Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Roshei Yeshiva on Successful Marriage

Last night I was fortunate to be able to attend a Q&A session with noted Rosh Yeshivas R’ Aharon Feldman and R’ Reuven Feinstein.  It was an illuminating session, in addition to being unexpectedly quite funny.  One of the questions posed was a very broad question on what the keys are to a successful and long-lasting marriage. R’ Feldman offered an answer without skipping a beat, followed by an addendum from R’ Feinstein. I thought I would share their comments here.
R’ Feldman suggested three points that he feels form the basis for a solid marriage.  First, mutual respect – spouses who are not respectful towards one another cannot expect to have a fulfilling marriage.  Second, control what you say.  Words can be very damaging and a person has to be careful not to throw things out there that can’t be taken back  Third, gratitude.  A person should think about the very many things their spouse does for them and recognize that they far outnumber the perceived offenses.  Even just being married is something we should be grateful for.  It would be terribly sad if a person were 45 years old and still single; we should be grateful to our spouses for saving us from that.  (I wish I could elaborate more on the these, but his response was fairly concise.)
R’ Feinstein then added on that a person should avoid using the words “always” and “never,” as in, “you never change” and “you always do the same thing.”  His point seemed to be less about the unfair generality of such a statement and more about the necessity of letting bygones be bygones.  He compared it hypothetically to a person coming before HaKadosh Baruch Hu on Yom Kippur and doing teshuvah on some particular transgression. The next year he comes back and has to apologize for the same thing, and G-d gets annoyed. On the third year, G-d rejects him entirely, saying, “Didn’t you come for this the past two years?”  Obviously, this doesn’t happen.  So too, indicated R’ Feinstein, we should not be going back to our spouse’s past mistakes. Once s/he does teshuvah, that’s it- we accept it and move on.  He explained that by the Yom Kippur service of the Kohen Gadol, his wife is referred to as beiso, not ishto.  Why with beis and not alef?  The beis, explained R’ Feinstein, is closed on 3 sides – you can’t look back, only forward.  So too, with one’s wife, one should not look back to old grievances.  Once there’s teshuvah, it’s over.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sexual Abuser Exposed

Earlier this week I found out that a therapist I used to work with at a community mental health agency was busted for being sexually involved with (and filming) a 16-year-old boy he was treating.  As if that’s not bad enough on its own, this therapist used to do classroom presentations as part of the sexual abuse prevention program I ran in Jewish schools in New Jersey.  It boggles the mind to think about someone walking into a classroom to teach kids how to avoid being abused, then walking into his office that night and abused a kid.  Wow.

Initially I was thinking that this could be a big blow to the agency’s credibility in offering sexual abuse prevention services – if they can’t even prevent it in their own daled amos… (note: I don’t know whether any abuse actually took place in the agency or with the agency’s clients as opposed to possibly his private clients elsewhere).  But then I realized, it can actually be used to their advantage, to wit: there really is no way to spot an abuser a priori – they come in all shapes and sizes, genders, family situations, classes, etc.  (Yes, many abusers are well-educated and are married with kids – as this man is.)  And sexual abuse education does not suggest otherwise.  Rather, it focuses on teaching adults how to spot the behaviors that are suspect (primarily the grooming process, in which an abuser gradually earns trust, provides extra attention to the victim, and introduces sexual content to their interactions), and teaching kids about body ownership (the classic “my body belongs to me”), inappropriate behaviors on the part of adults, and the importance of telling someone should they r”l find themselves in that situation.

Indeed, if I may plug myself, this is why I created a sexual abuse prevention program for Jewish middle schools – after several years of running one for Jewish elementary schools, it was clear that there is need for further education through the early teen years (and even beyond – but one step at a time). So, if you are interested in bringing my program – called Connect with Respect – to a middle school near you, please be in touch. I would love to get this out there and in use so that, B”H, we should see fewer and fewer kids falling prey to abusers.

