Chutzpah or Incompetence?

Or maybe just cluelessness. In any event, UTJ’s proposed legislation to create a recognized “therapist” designation to seminary girls after taking a few courses in art or play therapy is a terrible idea. A few courses do not substitute for a few years of course work, and hundreds of hours of supervised field work. UTJ wants its watered-down curriculum (it would, for example, skip certain topics deemed inappropriate for sem girls) recognized by the government as the equivalent of a master’s degree!

It is no secret here that the haredi landscape is littered with the remains of casualties of self-appointed “therapists” who ply their incompetence on a population often skeptical of the people with real training, because they have been poisoned by detested universities. (Add to this the assumption that there is little of value in any secular pursuits, so minds shaped in a Torah environment clearly can learn in a matter of weeks what takes others years to master.) This proposal can only further victimize the charedi population – and enable the next Chaim Walders as well.

To get the fuller story, read this courageous piece by Amudim (the place that so much of the American yeshiva community goes for addiction, abuse, and crisis response assistance) CEO Rabbi Zvi Gluck. And then stop and think about just how antics like this from charedi politicians are supposed to be upholding our Torah values, like they tell us before elections.

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26 Responses

  1. D K says:

    While i am unfamiliar with the proposed piece of legislation in which Rabbi Adlerstein is referring to, i would just like to point something out.
    As, Boruch Hashem, Israel is getting to higher levels of education across the spectrum of religiosity, so too are their requirements in scholastic achievement.
    While a simple teacher (no teacher is simple but i hope you gt the idea) used to require a basic teaching certificate in order for the school she teaches to get funding, things have changed in the recent years.
    Many teachers are now being required by the state to get a bachelors or even masters to teach subjects where such a degree is unnecessary causing a lot of hardship, both time wise (a chareidi mother may have between 2 to 12 children) and religious wise (many courses have apikorsus built in).
    If this piece of legislation is really trying to push what you say it is, there is a big possibility that UTJ is pushing it not for these teachers to start practicing therapy (which would be a terrible idea) but simply to satisfy the updated requirements of the misrad hachinuch.

  2. Nachum says:

    Yisrael HaYom wrote a major piece about this two weeks ago, and a follow-up last week in which they revealed that the askan pushing for this (of course there’s always an askan pushing for these things) runs the one seminary that will be authorized to grant these certificates (because of course the askan pushing for it is doing so because he, or his employers, stand to benefit from it).

  3. Dr. E says:

    There has been a general attitude in the Yeshiva world in the past 35 or so years which has belittled the value of college and formal training in many areas. So, it is no surprise that this development has come up. And this is not merely the case in Israel, but in America as well.

    This is not to say that college, its campuses, anti-Israel and BDS sentiments, and progressive attitudes are not problematic and increasingly becoming more so. The phenomenon of devaluing appropriate training long preceded the what goes on in universities in the here-and-now. (There have been a few sociological realities within the Yeshiva world which are responsible for this shift, including the perpetuation of bubbameises within the koslei Beis Medrish about college, but they are beyond the scope of this post.)

    Another factor is the illusion that everything can be found in the Torah and Chazal. While there might be a kernel of truth to that on an esoteric level, practically speaking we do not feerzich that way. Most responsible Gedolim recognize and give guidance based on the axiom of “yesh chachma bagoyim, ta’amin”. Mental health, wellbeing, and illness are complex. So, education and training must be current, research-based, and delivered by responsible institutions. Furthermore, there are established standards for ethics that informed by best practices which are reinforced by rigorous supervision by mentors. All of this takes time and there are no shortcuts. In addition, there is ongoing continuing education, licenses, and certifications that must be maintained. Only that way, any letters or degrees after someone’s name have credibility years later. It has been my observation that many potential and actual consumers of mental health services in the frum community are naïve and misled by some of those credentials, as long as there are boxes for religious optics and Rabbinic haskamos that can be checked. I would also add that I’ve seen some nefarious individuals insinuate that can treat everyone for basically any situation or condition. In mental health, training and experience are fairly specific to the type of disorder and based on other factors. So, the idea of a “generalist” is often overstepping boundaries.

