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Therapists, Therapists Everywhere

Eytan Kobre

Positive changes in communal attitudes toward mental health therapy mean that many more people in need of help will seek it without fear of stigma. But the groundswell of interest in emotional healing has flooded the market with all sorts of counselors — some eminently qualified, others dangerously leapfrogging into private practice without sufficient training, experience, or supervision.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

As a veteran psychologist, Dr. Nosson Solomon is in the business of helping people cope with their fears and anxieties. But as he contemplates the future of his profession in the Orthodox community, he has some worries of his own. To be sure, Solomon — a Flatbush-based former president of NEFESH, the association of Orthodox Jewish mental health professionals — has seen major and positive changes in communal attitudes over the course of his many years in practice. Forty years ago, it was the rare frum Jew who went to a psychologist. Back then, seeing a psychotherapist carried the implicit message that the client wasn’t fully normal and evoked fears of social condemnation or harm to a family’s shidduch prospects. Practitioners were also suspect of bias against religion and of seeking to influence clients to drop “extreme” rituals. The Yitti Leibel Help Line was founded over 25 years ago for the very purpose of enabling people hesitant about therapy to speak discreetly by phone with a frum therapist.    What a difference four decades make: Today, the religious community boasts thousands of home-grown mental health professionals, including many in the chassidic orbit, and their schedules are packed with clients from every walk of life. Rabbi Binyomin Babad, director of Relief Resources, an agency that pairs therapists with clients and has offices in seven different cities both here and abroad, estimates his agency fields 200 calls daily and interacts with upwards of 1,800 clients each month. Therapy as a legitimate avenue for those in need of mental health services has truly come of age. But with change comes challenge. The newfound acceptance of “going for help” has transformed the mental health field into a popular career choice for people looking to leapfrog to a livelihood, circumventing the many years of schooling that other professional careers like medicine, law, and accounting entail. And once graduated, saysDr.Solomon, these people are accelerating their entry into private practice with alarming speed, foregoing the valuable experience they would gain were they to first spend some years providing therapy in a clinic under the supervision of more seasoned professionals. All too often, the casualties are those very clients who bravely battle stigma and reach out for help.

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