In this final installment of Religion, Spirituality and Psychology. I had the honor and pleasure to speak with Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW-R. He is a Rabbi in the community as well as Clinical Social Worker who operates a private practice in New York. He was able to answer a few questions on this topic which could give us a small perspective of how mental health is being view within the community.
CS: Hi Simcha, Thank you so much for letting me pick your brain about this topic.
SF: Sure, no problem happy to do it.
CS: How or Has the view of mental illness changed in the recent years in the Jewish community?
SF: For many, stigma has been reduced and there is a realization that psychotherapy and mental health treatment is an important tool. Of course, there are still many people that feel going to therapy is for "crazy" people, or fear that the therapist’s ideas, values and beliefs will contaminate the patient with ideas that are against the client’s
CS: Do you find that people who are willing to enter therapy would like to see a therapist who is also a member of the clergy?
SF: There is a small percentage who feel that way. Some of them expect a blend of psychology and religious counseling. Personally, I stay away from that. I inform the clients that because of my rabbinic training and religious sensitivity I am more likely to understand some of their challenges, with greater nuance. At times, when psychosocial concerns intersect with genuine religious conflicts, I encourage them to seek out separate religious counsel if that will help them move forward. I have a warm and respectful relationship with various clergy persons of my clients, in situations where the client has asked that we work together.
CS: Do you find that religion exacerbates some mental illness? more specifically OCD?
SF: Actually, I have heard studies that indicate people who are religious are less likely to suffer from OCD. Perhaps this is due to the comforting boundaries and containment that a fulfilling a meaningful religious life offers to some. People may feel that religion exacerbates OCD because some OCD symptoms will manifest themselves through religious ritual. However, there are many non-religious people who obsess over whether the door is locked, germs etc.
CS: Does the use of CBT or Psychoanalysis ever become inconsistent with religious practices?
SF: Certain interventions may involve confrontation, paradoxical work and exposure/desensitization to various behaviors. If the behavior itself is forbidden by religious practice, the cure may involve initially engaging in the behavior purposefully, or in psychoanalytic work especially regarding forbidden thoughts such as heresy or lust, it may involve a degree of open ended exploration and dis inhibiting, which may be a problem for some religious people. I share with my clients what I believe could help, based on previous experience. If they feel it is in conflict with their religion, I encourage them to consult with their clergy person and also make myself available to the clergy person if clarification is needed.
Bottom line...Religion and Spirituality have it's place in psychology and therapy, but it has to be harnessed and used appropriately in order for it to be an asset to each person in their situation.
If you would like to contact Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, he can be reach via email at Simchfeuerman@gmail.com . You can also read his column every week in the Jewish Press.
Have an inspired Tuesday!