    So, to assert that anyone can be a therapist without the aforementioned rigor is not only irresponsible, but also sheds light on how some therapists feel that they are above-the-law when it comes emotionally manipulative relationships and complying with laws of Yichud.

    No one from UTJ would ever go to anyone but the top expert in the world for bypass surgery. So, they should not be creating a system of dubious credentials conferred on individuals who will be taking care of people’s neshamos.

    • Bob Miller says:

      In the same way, we steer clear of doctors and chiropractors who promise more than their narrow expertise can deliver–even if it is expertise.

  4. mk says:

    Rav Hutner once asked a student how he chooses a doctor.
    When the response was that he looked for a frum doctor?
    R Hutner replied, “If you need spiritual guidance, come to me.
    If you have medical needs, find a doctor!”
    I shared this with a friend and he told me that he was once driving Rav Soloveichik,
    and the Rav asked him who his doctor was.
    When he told him the name and added that he is a “big lamdan”?
    The Rav said, “You go to him for a shiur or for medical care?”

  5. William Gewirtz says:

    i suspect that Haredim acknowledge advances in medicine and science/engineering but not so in softer areas like psychology or history. I wonder if that explains their cavalier attitude towards various professionals.

    • Meir says:

      Why should Chareidim acknowledge “advances” in fields that are becoming more and more full of Kfira and Sheker, and only take away from common seichel.

      Should we believe that the Torah has 5 different authors because Historians think so? Should we think that people can switch genders because of the mind twisting rationale that Phycologists made up and think we should follow?

      If the secular academics would be humbler and make intellectual room for Chareidim to join their fields, we wouldn’t have to try to make our own spaces.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Objective reality can’t be pushed off by either side of this argument. The buyer of such services must beware of fraud.

  6. Micah Segelman says:

    This is a very important issue and I certainly applaud Rabbi Gluck in taking this position. A small criticism. Throughout his article he talks about “seminary girls.” Should we be talking about seminary “girls” in this context, especially in an open forum read well beyond the frum community? Students attending these programs are presumably in their late teens or early twenties and preparing to enter a career. Shouldn’t we be treating them like adults and giving them a bit more respect than calling them “girls”? Unintentionally, I feel this article puts these students down.

  7. Mark says:

    It should be rather obvious, but since it appears that many are unaware of this, there is a vast gap between this “proposed piece of legislation” and the Chareidi world at large.

    The Chareidi world at large includes many Chareidim in Israel who are distinctly uncomfortable with this proposal and would not accept it.

    The Chareidi world also includes all the Chareidim in the USA, UK, and Canada etc. who generally have no knowledge of this proposal, nor would they embrace it as far as we know. The Chareidim in North America (litvish-yeshivish-chassidish) all have a healthy respect for the mental health field. There are thousands of frum therapists, two large frum mental health organizations (nefesh & AI has one), organizations such as RELIEF and ECHO which recommend mental health professionals, and more. There are programs designed to train frum therapists in the full range of areas that secular professionals are trained such as the Sara Schenirer/Wurzweiler program, TTI/Robert Weyselan, just to name a few. These are highly regarded programs and their output is every bit the equal of the secular programs.

    What this proposed legislation represents is one tiny, miniscule, and infinitesimal, section of the larger Chareidi world. Please understand it as such and don’t use this story to justify larger anti-Chareidi biases which seem so prevalent among many on this forum.

  8. RAM says:

    “Our side” would look askance at anyone hanging up a shingle as Rabbi without having the right CV and moral qualities. Likewise for kashrut supervisors. That’s because we consider their professions to be real. Some people regard some other professional labels strictly as spades to dig with, and pay no regard to the public dangers when those are falsified. Is this some frum mutation of diversity/equity/inclusion?

    That said, not all current requirements for professionals may be necessary. Some may have been set up intentionally as barriers to entry into the field.

  9. Schmerel says:

    Being that the only places I’ve seen this mentioned was in editorial articles written by opponents of the idea I’m confident that I don’t have the full story. Google was of no help. I could only find more anti editorials. Can anyone share a link to the actual proposal?

