On Psychiatry

On Psychiatry

The doctor is in (jail)

I was driving home from work yesterday when I heard the announcement on 93.9FM: a Brooklyn ” counsellor” was indicted on 59 counts of molesting a minor.

I know this is one of those moments that you vividly remember – early winter night, back road, powdered donuts in the car for Chanukah – because it was such momentous news. A young girl stood up to a prominent Hasidic leader. She was bullied and intimidated and she prevailed. For so many years it felt like religiously dressed men had all the power to outspend and out-bully anyone who didn’t put up the same religious show. It also seemed that for a young girl to stand up to so much pressure, for the religious community to come through to support her, for so many people to come out of the woodwork and stand behind her, required nothing short of a miracle. It was a miracle and a real victory. Not only for one young girl, but many others who have been victims of the system.

It was happy news but it felt sobering, it felt heavy. One man was convicted, but the system that allowed him to do whatever he wanted was not.

That’s the system of “therapy” among Hasidim. I’ve been to many of them over the years. The “counselors” or “therapists” aren’t qualified social workers or psychologists. These therapists have no professional code of ethics or oversight; Hasidim are very skeptical of modern therapy and its professionals who graduated from secular college. Most Hasidim want to go to their people for help anyway, and because their own people don’t go to college, anyone with a little ambition can open shop. By those standards, all you need to be an expert is to say you’re one. The therapists may do good. They may do horrors. But the problem is that their work is unchecked and unsupervised and just creates so much opportunity for crime. Therapy is the perfect opportunity to prey on the vulnerable — those who are so desperate for help or support that they will turn to anyone who promises respite or support.

Luzer Twersky’s experience with Hasidish ” counseling”, or “therapy”, published yesterday on XOJane, is a haunting example. It leaves your skin crawling. He writes in acerbic, typical-Luzer-style of dark humor and candor. He was an “unloved child”; acting up and therefore taken to an expert for help. The counselor gave him the attention he craved at the same time as he sexually abused him for three years! His story hurts so much, mostly because so many people help foster this abuse by not implementing some kind of accountability. No one knew, until the predator was caught with “another client” he was supposedly helping.

Not every therapist or counselor molests, of course. Some are good people. And some are simply power hungry, invasive, curious or in for the fat check. I went to many at the time I tried to save my marriage, only because going to a “modern” therapist was considered unacceptable. They never tried pulling a Weberman on me but some “experts” mishandled things and betrayed me and reduced me to tears anyway. It was normal for a session to consist of the therapist lecturing me and talking about himself. Some of the unlicensed counselors I went to at the time I was trying to save my marriage charged $300 dollars to tell me I am unstable. One counselor told me he could have my “problems” fixed, but they were so severe it would be about $20,000 worth of therapy. He told me all about the other people he fixed for this sum, about the insights he has, the brilliant man he is. So much so that Columbia University offered him a PhD (but he turned it down, of course). I thought he was crazy. When I tried to explain to the people back home that he was crazy, it was more proof that I was.

I experienced time and again people who were either unqualified for the job or downright dangerous. Sadly, over the many months I looked for help in the Hasidish community, not a single expert proved to be helpful. Shortly after I finally got divorced, a middle aged man showed up in my office one day. He was holding a “Grisha Application”, that is, a Divorcee’s Application, and he insisted that I check off my second marriage order. Did I want a husband with a tall hat or a short hat? Did I want to wear a wig with a hat or with a band? I told him to go. Before he left with promises to be back, he left me his card.

“Expert in Second Marriages and Therapy”.

So, the whole marriage thing was a front for more therapy. I told him to take his hats to hell.

Thankfully, I haven’t seen the darkest sides of this type of therapy but I’ve seen the insides of enough of these offices to know that they are dangerous. It needs to be stopped; it needs to be held to the same ethical standards as licensed therapists. Not every other idiot will be able to take victims under their belt. And innocent men and women won’t be accused of molesting behind locked doors if they will be trained to take precautions to stay professional with their clients.

  • Yoelish
    Posted at 01:32h, 12 December Reply

    Very well said.
    Even more scandalous is how those self appointed experts diagnose various disorders because of “client’s” deviance. Then those diagnosis are used to push all sorts of medication, with the help of affiliated psychiatrists.
    In the same vein and equally dangerous is how heimish society notoriously tolerates alternative medicine fraudsters. Half Wiliamsburg “calls” Mrs. Wieder for her healing powers. The other half who’s aware of severe damages she had created is nevertheless afraid to speak up, let alone report to authorities, because Weider’s a Jew and needs to earn a living.