Check out the video prospectus for Connect with Respect here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Domestic Violence: Physical and Emotional

A common perception about domestic violence is that emotional and verbal abuse* are very bad, but a situation of physical abuse is urgent. It is true that sometimes physical abuse can be severe to the point of medical emergency.  However, it is important to understand that in fact, most victims of abuse will tell you that the emotional and verbal abuse are worse.  Much worse.

This can be hard to understand for someone who has (thankfully) not experienced abuse in a relationship.  Let us consider the following points.  Which would you rather endure, physical pain or emotional pain?  I think most of us would choose the former.  Indeed, many of us have made that very choice when, for example, picking up a needy child even when we are exhausted/sick/etc. We would rather experience physical duress than watch our child cry (or, possibly, endure the incessant whining).

Furthermore, in general physical injuries will heal with little effort from us.  Bruises disappear whether or not you do anything about them.  Emotional wounds, however, are not so effortless. A victim who is made to feel stupid does not automatically grow out of that; low self-esteem does not heal itself. A wife who is told by her husband that he never found her attractive anyway is not likely to slowly regain feelings of attractiveness in the same way that wound slowly fades.

Another important distinction between the physical and emotional abuse is that physical abuse usually leaves marks you can see.  Even if a victim cannot – or does not wish to – show them to others, at least s/he can point to something and know that they’re real. By contrast, an abuser who is not physically violent tries to undermine the victim’s own confidence; victims are often left wondering what happened, if they’re crazy, if it’s all their fault – it’s much harder to recognize for what it is, and that itself makes the situation that much more unbearable.

The pain of emotional abuse runs much deeper.  Feeling bad about who you are is much more painful than a broken arm.  As one victim put it, “The physical abuse makes me hate him; the emotional abuse makes me hate myself.”  Victims time and again testify that they would rather suffer the beatings than the verbal attacks.

I was reminded of this question and decided to write a post about during my morning seder.  In Erchin 15a the Mishnah discusses a motz shem ra, one who falsely accuses his wife of not being a virgin on their wedding night.  Should it be discovered that he is lying, the fine is 100 selas.  However, notes Rashi, if a man rapes a woman, he owes only 50 selas.  We see, explains the Mishnah, that ha’omer b’piv chamur min ha’oseh maaseh – one who injures with his words does more damage than one who does an actual act*.  Indeed, Chazal are in agreement that verbal abuse is worse than physical abuse.

*I have used verbal and emotional abuse fairly interchangeably here, although strictly speaking there are differences despite the overlap.  For example, abusers can emotionally abuse their spouse by cheating on them, giving condescending looks, etc., without saying a thing.
**Obviously, the damage caused by rape is primarily emotional, not physical.  For reasons beyond the scope of this post, Chazal’s approach to rape is different from our modern one (and not because Chazal didn’t care about women). Nonetheless, the point still stands that Chazal are asserting that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

American Orthodox Rabbis Say: Report!

I am so glad to read this report about a list of American Haredi rabbis who have publicly signed on to a statement that halacha requires reporting to the secular authorities in cases where there is a reasonable suspicion of child abuse. It seems that authoritative opinions are shifting - or at least becoming more vocal - such that the idea of "handling it internally" is increasingly being recognized as a futile and improper approach.

If you are aware of a potential situation of child sexual abuse, please, don't keep it quiet.  Consult with your rabbi, consult with professionals (including myself), by all means - but report it to the officials as well.  For our children's sake.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Why I Let My Daughter Listen to Rap Music

Check out the latest article on Kveller:
It's actually not so much about rap and a lot more about the perspectives we bring to parenting. B
ut you probably knew that already.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Living Wells: Wisdom in Music

Okay, so this isn't actually a therapy-related post.  But hey, the word "rap" is in "therapy."  Some friends of mine put together a phenomenal Jewish rap CD. It's bursting with Torah, wisdom, and good vibes. I recommend it to everyone. And I don't even like rap.