    I agree that people should not be able to become licensed therapists without proper schooling . However I haven’t seen licensed therapists do such a great job and make the world so much better of a place. With the exception of psychiatric emergencies I’m not convinced that they do a better job than any person with common sense and empathy could. I know people who were messed up by licensed therapists too.

    • Robert Lebovits says:

      In every area of healthcare there are poor practitioners. Sadly, many patients have received poor treatment from all types of providers. Should no one be licensed?
      Skills in the mental health profession go far beyond common sense and empathy. If you are not convinced trained professionals do “a better job’ than untrained individuals, it would be worthwhile for you to become better acquainted with more trained and licensed personnel.

    • Bob Miller says:

      Some self-proclaimed Torah therapists are not well-informed about either therapy or the relevant aspects of Torah. Some are just too self-confident and others are just going for the gold. I guess all communities need facts from some kind of grapevine about who is effective and who is not.

  10. Rivka Leah says:

    Sorry to say, but i cannot think of another profession in the world with less accountability than that of “therapist”. Licensed or not, where else do you pay for services rendered without any real checks and balances on whether the “service” was actually beneficial, whether one received a benefit or not?

    I think that this initiative must be seen in the context of the larger picture. Until the therapeutic process is subject to actual standards or review, to clearly defined expectations on professionals, why shouldn’t someone hang out a shingle after getting their seminary certificate?

    Which is a pity, because intra-personal change and development does usually require support, but we must develop a new rigorousness with how we evaluate our “melavim”, no matter how they came to acquire the role.

    • Ben Waxman says:

      Anyone can hand out a sign saying “Ploni Almoni, therapist”. That isn’t the issue. The question is official recognition of the training. My wife is a clinical social worker and getting officially certified is any extremely difficult, long process with very clear requirements.

  11. Yaakov Menken says:

    I noticed today in HaAretz that the reason why, in their world, the “ultra-Orthodox” do not want secular teacher training is because it is “anti-racist.” In other words, in literally the same sentence that HaAretz used a viciously-bigoted pejorative to describe frum Jews, it accused the charedi world of not wanting secular training that was actually irrelevant to teaching, certainly not needing more than a lesson in the importance of treating every individual with respect in the model of our Gedolim. So perhaps there’s another side to this.

    • MK says:

      I don’t see how the HaAretz article is relevant to the issue being discussed here.
      Even if we would grant that the Chareidi world is justified in not sending their seminary
      graduates to secular training courses, they should choose different professions for them.
      It doesn’t justify insufficiently training mental health professionals.
      Regarding racism?
      If you would, as I do, know wonderful Sephardic Bnei Torah who learned in the best Litvish Yeshivos, who hide their Sephardic names in order to get their children into a cheder, you might
      agree that we need more than a one day lesson in treating people with respect. You might even
      welcome some government oversight in addressing the evil of racism.

    • Chaim Goldberg says:

      It’s unclear how this comment is connected to Rabbi Adlerstein’s post, besides the fact that the sweeping generalizations here seem a bit too extreme.
      And whatever one thinks of the term “ultra-Orthodox”, calling it a viciously bigoted pejorative is quite a stretch.

  12. Steven Brizel says:

    As R Adlerstein noted astutely , this bill will crreate fake therapists and more Walders-The Charedi world needs more therapists like R DR A Twersky ZL, not charlatans with fake degrees

  13. Chaim Goldberg says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for calling attention to Zvi Gluck’s post and to this issue in general.
    I’m in a group of chareidi/Torani psychologists and just about everyone is strongly concerned about the proposal. Sending therapists into the field who have never heard of or been taught about sexual abuse is quite a scary idea. (And no, it’s not about protecting our parnassa–we have no issue with chareidi MSWs, chareidi licensed art therapists, etc)

  14. Shades of Gray says:

    I can think of three ideas which could work for the development of mental health resources to service the Israeli Charedi community, none of which involve watering down the curriculum.

    In America, Sara Schenirer’s Wurzweiler MSW program uses “exceptionally culturally sensitive professors.” Indeed, the fourteen Israeli mental health professionals quoted in R. Zvi Gluck’s article noted that “there are already multiple professional training programs catering to the haredi community.”

