News Release

Mental Health Practice and Palestine


Clinical psychologist Lara Sheehi explains how, historically, the Israeli state has used the mental health professions to further its occupation. Israel, Sheehi argues, normalizes its borders via the conscription of professional organizations including in the mental health field––by holding mandatory mental health “continuing education” workshops in illegal settlements, denying visas and entry to clinicians who might be able to offer valuable educational training, and erasing the Palestinian presence in the region by prohibiting Palestinian clinicians in Israel from using “Palestinian” in their organizational names, planning, or communications. 

    Sheehi is an assistant professor of clinical psychology at George Washington University and president of the Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychology (APA Division 39). 

Sheehi told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “In the U.S. and in Europe, we are seeing a significant rise in the targeting of clinicians who are working to highlight how structural oppression is intimately linked with our ethical imperatives as clinicians. We have also seen an increase in professional and personal harassment, intimidation, and silencing” of these clinicians. Further, “notorious pro-Israel apartheid activists and organizations” have infiltrated “once-specialized clinical listservs,” creating “vehement pro-Israel mental health ad hoc groups that present themselves as representing specialty interests.” 

Sheehi said that colleagues in the clinical community, including those who live in Israel, “are horrified as they bear witness to the genocide happening in Gaza. Yet [these clinicians are] committed to holding space for colleagues, patients, and families across Palestine who have been subjected to raids, kidnappings, unlawful imprisonment and assassinations. They are especially concerned about the rising death toll of children in Gaza, the traumatic effects of this unprecedented genocidal intervention, and the welfare and status of the hundreds of child prisoners that the state of Israel has been holding and refusing to release, far before October 7.” These clinicians “refuse to allow our mental health theories to be perversely weaponized to normalize and sanction the machinery that creates the conditions of psychic suffering.”

Sheehi noted that many other clinicians who study trauma have been silent as they watch “the real-time unfolding of a genocide… More disturbing are the [clinicians] who claim they are trauma-informed, [yet] have publicly and in writing advocated for genocide, documenting their support for the cutting off of water, fuel, and food from a besieged Palestinian population in Gaza. We are seeing the real-time violent infliction of what will become known and written about as what caused intergenerational trauma for Palestinians for generations to come. This time, unlike the Nakba, we must not silence, sideline, suppress or disavow their narratives. 

“Clinicians of conscience the world over are making their voices heard. [They are] highlighting that our ethical principles of beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice, and integrity provide a clear guide on how we must not only call for a ceasefire, but also advocate relentlessly for a lifting of the siege on Gaza and the disruption of settler colonial violence that has been inflicted on the Palestinian people for 75 years.” 

Sheehi pointed to statements from the following clinically-oriented organizations: 

  • Palestine Global Mental Health Network
  • The UK Palestine Mental Health Network
  • The USA Palestine Mental Health Network
  • The Psychological Society of South Africa
  • Jewish Voice for Peace Healthcare Advisory Council
  • The American Arab Middle Eastern and North African Psychological Association
  • The Asian American Psychological Association Executive Committee
  • The Section of Psychoanalysis for Social Responsibility of the Society of Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychology
  • The BIPOCanalysis Collective