I am warning you right off that I am going to sound real religious in this column. So if you are totally not interested, you can skip this article right now.
It's fine. I will wait for you to leave so I can get on with writing this for other girls who are not scared off by religious stuff. Or religious people. Especially therapists (gasp!).
Are you gone yet? What are you still doing here? Hanging around pretending you are reading something else? Fine. I will pretend I am not talking to you. So we can still get along, right?
So this column is about therapy. And rabbis. And rabbis in therapy. JUST KIDDING.
It's about therapy. Teenagers in therapy. And rabbis who can help teenagers who are in therapy. And it doesn't matter if the therapist is not Jewish either. Rabbis can still be involved. As a matter of fact, I have many wonderful colleagues who are not Jewish and are incredibly respectful of Jews, our religion, and our rabbis. So if the idea of a rabbi involved in your therapy turns you off, that's okay. We can still talk about it, right? But if the idea of a rabbi involved in your therapy turns your therapist off, I would run far away from that kind of therapist. Because that means she is a narrow minded kind of person. Because if I would be treating a Muslim or Christian or Buddhist client, I most certainly would be open to dialogue with their imam, priest, pastor, or spiritual leader if that is what my client would find helpful. And I expect that any therapist, Jewish or not, should be similarly open to talking to a rabbi if that is what would be beneficial to their client.
It has more to do with accessing all resources for a client than stuffing religion down their throat.
So enough with all this introduction.
Hey you! You still hanging around pretending you are not listening? No problem. You can eat your pizza and ice cream in the corner over there. Of course I know you are absolutely NOT reading this. Of course.
So as I was saying, let's get on with the important stuff.
What important stuff? The part where the rabbi comes into therapy (of course rabbis come into therapy!). To help you. Yup. Rabbis are great people to have as part of your therapy team. And let me tell you why. And how.
As a therapist, I am NOT a religious advisor.
I love when parents or teachers or principals or even rabbis call me in order to send some teenager to me and they tell me very seriously, “This girl is not acting like a Bais Yaakov girl should.”
And I tell 'em just as seriously, “And if you think I am going to tell her how to act like a Bais Yaakov girl should, you have the wrong therapist.”
And then I go on to explain that my job as a therapist is NOT to tell a girl to daven, or wear her skirts longer, or her hair shorter. Etc. etc. etc.
My job is to help my client figure out what is making her unhappy so that she can stop using behaviors to express her anger or hurt or upset or frustration, and instead use her words. And when she can do that, then she can make decisions about her life that are not based on her angry or hurt feelings, but rather on a mature outlook on life.
So here is what that would look like:
If Miss-Not-Acting-Like-the-Rest-of-Her-Family-Frumkeitwise is doing something that goes against the religious culture of her family, as a therapist I would help her uncover the unhappiness that is driving her behaviors so that she can discover her talents, gifts, and ability to be happy and content. Usually, that kind of work changes the behaviors that are driving her family nuts.
And if, after she does all the therapy work, she realizes that she simply would like to adopt different behaviors that may not be the same as her parent's, for various reasons—maybe she wants to marry a boy who may be culturally different than her brothers—and the reasons come from a healthy rather than a rebellious, unhappy place, then therapy will help her discover and attain her choices.
So I explain this to concerned parents, teachers, and rabbis when they want me to fix my client and make her as frum as they want, or as she used to be. Or whatever.
Now, where does a rabbi fit into all this?
I will identify the places a rabbi has in therapy that benefits a client. Now, because of confidentiality, nothing I write here will be about any of my clients, but these are scenarios that are typical to all therapists and their clients.
And I will be honest and say that often I encourage my clients to consult their rav, their rabbi when they struggle with issues they bring into therapy that have some roots in religion, in shailos that I am not qualified to answer. My job is to help my clients identify the questions and discover the answers to their questions; and sometimes, the answers they seek are religious in nature, the relief they need are
from a rav and not from me or even their parents or friends.
There are some specific areas in which I find clients need to consult their rabbi. One is in issues of Kibud Av V'Em—honoring one's parent, the other is in shailos pertaining to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) behaviors, and yet another is when a parent needs to know what is chumrah and what is halachah in regard to a child's behavior, in terms of parenting.
