A Community of Heart: Mona Zaghrout-Hodali



Mona Zaghrout-Hodali is Head of Counseling in the Rehabilitation services of the East Jerusalem YMCA, which provides services throughout East Jerusalem and the West Bank and extending in training and supervision to other areas in the Middle East and North Africa. These are areas of ongoing conflict and ongoing trauma and ones in which many people experience bereavement, disability, physical, emotional and psychological difficulties and a loss of hope.

It is in this environment that Mona was born and brought up, living in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem in a family that provided love, emotional support and a strong sense of justice and integrity. The old city was a mixed community that included different ethnic and religious groups and it was here that Mona’s concern for others, acceptance, care and support grew.

As a result of this awareness of the needs of others, Mona went to Bethlehem University to study Psychology and Social Work as a double major. Part of her course included practical work and she chose to work with disadvantaged and disturbed youths in East Jerusalem. As a practicum this was groundbreaking, and it is indicative of Mona’s commitment to others. In spite of being advised against working in what was seen as a potentially difficult situation, Mona persisted in trying to bring her insights into social and psychological needs to the people in the old city. It was in this practicum work that Mona became acutely aware of the fear and loss of hope in some of these young people. It was also during her time at university when the conflict increased, and the First Intifada began.

In 1987, Bethlehem University was closed down due to the conflict. For a time, it seemed as if everything had stopped. The teaching staff began to help their students by conducting classes at their own homes. This took longer than classes in school and Mona’s last year took two years. Although she officially graduated in 1989, there was no actual graduation until 1991 when the university was reopened.

Within this time period (1989), Mona began to work as a counselor with the YMCA in Beit Sahour (part of the East Jerusalem YMCA) in the District of Bethlehem. In response to the growing need, the YMCA had begun to work with young Palestinians who had been injured. Mona again experienced the fear, pain and loss of hope that many of these people endured. She noted how difficult it was to see these young people traumatized with so many difficult physical and psychological injuries. At the time, there was no awareness of the psychological problems resulting from traumatic events and it was thought that only people with mental health problems needed psychological help. After catastrophic injuries, such as amputations, head trauma and spinal cord injuries, patients were sent home with their psychological wounds untreated. The YMCA staff began to see how families were having difficulties in how to handle their injured children. Families were overprotecting children, for example, by not letting them get out of bed or the home, or they acted as if there was nothing wrong and encouraged their children to act as they had before the injury. The children got lost between them.

This was a time of innovation. Mona and her colleagues recognized the need to help people, not only in Bethlehem and Jerusalem but throughout Palestine. Growing out of a desperate need, the YMCA began a six-month program called the “East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program” to help people throughout Palestine who had been traumatized and had physical disabilities.

It was a difficult time, as people were severely injured and were feeling fear and anger. The work continued, and Mona recounted how important it was to bring back hope to the people and their families. She rapidly developed an understanding of the psychological and social needs of traumatized people. She guided the counseling service in knowing how to support them and help the children and young people to continue their lives and return to school. This approach grew into a psycho-social holistic approach as Mona and colleagues found that there was so much more that had to be done. They began vocational rehabilitation, house and school modification, child, teacher and community education, advocacy, family intervention and counseling. After six months, the project was succeeding, and the YMCA extended the project for another three years or until the time that there was no more need. That time did not come. The program continues to this day because of the ongoing situation and the growing need for the services provided.

It was recognized that there was a need for professional training in the treatment of trauma and working with people with disabilities. In 1994, the Australian Red Cross in collaboration with the YMCA and Flinders University of South Australia created an advanced Postgraduate Diploma in Disability Counseling in Jerusalem. Mona was one of five senior staff in a program that later became an MA in Counseling from the University of Flinders.

