Summary of the Article
Reconstructionist. The Jews belonging to this denomination are rather progressive in their visions, and they focus on such important concepts as God, the Torah, and the People of Israel. They accept the principles of modern culture, share traditional rituals, but concentrate on modern ideological views while valuing personal autonomy.
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Reform. These Jews orient to modernizing Judaism in contrast to the traditional views and do not discuss three elements of Orthodoxy as important for them while valuing individuality. To make decisions, they orient not only to the Torah but also to their individual conscience. The Reform Jews admitted women as Rabbis.
American Jewish Values
The major values for the American Jews are life, people’s freedom, the balance of rights in relation to people and animals, and the people’s activities or action to change the world for the better which is reflected in the Jews’ focus on charity. The next significant value is justice which determines the aspects of psychotherapy for the American Jews who orient not only to justice but also to introspection, references to an intellectual discussion, family as the core value, and focus on traditions.
The American Jewish Experience
The experience of the American Jews is based on their adherence to such traditions as the Sabbath and keeping kosher traditions. Following the Sabbath, the American Jews intend not to work from Friday night till Saturday night, attending the Sabbath services on Saturday. Following the kosher traditions, the Jews do not eat certain products and eat milk and meat products separately. Furthermore, at the age of thirteen, boys and girls are involved in the ceremony of Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah, but the Orthodox and Hasidic girls are prevented from participating in the ceremony.
Issues Facing American Jews
The American Jews face such main issues as antisemitism, the Shoah, internalized antisemitism, and the invisibility or ignorance of Judaism and the Jews’ issues associated with life in the Christian country.
Antisemitism. Antisemitism is the expression of hostility in relation to the Jews at different levels (individual, institutional, social) which is characterized by 4000 years of development and is realized in stereotypes, discrimination, segregation, and genocide. Thus, antisemitism can be religious, social, political, sexual, economic, psychological, and racial. The Jews are perceived as rich and secretive. Today, people reject to discuss the Jews as the minority, criticize Israel-Palestine relations, and reject the fact of the Holocaust (Schlosser, 2006, p. 428).
The Shoah. The term is used to determine the Holocaust, the murder of more than six million Jews by the forces of Nazi Germany. The associated biases are that the Jewish people should have been annihilated. The effects are in tries to hide the Jewish origin and identity and assimilate after the Holocaust.
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Internalized antisemitism. The American Jews can feel negative emotions and feelings such as discomfort and hatred because of their identity. They refuse to become interested in their origin as Jews, to accept identity, practice rituals in the American society which is discussed as antisemitic.
The invisibility of Judaism. The identity of the Jews is not obvious, and many Jews remain to be invisible refusing to choose the specific dress to wear because of the social prejudice and antisemitism of the American society where the Jews suffer from stereotypes typical for the representatives of the mainstream religions.
Conducting Affirmative Psychotherapy with American Jews
The American Jews belong to a specific cultural and religious group and psychotherapists should respond to the issues discussed by the group’s representatives as important.
Before starting to work with the American Jews, psychotherapists should complete the self-assessment to determine possible biases in relation to the Jews and their culture. To improve the results, psychotherapists should follow the APA ethical standards and focus on self-education in relation to the question.
For Jewish Psychotherapists
The Jewish psychotherapists should remember about different types of Judaism and accept the client’s identity as a Jew without references to the denomination. It is important to avoid influencing the psychotherapist’s internalized antisemitism in the sessions and to focus on the necessary therapy or clinical supervision to overcome the issue. Psychotherapists should understand the necessity to discuss with the clients their identity as Jews.
For non-Jewish Psychotherapists
Psychotherapists should focus on their visions of the Jews and refer the clients to the other psychotherapists if they feel any prejudice. The non-Jewish psychotherapists should remember about religion as a part of the client’s culture and identity.
Clients’ Disclosure of Jewish Identity
Psychotherapists should note that the American Jews can reject disclosing their identity if they are not Orthodox Jews and try to avoid the effects of antisemitism or any type of cultural oppression. Many Jews are inclined to hide their identity referring to the times of the Holocaust. It is the adaptation to the antisemitic society which can also result in social isolation regarding the Jewish community. The decision of the American Jews to disclose their identity is based on their own experiences, on the personal insight as well as self-awareness, on the experiences of the other Jews, and on the current social and political situation in relation to discussing the Jews. Psychotherapists are responsible for the respectful inquiry of the client’s religious identity referring to the client’s intention to disclose it.
