As we become more aware of and willing to face the various maladies of a psychological nature that face us as a community, we also become more concerned about who is treating us.
We expect trained, expert and frum mental health professionals to help, guide and heal. Whether facing depression, anxiety, child abuse, domestic abuse, borderline personality disorder, eating disorder, an addiction or other issue, putting ourselves, a child or a spouse in someone’s hands at a vulnerable time is not an easy thing to do. How can we be sure the mental health professional is up on the latest developments and knows what he or she needs to know to help?
Nefesh International was created, nearly twenty years ago, to bring together frum mental health professionals to learn about the latest developments in their fields, meet other professionals, and keep current with all the newest resources in order to do their work more effectively.
Earlier this month, Nefesh held its fifteenth conference and achieved all those goals and more.
The participants were able to attend advanced workshops on topics including, among other others, depression, sexual addiction, domestic violence, divorce, schizophrenia, trauma, drug abuse, eating disorders, premarital counseling. Sessions focused on a variety of modalities including working with children, couples, individuals and families.
There were invited speakers of national and international acclaim in their fields from outside of the community who graciously agreed to share their expertise and advance the professional knowledge of the attendees. In addition, there were experts from within the community who came to share their advanced training and experience and help develop the skills and knowledge base of all who participated.
Over Shabbos, participants had the opportunity to be enriched spiritually while further enhancing their understanding of where halacha and mental health converge. Jewish mental health professionals from across the spectrum of Orthodoxy – wearing shtreimels, knitted yarmulkes, fedoras and Sephardic garb – joined together as brothers to train, learn, sing zemiros and share.
HaRav Dovid Cohen shared profound insights with his d’var Torah during Shacharis and addressed questions on important and current issues during his “Ask the Rav” session.
In addition, everyone who attended was privileged to hear from Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD. There is no one more capable of educating the professionals in our community in developing their understanding of psychological approaches in the context of proper religious and hashkafic perspectives.
Everyone was also inspired by the wit and wisdom of Rabbi Ronald Greenwald.
On Sunday, at a special lunch reception, Dr. Judith Guedalia was given the Esther Solomon Memorial Award for Outstanding Contributions to Mental Health in the Torah Community. Dr. Guedalia has been an active board member of Nefesh International for years and co-founded Nefesh Israel.
After moving remarks from her son and a beautiful introduction by longtime colleague Dr. David Pelcovitz, Dr. Guedalia spoke movingly of her ongoing battle with cancer and how the asher yatzar prayer’s reference to bodily openings and closings inspires her to appreciate the healing capacity of her body, as well as the soul’s ability to handle and discharge stress.
Throughout it all, participants were nourished and rejuvenated in multiple and important ways. It is important to connect with others who understand what it takes to try to heal those in our community who are often in so much pain. When mental health professionals can share experiences and struggles it deepens their ability to properly treat those in need.
And when those mental health professionals are treated to an elaborately planned menu, it energizes them as they face their responsibilities and challenges. (Pomegranate, with the generosity of Mr. Avi Banda, did an unbelievable job in sending everyone home revitalized.)
Here are what some of the participants had to say about the conference:
“I want to thank each of you [conference attendees] for making my and my wife’s time at the Nefesh weekend spiritual, invigorating, educational and productive.”
“The presentations were fantastic, the bonding much needed, and I’m still thinking of the words spoken by Judi [Guedalia] – so inspiring.”
“The achdus, the sessions, and the food were amazing and memorable.” For those who missed it, recordings of most of the sessions will be available at www.nefesh.org.
Lisa G. Twerski, LCSW, is on the board of directors of Nefesh International, maintains a private practice in Brooklyn, and lectures locally and nationally on domestic abuse, marriage and dating. She has just released a book on domestic abuse titled, “I’m So Confused, Am I Being Abused?” (Israel Bookshop Publications).