Mona’s work has developed in keeping with her increasing knowledge, expertise and experience in rehabilitation in an area of ongoing trauma. At the YMCA, her mandate is to provide services to people in need, regardless of gender, background or religion. She has provided individual, group and family therapy with adults and children throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem. Together with other colleagues, she established and developed the counseling and supervision services provided by the East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program in Palestine. Her experience and expertise has also been used internationally, for example as a Member of the World Council of Churches Mental Health Consultancy Group. She also provided insight into the psychological issues in war zones and area of ongoing conflict, as a member of the Global Technical Group on Psycho-Social Well-being in New York. She represented Palestine and the Middle East as a board member of the General Assembly of the Defense for Children International, as well as acting as a consultant to Dignity International human rights group and as a trainer with UNICEF in the Psychosocial Well-being for Children in Crisis program.

At home, Mona supervises 11 teams that span the West Bank. They work with families and adults, young adults, and children who have been traumatized and have disabilities. Treatment includes trauma therapy, empowerment to heal through different treatment modalities, increasing the awareness of the community about those who have been traumatized and have a disability and advocating for their rights.

Mona’s responsibility for the psychosocial support teams includes giving supervision for projects under the auspices of UNICEF. The goal of this project is to increase networking, coordination and cooperation between counseling and mental health organizations and build their capacities so that they are ready to provide emergency interventions to the traumatized children and their families who are survivors of political and domestic violence all over the areas of the West Bank and Jerusalem. She also has been supervising United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) mental health supervisors who are working with Palestinians in refugee camps. Recently, Mona and her colleagues have also worked with Palestinians from Gaza with severe and complex injuries in hospitals in Jerusalem.

The work of the YMCA programs is aimed at protecting and restoring the psychological wellbeing of people and communities in the most affected areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They empower psychosocial professionals in providing services to children and their families.

Consultation and supervision are an important part the services Mona provides, and she has developed a very clear framework for consultation and supervision for therapists working in the field in Palestine and in other Arab countries. She has utilized modern communications to conduct consultations: face-to-face, by telephone and through email locally and internationally.

As a professional mental health provider and consultant, Mona has noted over the years how often people returned to their therapists because of the ongoing situation (ongoing traumas). The work was not complete and there were long waiting lists for people seeking counseling help. She was always searching for a better and more effective therapeutic approach and asked every professional she met, “Do you know something that would work better for an ongoing situation?” In 2000, her question was answered when she attended the first EMDR training on the West Bank in Bethlehem. During her practicum, she worked on a very traumatic incident. She had noted that since the incident there had been something inside her that would not leave, and it felt like something heavy was on her chest. By the end of her reprocessing, something changed dramatically for her. From then on, Mona was committed to complete her EMDR training and to provide EMDR therapy in the field. Unfortunately, before she could take Part 2 of the EMDR training, the Second Intifada began.

Again, this was a difficult time. Transportation and movement was restricted. At one stage the YMCA in Beit Sahour came under fire. People were injured and severely disabled. It was an ongoing crisis with ongoing trauma. Mona was committed to bringing the best possible care to the people, psychologically and physically but she was unable to bring further training to the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

By good fortune, EMDR Trainer Janet Wright, came to the YMCA to provide training in play therapy and she also taught the counseling staff the EMDR Integrative Group Treatment Protocol (IGTP). Through Janet, Mona found the EMDR Part 2 training that she needed in Turkey. In this training, not only did she learn more about practicing EMDR therapy, she reprocessed a personal phobia from childhood that had been a significant limitation. Mona was very surprised by the reprocessing and after her second practicum, life transformed in that she no longer had this phobia or the major limitation.

