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River Heights psychiatrist attends international forum on European social transition

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DR. JOSEF Stelzer maintains that most people in the West don't realize the difficulties faced by many people in Russia and other Eastern European countries since the fall of communism over a decade ago.

"The problems of teenagers in Russia are complicated by the economic and political situation," says the River Heights psychiatrist, who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and children.

That was one of the issues discussed at the Systems In Transition (SIT) conference, held in Moravany, Slovakia in June. Stelzer was the only Canadian at the gathering.

SIT is an international association of mental heath-care professionals and social scientists focusing attention on the process and problems of psychological and social transitions in former communist countries and the European Union. The organization meets annually to "share our experience around a common problem."

Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Stelzer has lived in Winnipeg for over 17 years. He became involved with SIT through his work with Eastern European Jewish immigrants in Israel, as well as through contacts with colleagues in Slovakia.

Stelzer travels to the Holy Land every few months. He was formerly a consultant to the Department of Public Health of the Municipality of Jerusalem, helping out in the planning and organizing of community-oriented health services for adolescents. Lately, he has been working for a residential treatment network for immigrant and traumatized adolescents.

Stelzer points out that the mental health problems of teenagers in Russia, for example, are compounded by the economic and political situation in the country, which is still struggling with the adjustment to a democratic, free-market society.

"The Russian adolescents are looking for some individualistic way to resolve these problems, while the professionals are looking for a new theoretical understanding of dealing with these problems," says Stelzer.

Similarly, Stelzer notes that at the conference a group of Yugoslavian health-care workers conducted a discussion on the role of democratic tolerance for people in transition societies.

"We have developmental transitions here amongst our own youth. Adolescence, itself, is a transition period," he says, adding that as a country of immigrants, Canada, itself, is in continuous transition.

"With international terrorism, we are in a transition stage because the world is not the same as it was even a few years ago. Terrorism is all over the planet. Travelling is different now. Security is different."

Stelzer observes that one of the panelists in Moravany was an expert in suicide, whose ideas can also be applied to the issue of suicide bombers.

"He talked about the suicide phenomena as a kind of discourse or inner dialogue in which life itself is not more important than death, and part of this discourse can be a politically extreme ideology that gives more importance to this than life," he says.

Teenagers, especially those living in desperate surroundings, would be more susceptible to this because they are in a formative, or transitional, stage of life, Stelzer remarks.

He calls SIT a flexible organization that is continuing to adapt its models of treatment to face the evolving reality of life in Eastern Europe.

"We can't get caught in any fixed model. The big mistake is to get stuck in therapeutic techniques and models that aren't tested in the changing reality," states Stelzer.

"Even if all the Eastern European nations enter the EU, the transition problems will still be there."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 13, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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