I want to make a very important distinction here.
As a therapist, I do not force a client to talk to her rabbi or talk to a rabbi about my client. However, when my client is dealing with an issue that she has explored in therapy, we have discussed options and solutions and treatment, but what stands in her way is her fear that she is going against halachah, or is ignorant of the Torah-values that should be driving her behaviors, I will encourage her to seek the wisdom of a rav. I will do this if I know that what is interfering in her ability to improve her life is a distorted view of halachah, and proper guidance will steer her in the right direction.
Examples, you ask?
Let's talk about issues of honoring one's parent.
This can be in the case of a remarriage and a girl is having a hard time adjusting to a new father. She wants to keep her father's minhagim on Pesach and her mother is open to her new husband's minhagim which may be on direct contrast to her first husband's. A girl may refuse to eat in her mother's house that Pesach. Insist on staying a grandparent.
Or a mother may insist a girl waive the minhagim of her father to respect the stepfather's new ones. Each are locked into their own pain and struggles to live authentically and realistically.
A rabbi can sort these things out very neatly. So both the mother and daughter can work out Pesach satisfactorily without destroying the family.
A rabbi can pasken on many issues that may seem to have no alternative and voila! The rabbi has successfully shown that there are. Can there be music in the house if the stepmother wants it and her stepchildren are still in aveilus? If the stepfather does not eat gebroktst, but the stepchildren do, can the mother put gebroksteh matzoh balls into the soup without treifing up the dishes for the stepfather?
Does a girl need to listen to her stepmother if it contradicts what her mother used to teach her? What if a girl feels guilty because her stepmother allows her, even encourages her to do something her mother used to tell her was not allowed and she wants to be able to join her stepmother in that activity, in that way of thinking? Can she desecrate her mother's memory by allowing herself to follow her stepmother and stepsiblings instead?
Hmm. Can you see now why it would be so useful to allow a rav into your life?
Notice how many feuds and conflicts it could avoid and contain.
OCD is another area in which a rav is invaluable.
This is not specifically for girls who have lost a parent, unless—as I have often seen—when a person is under much stress, as when they lose a parent or a parent remarries, then anxiety can often trip into OCD like behaviors. One type of OCD is called religious scrupulosity. It is when a person's OCD manifests in what looks like religious behaviors. Tehillim. Davening. Handwashing. Chametz cleaning. Accepting kabbalos upon themselves. Although these behaviors can appear to be normal, for a person with OCD, these behaviors are dysfunctional and interferes in their life, whether they—or a loved one—realizes it. When that happens, enough that it interferes with a person's functioning and they land up in therapy, then consultation with a rabbi to sort out the religious from the OCD becomes very important.
If a girl thinks that she must clean the chandelier before Pesach or else something terrible will happen; or if she simply has a terrible urge to clean for crumbs over and over again, frantic she may have missed some, then after exploration and guidelines from a therapist, a rav can support the therapist's decisions as to how to help a girl commit to stopping these seemingly frum behaviors.
And for those parents who tell me they read my columns in LINKS MAGAZINE, I would encourage you, as part of your therapy, to seek a rabbi's guidance parent in order to understand your struggling teen's behavior in context of halachah, haskkafah; what's okay and what's not. And even when things are not okay, how to deal with it within the parameters of one's role as a religious parent.
Look, say what you want, I don't go stuffing religion and rabbis down your throat (not when you are eating pizza looking bored while you are pretending you are totally not reading this), but as any decent therapist would do, I want to help my client access any and all resources that can help make her life easier. And if talking to a rabbi so that she can feel better about her decisions, or get the rabbi to talk to her parents so that she can get what she needs, I am all for it.
And sometimes, if it's what my client wants, I will pick up the phone to call my client's rabbi together with her.
And imagine, with all this rabbi-in-therapy stuff, I am still not a rebbetzin. I'm just a plain ol' therapist.
(I wouldn't mind a slice, kid. Pass it over while I pretend I don't know you. Even if you are my client.)
NOTE: THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN LINKS MAGAZINE (Links is an organization helping children and teens whose parents have died)
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