Check them out at!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Growing as a Couple

My friend and colleague Ariel Schochet wrote a nice post about couples counseling on his blog, entitled Peer Pressure in the Therapeutic Environment. I am a big fan of the approach he is advocating, which is to avoid the "keeping score" trap and to just give your marriage your all.  Some people have expressed this as eschewing a 50%-50% balance and conceiving of it as a 100%-100% balance - i.e., I don't count how many times you do for me, and you don't count how many times I do for you - we both just do for each other what we can (i.e., don't overextend yourself), all the time.  Check out his post here.

Ariel Schochet, LPC, NCC, is the managing partner of The River Wellness Group, located in Passaic, NJ and Teaneck, NJ.  They are a full-service counseling practice, whose range of services include child, adult, couples, families and addiction psychotherapy services.  To learn more about The River Wellness Group, visit

Monday, May 4, 2015

Marriage Counseling in Baltimore

Just posting a reminder that I do couples counseling, marriage therapy, etc. in person these days in Baltimore.  If you're looking to improve your relationship, fix a problem, or save your marriage, click over to where you'll find more information.

I also specialize in dealing with ahhairs (i.e., relationships where these has been infidelity).  More info at

Thursday, April 30, 2015

How to Get Porn Out of Our Yeshivas

An article I wrote posted on the Daas Torah blog: How to Get Porn Out of Our Yeshivas

The problem hardly needs elaboration anymore. Fewer and fewer people continue to deny that pornography viewing and addiction are extant if not commonplace in even the most traditional and the most insular communities. The reach of the internet knows almost no boundaries . . .

The Circumcision of Desire

Rabbi Sacks recently wrote a piece centering on circumcision that I think also has value for the discussion of domestic violence and the power and control issues that are at the heart of it. Check it out here.

. . . Brit milah helps transform the male from Baal to Ish, from dominant partner to loving husband, just as God tells Hosea that this is what He seeks in His relationship with the people of the covenant. Circumcision turns biology into spirituality. The instinctive male urge to reproduce becomes instead a covenantal act of partnership and mutual affirmation. It was thus as decisive a turn in human civilisation as Abrahamic monotheism itself. Both are about abandoning power as the basis of relationship . . .

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Very Special Gift

Dear Readers,

I am most pleased to announce the publication of my latest book, The Very Special Gift.  It is designed to help parents educate and discuss with their daughters the issue of tznius.  It is targeted to early grade-school-age girls, but it probably has a good degree of flexibility in terms of getting the message across.  I hope that this will be helpful to many people in addressing this vital and challenging subject with your daughters.

If you buy a copy, please do let me know what you think in the comments below!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

We're ALL Exhausted

My recent Kveller article entitled “I’m an Orthodox Jewish Father and I’m Exhausted” got a lot of sympathetic comments from people in the same metaphorical boat of parenthood and exhaustion.  Folks shared with me their low moments, their parenting fails, their misgivings, and so on, often with more than a tinge of shame.  And I responded to them, guess what? You’re just like the rest of us! Thus did I embark upon my second article on the subject, with the intent of reassuring all you struggling parents out there that you’re not the only one.

Really. You’re not the only one.

In fact, I maintain that parents of multiple young children are as a rule overtired, overburdened, and just plain overwhelmed.  I would even say that this is true of all parents of young children, but I’m sure there are some exceptions to the rule and that there’s a handful of you out there who really are sailing effortlessly through the process.

I’m not one of them.