  • ClosetHumanist
    Posted at 10:50h, 12 December Reply

    Very true. No matter how much positive there is in the chassidic world, the fact remains that it is the optimal environment to encourage such scandals. The secrecy, the self-sufficient attitude, the suspicion of outsider- all these and more encourage protecting abusers and is very detrimental to victims. I was thrilled to see justice being served, but I have been a wreck this whole week- it magnified so much wrong with this system. I hope (although I doubt it) that they learn from this experience.

  • Zee
    Posted at 12:14h, 12 December Reply

    Exactly. I’ve had my brush with these so called therapists as well and they are nothing short of dangerous. I’ve heard quite a few horror stories from others too.

  • SB
    Posted at 14:51h, 12 December Reply

    Right on all points (and excellent cartoon! Love it!), but wrong on that the system has not been convicted. It has.
    It will be a cold day in hell before everyone in the community can admit to outsiders that the community created and lovingly fed this problem and this perversion of “therapy”. But change has already started happening on a micro level and it will keep going. The scourge of unlicensed therapists will not go away anytime soon, but fewer women will agree to see male counselors and male counselors are now starting to realize that their power is dissipating.
    I say, watch out for a spate of newly-graduated chassidim and chassidistes with degrees in psychology and social work in a couple of years.

  • Yekel
    Posted at 15:26h, 12 December Reply

    People with degrees counseling kids for reading Cosmo. Should be fascinating to see how that works.

  • Fred
    Posted at 10:26h, 13 December Reply

    Well written, with balance and the cartoon is funny, quite clever, and oh so poignant! Cartoon attains an interesting balance with a complex and distrubing subject matter. Among the many issues this matter raises is the importance of parents/family remaining involved whenever their child is in therapy – whether with licensed or unlicensed therapists. Parents have a right to discuss with the therapist treatment goals as well as approach to be taken in the therapy. Placing a child in therapy should never be a reason for parents to hand over their responsibilities for their child.

  • Moshys
    Posted at 11:14h, 13 December Reply

    Can anyone explain me why if he wouldve been licensed things would be diffrent? what does this case have to do with lisence? when someone goes to this type of counseling, its a Ruchnius counseling how can a degree help?

  • MFM
    Posted at 11:23h, 13 December Reply

    If he would have been licensed he would have been educated, trained, subject to rules, oversight and sanctions. That’s a pretty good minimal basis for counseling.
    “This type of counseling” is also a sham, and that’s also a point. There should be no counseling for stocking violations. A fake problem, a fake solution, with fake solvers. Mima nafshach, even if you think it is a real problem with real solutions, education, training, rules, oversight and sanctions are still a world better than no education, no training, no rules, no oversight and no sanctions.

  • Moshys
    Posted at 11:44h, 13 December Reply

    Do you want to tell me that if someone has education they dont rape?? come on, Rape has nothing to do with education. Rape and molesting sick ppl do, so no education helps them.
    I guess you buy that the counceling was because of stockings, you know it wasnt for that, when someone is diffrent from the school it just rings a bell that she is diffrent then the other girls in her class and needs some Yidish education. its a way of life that we feel hashem wants us to lead, and for this way there is no secular teaching. so a degree will never help for such counseling. and NO the comunity wont change to get a degree to help girls who the shool feels do not follow what the shool belives in,

  • MFM
    Posted at 12:02h, 13 December Reply

    If someone has education and a training and a license, and has a practice with logs, notes and records and bills, and follows ethical guidelines that are binding on everyone in their field, there is less of a chance than just sending to a random person whose only credential is that he says he knows what he is doing – and more of a chance that they will be discovered and accountable if such a thing did occur. I don’t know how you don’t see that the set-up he had was at least very sketchy.
    When someone is different that is not a symptom of mental illness. And if she was exhibiting signs of that then she should have been referred to a professional, davar poshut. I understand the dilemma of a community that thinks the problems it itself created are symptoms of mental illness. They’re deluding themselves about that, but I realize that this is just how they see it. I don’t have a good answer for that other than to recommend that they chill out. But if that’s not going to happen, it is still possible for “Torah counselors” to be trained, licensed, professional and accountable. I admit that I’m not sure how a trained professional is supposed to counsel a person whose illness consists solely of not conforming to a very narrow line. Indeed, there is a problem here.

  • Shoshy
    Posted at 11:33h, 14 December Reply

    Where does the money for this “therapy” come from? From what I understand many in the chassidish community are living in poverty and on government entitlement programs, so how do they have 5 figures for counseling?
    When I first heard of the Weberman story I thought they used unlicensed counselors to save on high therapist fees. Then I found out he charged like someone with a graduate degree and malpractice insurance!!
    When a shnorer comes to my door, is this what I’m subsidizing?

  • anonymous
    Posted at 11:51h, 23 December Reply

    To commentator #1
    You forgot to mention that some of those self appointed experts and affiliated psychiatrists refuse to take money from the deviant client.

  • soso
    Posted at 04:59h, 20 May Reply

    “but some

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