    Alternatively, if one has a problem with teaching the necessary material to Bais Yaakov students, use properly trained outsiders instead, as R. Zvi Gluck suggested, “communal rabbis and leaders should urge their members to seek the best possible professional help available for mental health issues, just as they do for medical problems.”

    Finally, by way of example, when I took karate as a kid, the first belt one earned was an orange belt. It was newly created because people would drop out before earning the more difficult yellow belt, so they made an interim step. Similarly, a two year associate degree is sometimes used to start a business career, and is then used to segue into an undergraduate degree at a four-year institution. In this situation, perhaps the Bais Yaakov students can work as life coaches in the interim based on their seminary degree and gain some experience in the helping profession. Later in life, they can segue into an undergraduate degree with the appropriate professional standards.

    R. Pini Dunner published on his blog an article titled “Soul Searching”, linked below, after the Chaim Walder scandal in December, 2021 implicating a lack of professionalism. The lesson he draws is relevant here as well:

    “…Accountants, lawyers, doctors – all are subject to controls and oversight…. Based on the stories about Chaim Walder that have emerged, it is crystal clear that any independent review or professional body would have red-flagged Walder over a range of violations…The main reason Walder was untouchable is because there is a lack of leadership and collective responsibility which guarantees that people like him cannot operate in the community. That this is the case can only be categorized as gross negligence. And now that community leaders are aware of what Walder got away with, and for how long he got away with it, what will they do going forward to change the paradigm? How will current and future Chaim Walders be stopped in their tracks so that victims and potential victims are protected?”

    • Chaim Goldberg says:

      It could be inferred from your quote of R. Dunner that Walder was untouchable b/c mental health professionals lack independent review/collective responsibility to hold them accountable. I imagine this is not what you meant to convey, but for the record, psychologists are subject to a national ethics committee that investigates complaints and has the power to revoke one’s license in extreme cases.
      The reason Walder was untouchable was that he was not licensed, trained, or part of any professional body which could provide accountability. We cannot expect the chareidi community to set up a special oversight committee for unlicensed therapists that will be effective. We can hope that the chareidi community will encourage the use of licensed therapists who are already subject to such oversight.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        “I imagine this is not what you meant to convey”

        Correct. R. Dunner is saying that had Walder been credentialed, he would have been accountable to a professional body in the mental health field similar to “accountants, lawyers, doctors” in his analogy.

  15. Shades of Gray says:

    I mentioned Sara Schenirer’s Wurzweiler’s MSW program in my previous comment as a model for the Israeli Charedi community. The excerpts below from their website discuss how the men’s program balances professional standards with cultural sensitivity:

    “The program features dedicated and exceptionally culturally sensitive professors with years of expertise in the field of social work and the Jewish community. This ensures a program that is practical, rigorous, and appropriate for the frum male.”

    “We comb through all the syllabi and reading materials and vet everything that is being taught. Of course, our college partners are a part of this process and must approve our curriculum, but they’re very understanding of our cultural sensitivities and work closely with us in this process to find ways to reach the same academic results for our students.

    The world of social work is fraught with lots of gray area and sensitive subject matter, but we approach everything in the most dignified manner possible. While being very careful, we must also make sure that we are not denying our students knowledge they will need to work successfully in the field…

    …It is[a tough balance]. We are constantly seeking guidance from our Rabbanim, as well as from respected frum mental health professionals, to ensure that we’re striking the right balance. The beauty of our program is not so much what we remove as much as what we add to enhance. We bring the Torah perspective into the subject matter we teach, and we help our students identify when they will need to reach out to their Daas Torah.”

  16. Mark says:

    Shades of Gray,

    You are exactly right.

    That program and similar ones, are a model of what can be accomplished when the Charedi world seeks to apply their standards to a profession in a sensible and professional manner. The graduates of the SS/W program are highly trained and every bit the equal of standard Wurzweiler students, or dare I say, even better, and yet, their cultural sensitivities were respected at every turn.

    The US Charedi is light years ahead of their counterparts in Israel at this point in time, but there is plenty of pressure building in Israel to improve the standards and I have no doubt that they’ll get there.

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