Dear Therapist:

My daughter is in seminary this year and it's the first time she's dormed a full year with other girls. She mentioned to me that one of her roommates seems very socially anxious & has a hard time making friends & being sociable. My daughter tries to include her but she often withdraws because of her social anxiety. She suggested to this girl that she speak to someone about her struggles & she keeps responding that she just needs to work more on her bitochon. She calls a bitochon hotline multiple times a day to get reassurance & believes that working on bitochon alone will help her overcome her anxiety. (This is also what her parents tell her).
This girl is just about to enter the dating process & then marriage. Her struggles will quite likely affect her dating & shalom bayis unless they are properly treated. I am not asking you to answer the question regarding what does and does not fall under bitachon, but presuming that this is a mental health issue that needs to be addressed, how would you recommend talking to this girl to get her to treatment? Perhaps you can share your experiences in similar instances and what was done?



Although this girl’s issue relates to mental health, your question is not really mental health related. A similar issue could arise for someone who has a medical issue, a financial problem, or other problems. These could all be theoretically connected with bitochon. (If only I had more bitochon, my issues would be resolved.)

Your question is essentially one of trust, understanding, and hashkafa. I will not tell you definitively that bitochon is not the answer. I don’t know the source, characteristics, or progression of this girl’s anxiety. Additionally, to some extent (perhaps to a large extent) reduction in anxiety can lead to increased bitochon. Since most issues have reciprocal moving parts, it is possible that an increase in bitochon can reduce anxiety.

However, even if working on her faith can help this girl to reduce her anxiety, there are concerns that I think are important to identify. Although there may be an inverse reciprocal relationship between faith and anxiety, this doesn’t mean that working on the former will yield the same results as working on the latter.

There are a few reasons that an increase in faith can lead to a decrease in anxiety. For instance, the need for control is often a driving force behind a person’s anxiety. Relinquishing the need for control (through faith or otherwise) can thus help to reduce anxiety.

Ways in which faith relates to anxiety will vary from person to person. A competent therapist will consider these and factor them into a mental health treatment plan. One of these factors can be the concept of bitochon itself. What is not factored into a “bitochon plan” are the techniques, expertise, and understanding that a therapist brings to the table. Underlying insecurities, work on traumatic experiences, and many other aspects of the issue would be disregarded by a bitochon plan alone.

Continuing the above example, why does the person feel a need for control in the first place? Working on bitochon alone does not even allow for this question, much less attempt to address it. Working on causes for the issue is often far more important than trying to directly eliminate it. Without a better understanding of underlying needs and insecurities, any progress may well be artificial. This can cause progress to be limited and temporary. Or it can lead to other issues.

I know that I haven’t yet really answered your question. The obvious solution is to have this girl speak with someone whom she respects and trusts. This might be one of her parents, a teacher, or a rabbi. It sounds like she will only listen to someone who can explain to her that bitochon and therapy are not at odds with one another—that they can in fact be complementary.

Although there are numerous rabbonim who are well-versed in mental health, this girl may not respect their opinions. She may not be willing to even meet with them. The first step, therefore, is to identify someone who has a good understanding of the faith-therapy relationship and to whom she will listen.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200


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