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Clockwise from top left: Rav Dovid Cohen; Hindie Klein, Psy.D.; Judith Guedalia, Ph.D.; and Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski were among the speakers at Nefesh’s 19th annual international conference.

Do you know what OCPD is? Are you familiar with the term “epigenetics”? Those are just two of the many issues covered at the 19th annual international conference of Nefesh: The International Network of Orthodox Mental Health Professionals held at the Hyatt Regency in Hauppauge, New York, over the December 24-27 weekend.

The conference featured excellent presenters on topics covering a host of problems facing the Jewish world. The only difficulty for attendees was deciding which lectures to attend, with anywhere from four to seven scheduled at the same time. In choosing the lectures I attended I passed up many I would have liked to hear. (Fortunately, it’s possible to purchase CDs of any of the lectures one missed, except those given on Shabbos.)

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I found every session I attended extremely informative. “Seeking the Perfect Mate – Shidduchim, Dating, and OCPD” was presented by Rabbi Jonathan Schwartz, Psy.D. Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder can make finding a shidduch extraordinarily difficult. Rabbi Schwartz gave some examples – while they seemed hard to believe, they were actual cases – and offered constructive advice.

I wasn’t going to miss the presentation by my dear friend Dr. Judith Guedalia, Ph.D., “Looking Through the Peephole Before the Doors Close and Gates Open.” Judi is very open about her ongoing battle with cancer and she is in a unique position to counsel us on how to react to someone confronting that struggle. Bikur cholim (visiting the sick) is a mitzvah, but it may not always be the best thing for the patient. A quick “hello” and “can I get you anything?” is often preferable to a conventional visit during which the sick person has to keep the conversation flowing. And then there are the thoughtless comments made by some visitors – it’s amazing how intelligent people can make the most foolish remarks.

Judi, who continues to work at Shaarei Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem as a neuropsychologist, spoke of trauma, which she explained as speechless fear. How do people react to trauma? Shock, numbness, anger, guilt/shame, and depression. “We are mourning the person we once were.” When visitors realize this, they may be more conscious of what they say and how long they stay.

The last part of the session was devoted to epigenetics, the study and understanding of the structure of genes, which indicates that major trauma, such as that experienced by those who lived through the Holocaust, may actually be passed on in the genes to the next generation. These studies show that certain personal and behavioral patterns in what are referred to as second- generation or third-generation Holocaust survivors cannot be simply attributed to the way survivors nurtured their children but that some part of the trauma was actually passed on biologically. “I find this very exciting for the future of neuropsychology,” said Dr. Guedalia.

Leaving this session, the word “inspiring” came to mind.

Rivkie Jungreis, LCSW, presented “Intergenerational and Attachment Trauma: Healing the Wounded Self and Repairing the Parent/Child Connection.” A parent’s state of mind affects how he or she treats a child, and children can “read” their parents’ faces. If the parent suffered trauma, it will reflect in the child. The therapist has to step back and think of the possible reasons for the child’s actions. What is the child feeling and what are the parents feeling? What are the negative emotions the parent is feeling at the time the child is acting out?

Rivkie made an important observation: When people go to a medical doctor and feel the doctor didn’t help, they don’t swear off doctors – they go to another doctor. However, many people who visit a therapist and feel they weren’t helped conclude that “therapy doesn’t work.” This is unfortunate because those people don’t get the help they could receive.

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