At the Part 2 training, she invited Jim Knipe and Peggy Moore to do EMDR training in Palestine and Mona came back with a great deal of excitement about opening up EMDR further. To her surprise, people were not so excited, as they thought it was very Western and not appropriate, and that she would be wasting their time and money. Mona, who is never easily deterred, decided that if EMDR worked for her, it would work for everyone. She went on to find funding to train counselors in EMDR therapy. As the participants used EMDR in practice, the word spread about the effectiveness of EMDR therapy and people came into their offices asking for EMDR. This has been a remarkably consistent response: that even people (and service providers) who had been opposed to the idea of EMDR were, on the evidence of the successful work being done, asking for EMDR to be provided and other agencies began to ask for their therapists to be trained. Individuals who had seen their friends or family change as a result of the therapy, came to ask for EMDR for themselves. No one had ever asked for a particular modality of therapy before!

With the support of Bob Gelbach from EMDR HAP, further EMDR trainings were arranged. The change in the people involved in the rehab program has been very rewarding as Mona sees the brightness in their eyes and the satisfaction of the counselors with the success of EMDR with the most difficult of cases. Counselors needed fewer sessions with clients so that, alongside some rapid response work, the once long waiting list is now much shorter. More importantly, it was clear that the people who had been without hope now had hope, and a confidence in themselves and others.

Mona’s interest was so keen that she became an EMDR Facilitator, Consultant, Trainer, and is now a Trainer-of-Trainers. During the trainings she attended, she became the interpreter and translator and has translated much of the training material into Arabic. Her skill as a counselor and an EMDR practitioner came together with her knowledge of language and culture and resulted in a better understanding for those who were trained. In 2007, she attended a Trainer’s Training in Cologne, Germany and then did the second level with Francine Shapiro at Sea Ranch, California in 2010. By 2012, she became an EMDR trainer, and the first EMDR Arab trainer. Mona has now provided trainings in Arabic for mental health workers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and therapists in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya and Turkey with Arabic-speaking colleagues attending from Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Libya. (She also contributed to training in Kenya). EMDR practitioners began reporting how effective EMDR therapy is with their clients and how much it is needed in their countries. Some of these trainings have been difficult to arrange because of travel restrictions and ongoing conflict, and some have been in situations of tight security, but it is a tribute to Mona that she has gone ahead with these trainings and a tribute to the trainees that they are able to bring EMDR to people and refugees in and from Syria, Iraq, Libya and other countries and war zones.

Mona has made a considerable contribution to the development of EMDR in Arab settings. At the EMDR International Association Annual Conference in 2012, Mona was presented with the “Elizabeth Snyker Award for Outstanding Service as a Volunteer for EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs,” especially in the Arabic speaking world. She has written two articles for the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research: “Building resilience and dismantling fear: EMDR group protocol with children in an area of ongoing trauma” (Zaghrout-Hodali, Alissa & Dodgson, 2008) and “Humanitarian Work Using EMDR in Palestine and the Arab World” (Zaghrout-Hodali, in Press).

Mona’s strategy has been to find the most qualified and enthusiastic people who have the skills, experience and personality to support development of EMDR in their country. Already, she has trained 4 facilitators in Lebanon, 1 from Iraq, 1 from Syria, and 6 from Palestine with more to follow. Her hope is to have two trainers in every Arab country and have a regional EMDR Association for the Arab World.

To the EMDR Community, Mona says:

“I feel honored to be part of the EMDR community as I feel that people who work with EMDR have something special. I feel supported and energized by my contact with them and it feels like a big family. It is important that we continue to bring EMDR therapy to people in need all over the world. I believe that EMDR is bringing inner peace to people who have been traumatized; this is the basis for world peace. It brings hope again to the people who had lost hope.”

We are fortunate to have Mona Zaghrout-Hodali as part of the world-wide EMDR community.


Zaghrout-Hodali, M., Akissa, F., &Dodgson, P.W. (2008). Building Resilience and dismantling fear: EMDR group protocol with children in an area of ongoing trauma. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 2(2), 106-113.

Zaghrout-Hodali, M. (In press). Humanitarian work using EMDR in Palestine and the Arab world. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research.                                            


“A Community of Heart: Mona Zaghrout-Hodali,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed July 15, 2024, https://francineshapirolibrary.omeka.net/items/show/25406.

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