Sunday, August 6, 2017

Does Your Therapist Need to Be Frum?

How important is it for you as an observant Jewish person to seek counseling from an observant Jewish therapist? The truth is that while any competent therapist ought to be able to help you with the issues you are facing -  whether it is depression or marriage counseling or anything else - there are certainly benefits to working with someone who is on the inside of your cultural circle. Research in fact bears out that people tend to see the most success in their therapy when they are matched with therapists from their own cultural background. Here are some of the reasons you might be better off with a therapist from an Orthodox background.

You don’t have to explain as much.

Even the best and most understanding counselor, if not already quite familiar with Orthodox practices, will need explanation about the many ways in which what we do is different from what the rest of the world does. Think about trying to explain Shabbos to someone who has never heard of the concept before. “We don't work on Saturday. Every Saturday. Except I don't mean work like you think of work. I mean all kinds of things that are considered, uh, creative labor, like cooking or driving or turning on lights.  Which I know is not really labor, but that's the definition of it. Also, Saturday really starts on Friday, at sundown, and goes until sundown on Saturday. Except not really sundown, actually, when three stars come out. Medium-sized stars.” Hopefully, if you have a good therapist, they won't start looking at you funny just because you are describing a religious system different from theirs - but it still is a lot to explain before you can get to the point of what you even wanted to talk to them about it. With a frum therapist, all that is already understood and taken for granted. It's a lot of time and effort saved.

You aren’t judged on your religious beliefs or behaviors.

Theoretically a therapist is never supposed to being judging you, but one can imagine it might be difficult for someone totally ensconced in Western values to be fully accepting of some of the things we do.  You’re struggling with stress and anxiety and you’re thinking about having more kids? You’re having trouble with your non-frum parents and you still refuse to eat at their house? There are certain values we maintain in the Orthodox world that need to be taken as given; trying to negotiate on whether you really need to eat kosher is probably not a helpful route to take for you. (Note that I am not advocating shutting out one’s parents over kashrus; of course there are many ways to appropriately address the problem(s) described above - but ditching kashrus is probably not one of them for you.)

You don’t have to worry about getting advice that runs counter to halacha.

This also relates to the question of what kind of advice you might get from a non-Orthodox counselor.  This can arise in many different areas - such as a suggestion for an anxious person to be more lax on their halachic standards (which may or may not be appropriate - I am not saying that be lenient is automatically a bad idea), or a recommendation to watch a certain show or movie that may not be appropriate. One topic where this is especially relevant is around issues related to intimacy, where that which is common practice in secular society might be completely forbidden in the Orthodox world. (This is a very delicate topic and requires specific personal guidance, from a rav as well as the right counselor.)

Your therapist just gets it.

Culture is a broad concept that comprises many facets - religion, language, shared history, music, and values, to name just a few.  Nobody can fully understand another culture unless they live it.  And while that level of understanding may not be strictly necessary for a therapist to be able to help you, it sure makes it easier. It also usually makes it more comfortable for clients when they know their therapist has a solid understanding of the issues they are conversing about rather than trying to learn it on the fly.  It’s hard to explain the many shades of meaning and feelings generated by one’s child going off the derech, by a broken engagement, or by a frum person showing up in the news as a criminal. Sharing these experiences with a counselor who understands the nuances of these situations is an added relief and comfort.

There are certainly more advantages to working with a frum therapist; I’ve only mentioned a few. This is not to say that working with someone outside the frum world is necessarily a bad idea. Everything has pluses and minuses, and you have to make the decision that’s best for you.  If you think you’d like to work with a frum therapist - from the comfort of your own home, no less! - feel free to be in touch with me to see if I can be of help in your situation.


  1. Personally, I've found that the cons of having a frum therapist outweigh the pros. I work and volunteer in mental health advocacy, largely in the frum community. It seems, more often than I am comfortable with, staying frum comes before the client's mental health in the mind of a frum therapist. This is completely inappropriate. Additionally, also more times that I am comfortable with, breaches of privacy occur very frequently.

    Any licensed, professional therapist, Jewish (not religious) or not Jewish, can ask questions about a frum lifestyle. It's not that complicated, and certainly not a reason to not go to a non- religious or not Jewish therapist who puts their patient's mental health and privacy above all else.

  2. I don't disagree with you. But you are comparing apples to oranges. A bad therapist, frum or not, can be very harmful. Bad therapists do things like putting their agenda before the client's needs and breach confidentiality. Good therapists, frum and otherwise, take care of the clients appropriately and maintain confidentiality. I don't know that the rate of bad therapists in the frum community is any higher or lower than other demographics. Saying it's a bad idea to work with a frum therapist is like saying it's a bad idea to do business with a frum person because frum businessmen cheat their clients. I'm sure that happens - but it happens with nonreligious businessmen too.

    Personally, I have worked with many clients who were only kind of observant, or off the derech entirely, or anywhere on the spectrum of observance and I have never so much as mentioned becoming more religious (unless that was a topic the client wanted to discuss). I think any competent therapist would act the same. And in this post I am really only referring to competent therapists.

    1. I would hope that you are assuming some degree of ethics...and NTS is a logical fallacy.

      And how can one determine the level of ethics before engaging a frum therapist? For example, someone I've helped had a 'frum' therapist practice 'touch therapy' with her (and, I've discovered, other young women). This therapist is frum male. These young women went to him because, well, he's frum and would 'understand'. He caused them a lot of emotional damage, not the least of which was BECAUSE he was frum.

      Or how about the therapist who harassed a friend of one of his clients because he (the therapist) thought the client's friend was doing avayros and he felt it his duty to 'help', even after his client specifically asked him not to contact her friend?

      Or the frum therapist who, without regard to privacy and confidentiality, yenta'ed about a client in shul, which then had far-reaching implications for this client in their personal life.

      (All of these are Baltimore based therapists and all are different people.)

      I think we can agree that an unethical frum therapist has the potential of causing a lot more damage than a not frum or not Jewish therapist.

      Perhaps instead of championing frum therapists because it's soooo much easier to talk to them and they 'just get it', you should focus on teaching people where to find a therapist that's an expert in what they are suffering from and how to spot and report unethical behavior when they see it. Seems getting the right therapist with experience in the client's struggle is THE most important thing, not whether they too wait 6 hours after eating their chulent before downing an ice cream.

    2. Well, you can see my writings on good therapists and bad therapists at my blog on This is not a post on how a person should go about finding a therapist. This is a post about whether, all things being equal, a frum therapist is a better choice than a non-frum one. And I do believe the answer is yes. Whether a bad frum therapist is worse than a bad non-frum therapist is a question we can discuss another time.

  3. To Rabbi Bilek:

    You write: "Saying it's a bad idea to work with a frum therapist is like saying it's a bad idea to do business with a frum person because frum businessmen cheat their clients. I'm sure that happens - but it happens with nonreligious businessmen too."

    As a frum person in the business world, sadly, I avoid dealing with frum business people, as they, sadly, forget all about their frumkeit when it comes to business, and have no problems screwing you, badmouthing you, or otherwise acting underhanedly to make a buck at your expense.

    I work mostly with non religious Jews and non Jews now, and it's been a much better experience.

    Also, non licensed "therapists" are puppets of the rabbis who care little about people, and only care about externals, and about their power and their reputation.

    Anyone who needs help, should find a licensed therapist outside of the community.

    Jay 444

    1. I see you have had some bad experiences in your life. I am sorry to hear it, both for you and for what it says about the state of the Jewish people. I too have encountered crooked frum people. But I don't think it's the majority of them. There are many problems in the frum world, but I stand by what I said above!