). London: John Wiley & Sons Ltd
    [viii] Ward, C. & and Kennedy, A. (1993) Where is culture in cross-cultural transition? Comparative studies of sojourner adjustment. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 24, 221-249.
    [ix] Schwarzer, R., Hahn, A. & Schroder, H. (1994) Social integration and social support in a life crisis. American Journal of Community Psychology. 22, 685-706.
    [x]Beiser, M., Barwick, C., Berry, J. W., et al (1988) After the door has been opened: mental health issues affecting immigrants and refugees. Ottawa: Departments of Multiculturalism and Health and Welfare.
    [xi]Beiser, M., Johnson, P. & Turner, J. (1993) Unemployment, underemployment and depressive affect among South East Asian refugees. Psychological Medicine, 23, 731-743.
    [xii] Kim, U. (1988) Acculturation of Korean immigrants to Canada. Unpublished doctoral thesis: Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.
    [xiii] Vega, W., Kolody, B., Valle, R. & Weir, J. (1991) Social networks, social support and depression among immigrant Mexican women. Human Organization, 50, 154-162.
    [xiv]  Berry, J. W. & Kostovcik, N. (1990) Psychological adaptation of Malaysian students in Canada. Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
    [xv]  Kealy, D. (1989) A study of cross-cultural effectiveness: theoretical issues, practical applications. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. 13, 387-428

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 Welcome to my blog.

 There are few reasons I wanted to create this blog…

  1. To bring theory and research in psychology and the related fields into a more reader-friendly and lay-accessible format.
  2. To take non-psychological material from the media and give it a psychological perspective.
  3. To help the English-speaking community in Israel gain access to psychological resources.

 I will post a mix of articles, short comments and links to sites of interest and I welcome your comments and questions in return. Please note that comments can be made anonymously or under a pseudonym and email addresses are not shown on the site.

 If you would like to contact me directly click here. If you would like to be updated by e-mail when I post a new blog click here. For sharing options you can click on one of the icons below in each post.


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