11 Dec On Psychiatry
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.