Our daughter has recently asked us to see (and pay for) a therapist. She says that her reasons for this are because she feels empty, without direction in life, and is not finding fulfillment. She is 22 years old, has never had any issues before, had no major difficulties in life, has a good job and has always done well. My husband and I have always felt that she could be a little more sincere with her yiddishkeit. She does everything she is supposed to but there is a penimiyos that is lacking. Basically, we think that in this case it would be more appropriate for her to create a kesher with a teacher or rebbitzen and not see a therapist. For matters of meaning and fulfillment we have always turned to rabbonim and the idea of going to a therapist for such an issue (where there is no mental health illness) is a goyishe one. I would like to get the opinion of the therapists on this panel who are choshuva frum therapists on this matter. Thank you.
You should be commended for your open-mindedness in requesting the opinion of the therapists who write in this column. Some parents would take the position that their point of view is correct, and never look further. Your ability to recognize that there can be a different point of view is commendable.
You mention the fact that your daughter does not have a mental illness. This may be so, although without further information it is impossible to say. Feelings of emptiness and not feeling fulfilled can be indicative of more significant problems. Let’s assume that your daughter does not in fact have a mental illness. This certainly doesn’t mean that she cannot gain from therapy. You wrote that we have always turned to rabbonim for these types of issues. While that may be true for many, this is not true for us all.
Many frum people see therapists for issues similar to those that you mentioned. In fact, many rabbonim strongly recommend that people turn to trained therapists for their help in dealing with these types of feelings. One reason for this is that therapists are trained to identify and help resolve troubling emotions, and can help people to work through conflicting thoughts and feelings. They are often able to help identify underlying issues and insecurities that lead to unwanted emotions.
Perhaps you have a rav whom you can consult with regard to this matter. As discussed, many rabbonim who have expertise in these issues can help to guide you. Rabbonim who are deeply involved in matters of mental health typically take all aspects of each situation into consideration before giving advice. In a matter such as you described, this advice might be for the person to speak first with a rav, to see a particular frum therapist, or to see a therapist who is also a rav or rebbetzin. Any advice should be based on the bottom line—what is most likely to help the person achieve their goals. Putting aside your preconceived notions and your emotions, from an objective perspective what is most likely to help your daughter to become happier and more fulfilled?
I don’t know what your daughter’s feelings are about your thoughts on this matter. If she simply mentioned therapy offhand, but would entertain other options, you can discuss this with her. Perhaps she would be happy to first discuss her feelings with a rav, rebbetzin, or other mentor. Then, if a therapist is recommended you would both likely be more comfortable with the arrangement. However, if your daughter is set on seeing a therapist—and you would need to push her to see a rav—the efficacy of meetings with him would probably suffer. You seem to be caring, interested parents who have your daughter’s best interest at heart. If you can set aside your own needs and feelings your decision will likely reflect that.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
Brooklyn, NY | Far Rockaway, NY
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317
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