This past weekend marked the 17th annual conference of Nefesh, the international network of Orthodox Mental Health Professionals and by all accounts it was a huge success.
After an absence of a few years due to the death of my husband, I once again attended and found it to be better than ever.
The conference opened on Thursday with a stellar array of choices. Always interested in dreams, I found Dr. Nachum Klafter’s “Working with Dreams in Psychotherapy Treatment” fascinating. After lunch I felt privileged to attend the session given by my dear friend Dr. Judith Guedalia. Her topic was “The Challenge of the Challenging Patient, by a Clinician and Such a Patient.” Dr. Guedalia presented one of her unusual cases and then went on to speak about her own medical issues and her relationship with the doctors treating her. It is rare for a therapist to speak so openly about her own illness and treatment and the packed room was impressed beyond words. Needless to say she offered great insight into the feelings of the patient.
Chana Kaiman, Miriam Yerushalmi and Kiki Ehrenpreis chaired a session on integrating a family focused approach to treating Dysregulation in Children. This focused on disruptive mood disorders in children, wherein children erupt in rage and explosive tantrums. I was shocked to hear that many of these children are diagnosed with bipolar disorder and given medication, when in fact a good many of them have DMDD (Disruptive Mood Disorders Dysregulation) and do not need to be medicated. These therapists were offering clues to help the child and the parents, such as validation of the child and to see the problem from the child’s point of view, also to figure out what are the triggers for the explosive tantrums. But, as the presenters stressed, the problem won’t go away if untreated and there is no quick fix.
On Friday I attended “The Effect of Digital Technology on Intimacy, Mental Health and Addiction,” given by Robert Weiss. He presented an anonymous case history about a religious young man who had a sexual addiction. Sexual addiction is not about sex and it is not fun. Nor is it a sign of moral or religious failing. It is an addiction like gambling and drugs etc. He gave us many insights and spoke about treatment.
Shabbos at a Nefesh weekend is an experience all on its own. The Carlebach-style davening was uplifting and beautiful. The women’s section was just as packed as the men’s. None of us wanted to miss any of the singing and dancing. After dinner Rabbi Alex Mondrow gave a beautiful talk on “Faith…Our Relationship with G-d, Our Children and Ourselves.” An oneg Shabbos later on had singing and divrei Torah by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski. On Shabbos day we heard a drasha by Rabbi Dovid Cohen, and another by Rabbi Dr. Twerski. Both rabbis are not only one of a kind in their brilliance, but they intersperse humor with their divrei Torah.
One of the more popular Shabbos sessions at Nefesh is “Ask the Rav” with Rabbi Dovid Cohen, the rabbi of Nefesh. Rabbi Cohen does not shy away from any question, no matter how sensitive a topic, and many an Orthodox therapist has benefited from his halachic counsel.
About the only complaint anyone ever has about the Nefesh weekend is the difficulty in choosing which session to attend when there are so many excellent choices at the very same time. To give an example, on Saturday night I was trying to choose between “Addictions” given by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, “Creating and Sustaining Better Marriage and Preventing Divorce” with Lisa Twerski, “Facilitating Shidduchim for People Struggling with Mental Illness” given by Dr. Nosson Solomon, “Anxiety and Phobias” by Rivki Jungreis, “Sexual Dysfunction” given by Dr. Gail Bessler, “Addressing Child Sexual Abuse in Our Community” by Debbie Fox and Barry Horowitz, among a few others.
Just seeing the degree to which Nefesh presenters have focused on so many of our modern day problems should make attendance a must for any Orthodox therapist.
On Sunday I attended the presentation by Dr. Abe Worenklein on “Parental Alienation: Assessment and Intervention.” A number of such cases have come to my attention in my work at The Jewish Press and I found this session to be very informative and helpful.
In trying to give an overview I realize that I have only just touched the surface. There were many more sessions throughout the four days, too numerous for me to list them all.
Nefesh is a wonderful resource for the orthodox community worldwide and I urge anyone looking for help to contact them for referral to someone in their city.
No article on the 17th Nefesh Conference would be complete without giving a tremendous yasher koach to Miriam Turk, the executive director of Nefesh. She did a masterful job putting everything together with the able help of Lisa Twerski and Chaim Sender and many others. Special mention must also be made of Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, one of our Jewish Press columnists and president of Nefesh. Additionally, Ruchama Clapman and Rivkie Jungreis went out of their way to make sure everyone was well taken care of.
I owe my personal thanks to Alice Tusk, Miriam Turk and Ruchama Clapman for making me feel so much a part of this weekend.