On Sunday evening, December 11, Let’s Get Real With Coach Menachem featured a virtual lecture with Rabbi Moshe Rotberg, world famous therapist. Coach Menachem shared in his introduction that finding a good therapist is like a shidduch. It takes time. The client has to see where he is, what he is looking for, and if it is working.

Rabbi Rotberg shared that there are hundreds of therapists today who are all extremely busy with helping people dealing with all sorts of problems. There is not as much denial today in the frum community about mental health issues. “There are so many people suffering.” He shared that “if you need it and don’t go for therapy, it’s silly.” Rabbanim and teachers are the biggest referral service to therapists. Baruch Hashem, the stigma is dissipating. At the same time, what is the role of the therapist? What are people using therapy for? Decisions in life that people used to discuss with a rav are being made today with a therapist. We’ve cut out part of our life with this. Rabbis are very busy today, and it is difficult for people to discuss issues or decisions with someone with whom they don’t have a relationship.

Rabbi Rotberg stressed that people in therapy need to realize that they should ask a rav about life decisions. The broad picture needs to be discussed. He noted that there are people suffering with mental health issues that are not being addressed early enough, especially in the first year of marriage. We need to get more people into therapy who need it. At the same time, we need to redefine the role of the therapist. There is a balance, and we need to think through if the therapist should have the power to make life and death decisions. We need to learn how to balance asking a therapist with asking a rav.

He taught that “a therapist was never meant to be an advisor to tell you what to do.” There are so many aspects that go into a decision. A therapist can empower a person to make a decision. Therapy needs to be client-centered. The therapist’s job is to help the client develop the skills he needs. A good therapist will encourage his client to speak to a rav and others. “Therapy is valuable, and it can change a person’s life. “On the other hand, you can’t rely on it for major life decisions. You need to know the limit in terms of what is in your therapist’s place to say and not to say.

If someone feels therapy is not helping, then it’s not helping. Communication is important and also communicating with a rav is important. A lot of times misunderstandings happen. The therapist only knows what you are telling him. Often, we need to speak to other people in his particular life situation. The therapist has to be honest and say that he doesn’t know the other side. Rabbi Rotberg shared that, in general, if it is not a very personal issue, he is a big fan of bringing in family members. It gives the therapist a better perspective on what is really going on. He noted that “people don’t see everything about themselves.”

If a person is in therapy for years, he or she needs to see what is being gained. People need to take a step back and see if it is helping. If they are using the therapist for friendship, then they need to decide if they can afford this luxury.

He said, in general, that it is wrong for a therapist to suggest that a person cut family ties. A person needs to learn resiliency and to develop coping strategies. In a situation of tremendous abuse, then it may be necessary to cut off from the family, but the therapist should try everything else first. The therapist needs to give the client skills to have resilience. If there is no way to do it, then cutting off from family is the last resort.

The client should understand the ramifications and he should speak to a rav first. He added that the most painful conversations he has are with parents alienated from their children. The therapist has to think hard if this is a protection or a punishment. In the majority of cases, separating a parent from a child is a crime.

He shared that the healthiest people in society are in therapy. The unhealthiest people in society don’t have access to therapy, can’t afford it, or aren’t aware that they need it. He acknowledged that forcing people into therapy generally backfires. He sees parents forcing children into therapy or children come in who were bribed to come and it just doesn’t work. However, a lot of people don’t want to go voluntarily but end up being happy to be in therapy. Therapy is a relationship. He pointed out that some people require medication. There is so much stigma and misinformation about medication.

He emphasized the importance of going to a rav who can help in an area that you are specifically challenged in. You need to know who you are talking to. “You can’t give over your life to someone just because he has a title and say this is my final destination.”

 By Susie Garber