How important is it to have a frum therapist?
Clients often seek out a therapist similar to themselves. Clients may not want to explain or defend their beliefs/value system to a therapist. Alternatively, clients may feel better understood by a therapist with similar life experiences. Conversely, clients may seek out a therapist from a different culture. Perhaps they feel judged in their own community or are seeking out new perspectives.
In truth, our life experiences are always different. Two people (even twins in the same family) have distinct and individual experiences. We all climb our own particular mountain and see a different view along the way. Our paradigms are uniquely personal. As such, the specific culture or values of a therapist are less important than his or her cultural competency. The APA defines cultural competence as “the ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures or belief systems different from one’s own.” A therapist’s “likeness” to a client is not as critical as his or her openness and willingness to connect with clients about their culture.
I have had both religious and secular therapists. In my experiences in therapy, the therapist’s personal beliefs did not negatively affect the therapeutic experience. I had a frum therapist who (I felt) really “got” the existential dilemmas I was working through at the time. Alternatively, I had another therapist whose openness and curiosity helped me clarify and better understand my values.
I am a frum therapist. I am familiar with the strange and varied tapestry of Jewish Orthodox life. But I don’t believe that frum people should only seek out frum therapist. Frum clients should consider a therapist’s cultural background in addition to other critical factors such as the therapist’s educational background, theoretical orientation, particular expertise, fee, office location, parking situation, office furniture, and (most importantly) the “feeling” of their initial session with a therapist.