Orthodox dads need therapy, too

JERUSALEM (JTA) — One evening each week in this city, in a space that functions during daylight hours as a children’s playroom, I honor Orthodox Jewish fathers and celebrate fatherhood by attending to their emotional needs in group psychotherapy.

Dump trucks, dolls and plastic playthings fill plywood shelves and primary-colored bins. On a diminutive corner table, Legos are pushed aside in deference to adult-friendly coffee and tea. As if in a boardroom or office, these men sit cross-legged and rigid, addressing mature themes with the abstractions mature people use.

Some members have been attending these 90-minute sessions for years. These adults do not come to play.

The dynamic group, which consists of two co-leaders from the same homogenous community, meets in the basement of a neighborhood clinic. In these meetings, men learn about themselves from understanding each other. Their moods become improved from mutual appreciation and respect. Insight, in group therapy, results from interpersonal exchanges and not only from a therapist’s contribution. The notion of collective learning fits well with Jewish principles of mutual responsibility, just as the possibility of cooperative healing is suitable for every culture and way of life.

Treating Orthodox Jewish men in psychotherapy requires appreciating their particular vulnerabilities. As an Orthodox Jewish father myself, I am aware of and sensitive to those concerns.

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