It’s hard, folks.  Look, I’m a marriage and family therapist.  I counsel people on parenting issues, among other things.  I know what I’m doing.  And I’m still tired out by the process, grappling with the challenges, and run ragged by my interminably energetic children.  You are not alone!  Parenting is a tough job for all of us, and nobody’s perfect.  All parents make mistakes.  All parents sometimes lose their cool.  All parents sometimes have thoughts about stuffing those little creatures back where they came from and going back to the easy life.  This is true even of your neighbor whose house looks spotless at all times, who always has a bright smile on her face, and who seems to be way above this kind of problem.  She’s not.  We all try to put on a good face for the outside world, some more successfully than others, but your neighbor has it tough too.  Maybe she has the money to hire a cleaning lady to keep the house perpetually tidy, but she might have a special needs child whose problem can’t be fixed by any amount of money.  Maybe she’s be great at plastering a smile on her face, but it doesn’t mean the she’s feeling any better than you are.  Trust me – she may very well be my client, crying helplessly in my office once a week.

Let’s step back here for a moment and take a broader perspective.  Why are we having so much trouble with just two or three or four kids when our forebears generally had much larger families and apparently did not crumble under the pressure?  I think it is vital to recall just how different times are today from the way things used to be.  Life was much, much harder “back in the day.”  Things we take for granted today could not have even been imagined before 150 years ago or so.  Electricity in every house, air conditioning and heat, running water everywhere, not to mention computers, the internet, and smartphones.  It used to be that you had to work all day every day just to put enough food on the table to survive, and that the majority of the population wasn’t entirely sure they would have it on a regular basis.  It used to be that for most of the year you suffered because it was too cold or too hot, depending on where you lived.  It used to be that people had more kids because they needed them to work on the farm!  And let’s not forget that “family” and “community” were much stronger terms before the world of cars and telecommunication – even your great-grandmother would have been scandalized at the thought of two people trying to raise a couple of kids on their own!

Today everything is designed for you to be comfortable.  Comfort as a goal was unthinkable for most of human history.  Survival was where it was at.  So for us in our coddled and pampered lives to contend with the challenges of childrearing is an entirely different kettle of fish than it was for our ancestors.  Chutzpah from a six-year-old somehow doesn’t register high on the concern scale when you are trying to figure out how to keep enough calories coming in to survive the rest of the winter, when you are running low on firewood, and when you’ve already lost two children in childbirth.

So back to us.  We’re just not used to life being as hard as it once was.  Road bumps that seemed minor back then look like mountains today.  We expect the world to work for us, not against us, and when our children don’t follow suit, we go nuts.  (This also explains why especially in poor areas you can still find parents who have more children than they can count on their fingers and who aren’t tearful puddles of jelly on the floor – they too don’t have the expectation or experience that life should pretty much be easy.)

Life is not going back to the old way anytime soon. The world is a very different place, and it may be that a large family is for most of us no longer a realistic ambition.  That’s okay.  Having children has always been an important Jewish value, but it’s not the only one.  Being real about the modern world and fulfilling our roles within it is a fine and dandy approach; in fact, we can’t really do it any other way.

So don’t fret.  It’s going to be hard.  It’s going to be long.  I hear it’s nice on the other side of the gauntlet, but I haven’t gotten there yet myself to let you know firsthand.  But at the very least, take comfort in the fact that it’s not just you. We’re all struggling – which, let us recall, is not in and of itself a bad thing, especially if you buy into Judaism’s whole personal growth bit – so let’s make peace with the struggle, keep trying to do it better, and support each other as we all hurtle down this crazy road together.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Chillul Hashem & Secular Court

Guest post I wrote on the Daas Torah blog:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

How to Complain

Another important note about checking in with your mate before letting it all out:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Experience of Depression

I am working with a client who is struggling with severe depression. With her permission, I am
posting a poem she wrote this week that I think powerfully depicts the experience of a depressed person.

I'm sitting in a room that's full of people,
But to me there could be not a soul. 

I feel so lonely, don't know what to do,
No one understands, no one to talk to.

I have no energy to reach out, no reason to try,
Why is this happening to me, why oh why.

I'm not good at anything, have no skill to my name,
Nothing good will happen to me, ill never get fame.

I'm completely hopeless and also helpless,
Bottom line is i'm totally worthless.

No matter how many hours i sleep,
To function is no easy feat.

