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Pursuing Mental Health… Religiously

Braha Bender

Harvard psychologist Dr. David Rosmarin has used empirical research to prove that religion can be the best psychotherapy. “It doesn’t matter whether a patient is Jewish or not,” he says. “When an individual of any background has these beliefs, it impacts his psychological state.” While the field of psychotherapy has traditionally been hostile to religion, Dr. Rosmarin’s research is proving that religious beliefs and practices can be a coping source in times of stress.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lou Schwartz* answered the phone like I was her best friend. “Thank you so much for reaching out to me,” she greeted warmly. “This is the perfect time to call.”

I could hear the smile in her voice as she cheerfully added, “I’m just on the couch recuperating from a surgery I went through yesterday for skin cancer.”

“Oh I, I am so sorry,” I stammered. “I could, uh, call later …”

“No, the surgery is a really interesting procedure,” she assured me with another wave of good humor. “You’re awake and they take off the skin layer by layer to get to the problem without removing too much ...”

Lou, who will be fifty-two in December, is a member of a Reform temple in Minnesota. Following an e-mail from her temple’s spiritual director, Lou had volunteered to participate in a month-long study of the effects of a program of spiritually integrated cognitive-behavioral therapy with Jewish men and women suffering from subclinical levels of anxiety, run by Harvard psychologist Dr. David Hillel Rosmarin.

Dr. Rosmarin and his research team had set out to test whether strengthening a Jew’s trust in G-d would impact the anxiety that weighs down people’s lives. The study, requiring a commitment of no more than half an hour per day, involved short videos, stories, and exercises aimed to “strengthen the perspective that G-d is completely knowing, powerful, good, kind and loving.”

As she lay on the operating table on October 25th, 2010, Lou used exercises she had learned during the half hour-daily study to help ease her way through what for most people would be one of the scariest events of their lives. The very next day, Lou wasn’t just holding it together. She was radiant.

“One of the exercises had been to think of someone you really trust and why you trust them,” she explained. “I asked G-d to have the strength I need. He’s trustworthy.”


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