Assessing Jewish Clients
Psychotherapists start with asking for permission to discuss the client’s identity, stating the reasons for this act, and avoiding any traumatizing considerations. Psychotherapists should demonstrate their interest and respect in relation to the Jewish identity. The client can decide on the necessity of disclosure independently. The next step is the examination of the client’s attitude to the religion, to the dominant culture, and the aspects of interactions with the other Jews in the society. Then, psychotherapists conclude about the role of identity for discussing or resolving the problem. To avoid any traumas, psychotherapists should create a comfortable atmosphere and respond to the client’s vision of disclosure (Schlosser, 2006, p. 430).
To start the therapy, psychotherapists should establish rapport. The first step is the examination of the current situation related to antisemitism and prejudice in society. The next step is referencing the client’s personal experience regarding discrimination and antisemitism. Psychotherapists should demonstrate respect for Jewish clients without assessing them because of identity. The psychotherapist’s task is to develop the dialogue and discuss the role of identity in the Jews’ life in relation to the problem.
Understanding Healthy Paranoia
Psychotherapists should distinguish between the clients and healthy paranoia because of the cultural aspects as a result of antisemitism and any cultural tensions and oppression. To disclose the identity and personal information, the American Jews can rely on trustful relations with the psychotherapist.
Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma
The Shoah survivors and descendants of the tragedy often suffer from traumas and such problems as the understanding of the parents’ status in relation to the Shoah, overprotective parenting, focus on the Shoah experience as the core one, and absence of trust within the society. These Jews can suffer from healthy paranoia because of their experience.
Understanding Jewish Identity
Psychotherapists should focus on understanding the client’s unique identity without making previous assumptions about religious identity and associated issues. The next step is the analysis of the relations between the identity and discussed the problem.
Understanding Jewish Families
Many families of the American Jews are bicultural, and it is necessary to refer to the complex of the Jewish and American identity, concentrating on possible value conflicts based on the cultural differences. It is important to remember that the family is the core value for the American Jews, and they can experience emotional issues associated with the fact (Schlosser, 2006, p. 432).
Typical Presenting Problems
Typical problems discussed by the Jews are the identity issues, gender identity, and child-rearing practices, the relations within interdenominational couples, conversion issues, antisemitism, sexual orientation, and intergenerational issues.
Jewish identity. The American Jews often suffer from internalized antisemitism feeling depressed because of being a Jew. Psychotherapists should demonstrate the negative effects of such perceptions on the client’s emotional state. Having a healthy Jewish identity, the Jews can contact Jewish psychotherapists as well as non-Jewish psychotherapists.
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Issues around converting to/from Judaism. The task of psychotherapists is to demonstrate the advantages and consequences of being or becoming a Jew to the client along with discussing the close people’s position in order to help in deciding on the issue.
Antisemitism-related experiences. The American Jews suffer from antisemitism, and the psychotherapist’s task is to not re-traumatize the American Jew, but to help in the situation, providing the treatment.
Sexual orientation and religion. The American Jews’ vision of sexual orientation differs with references to the denomination. For instance, the Orthodox Jews condemn lesbians and gays, and psychotherapists should learn the client’s position regarding the issue. Treating the Jewish LGBT persons, it is important not to assume regarding the Jew’s identity and position in order to make a false conclusion (Schlosser, 2006, p. 433).
The unique syndrome typical for the American Jews is the shidduch anxiety related to finding the Jewish match. Psychotherapists should also pay attention to distinguishing between active religious adherence and possible psychopathology related to religious issues.
Jewish and non-Jewish psychotherapists should be discussed equally while choosing a psychotherapist for the Jewish client. However, Jewish psychotherapists can contribute more to discussing the cases of the American Jews.
Psychotherapists should avoid antisemitic views and prejudice while discussing the Jewish clients and be attentive while interpreting the Jewish identity in relation to different religious denominations, personal antisemitic experiences, identifying the psychopathology or healthy paranoia.
Implications for Research
The work with the American Jews depends on assessing the role of the Jewish cultural values, identity, religion, and antisemitism in influencing the problems and further therapy. The factor of the religious diversity within the group of American Jews should be also taken into consideration.
The American Jews belong to the unique cultural and religious group which is influenced by the processes of assimilation and antisemitism, and these factors should be taken into account while providing the necessary psychotherapy because of possible biases and stereotypes.
Schlosser, L. (2006). Affirmative psychotherapy for American Jews. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 43(4), 424-435.