My concentration is extremely poor,
I have negative thoughts that don't exit the door.

I need to diet, i'm so very fat,
If i stop i don't know what my weight will be at.

I have no interest in any daily activity,
Or when anyone says "come with me".

There's nothing worth living for in life,
 But don't worry i'm not using a knife.

Everyday i always feel so ill,
It doesn't work to take any pill.

There's so much stress and anxiety too,
I cant work, don't know what to do.

I feel guilty about everything that happens,
If i get over it, always depends.

Of things that happen i always get a scare,
I cant be calm, there's always a fear.

I'm nauseous and also very dizzy,
Who knows what will be with me.

I hate to be with other people,
They are always so judgmental.

I lay in bed constantly thinking,
Trying to sleep, twisting and turning.

I guess i have to take initiative,
To call a therapist if i want to live.

This is a very stressful first step to take,
To think about it gives me a headache.

I finally got the courage to make the call,
And let me tell you it was not a ball.

But now that i started therapy,
Some changes im seeing very slowly.

I finally started my medicine,
Not to take it will be a sin.

One day maybe ill get to a support group,
To get there ill have to go through a big loop.

Eventually ill act and function normally,
Which will be great for you and for me.

Ill be able to go places alone,
Without constantly checking my phone.

Within myself ill feel comfortable,
I wont feel so alone and dull.

Ill be able to laugh and also to cry,
It will be natural, i wont have to try.

For all this to happen i really cant wait,
Because i'm definitely not in a good state.

All this will happen and some more,
I don't even know what there is in store.

Ill have friends and people will like me,
It will be good, just wait and see.

Ill be able to daven and be a better jew,
And be zoche to Mashiach bemiheirah biyameinu!

The last few stanzas in which she expresses her hope is a testament to progress she has made in therapy. These would not have been there a few weeks ago.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Do You Need Couples Counseling?

Are you in need of couples counseling?  How would you even know whether you are or not?  Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you are a candidate for marriage counseling:

    Couples Counseling
  • Is your marriage/relationship more often negative than positive?
  • Do you feel indifferent towards your spouse/significant other, or sense that s/he feels indifferent to you?
  • Are you looking for something different from your relationship but can’t even define what?
  • Do you find yourself dreading being with your spouse/significant other on a regular basis?
  • Has your spouse/significant other cheated on you?
  • Do you frequently wonder whether your marriage/relationship is going to make it?

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, a “yes” answer to any of these questions is a good indication that it might be time to seek the help of a couples counselor.  Marital therapy can do a lot for a couple, whether the relationship is really on the brink or is just has a few rough spots that need smoothing out.  The intervention of a trained and objective professional can make a big difference.

Your couples counselor can help you get down to the root of what the problem in your relationship really is.  Often a couple will come into the therapy room with complaints about issues that are really don’t get at the heart of the trouble – like how to squeeze the toothpaste, or what one person or the other said last night.  In truth the issue likely runs much deeper, and a marriage therapist can help discover what that is.

Another important way the relationship counselor can help is to teach a couple to communicate about a problem more effectively.  Frequently when there are important values at stake people can get very emotional.  When couples come to counseling and there is already a lot of anger, hurt, and resentment, it is hard for them to speak productively, i.e., without hurling insults and accusations. A competent couples therapist will see to it that a conversation can happen in which the couple can move beyond this level and actually get to discuss and resolve the issues at hand.

Finally, a marriage counselor can offer guidance on how to go forward in the relationship. While it is not the counselor’s place to suggest to a couple that they should or should not break up, the counselor can propose ideas of what kind of things would help a couple make that decision for themselves, and what kind of behaviors might make the result they decide on more or less likely.

Of course, couple counseling is an intense process that cannot be boiled down to a few bulletpoints; nonetheless, this brief outline will hopefully help you think more clearly about whether it’s time for you to seek relationship counseling and what you might get out of it.

If you are thinking about couples counseling or marital therapy, please contact me to find out how I can help you.