Photo Credit: courtesy

Dr. Yaakov Freedman has been described as more of a general battling against the stigma of mental illness than a psychiatrist based here in Jerusalem. If this is the case, then his new book—Off The Couch—does a great job of chronicling the war.

His credentials as an award-winning Chief Resident at Harvard Medical School, a published researcher, and a noted educator speak for themselves and are pretty impressive.

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But what’s more impressive to me as a close colleague is how hard this guy works to help his patients. Not every well-established physician is known for doing complex second-opinion cases in far out settlements on the hills overlooking Hebron. Most academics don’t have the time to visit a Beit Midrash to speak with the Rosh Yeshivah about a single student in order to ensure the young man gets the help he needs. This isn’t just about a new book that’s a good read, I’ve seen it live in the exceptional care he’s given my patients over the past few years and the talks he’s given for Ezer Mezion. Dr. Freedman’s name has become synonymous with high-quality mental health in the Orthodox Jewish World and it’s not for nothing.

Off The Couch tells the tales that are living proof of the lengths that he’ll go to fight for his patients. In over fifty short stories based on his clinical experience (while protecting patient confidentiality by changing just enough details to ensure that no one is identifiable), we are taken on a journey that begins his Jerusalem office and takes us all throughout Israel. We visit dozens of different communities, diagnoses, and treatment approaches as Dr. Freedman sits with Sephardic Kabbalists, Israeli Soldiers, and Yeshivah Students with Jerusalem Syndrome.

By now, many people are familiar with his educational seminars—including the one on Surviving The Coronavirus Pandemic he just did for Ezer Mezion earlier this summer which drew thousands of participants—and are excited to learn more from an expert psychiatrist. Off The Couch features Dr. Freedman at his best: teaching professionals, Rabbis, and lay people alike about how to navigate the complex field of mental health. Ethical and halachic dilemmas are addressed and solved in realtime with unforgettable results as Dr. Freedman fights the stigma of mental health in the worldwide Jewish community.

Patients, family members, and professionals will certainly enjoy the introductory autobiographical tale of his Aliyah experience. Dr. Freedman takes us from his comfortable life in Boston, to the literal frontiers of Israel, motivated by his own family’s spiritual quest and yearning to do more for the Jewish Community. As a friend, I got a real kick out of hearing him describe the various headaches and ridiculous experiences he faced in transferring his practice overseas.

If there is a risk of hyperbole, I’m willing to take it. I’ve sat for countless hours talking with my dear colleague about how to help specific patients and how to bring high-quality mental healthcare to the Frum Veldt. The man walks up to thirteen miles a day for the sole purpose of being able to practice what he preaches when he tells his patients to live a healthy lifestyle. He has been around to just about every major Yeshivah at one point or another to teach the faculty, work with the students, or help in one way or another.

As the clinical director of Ezer Mezion’s Family Therapy services here in Yerushalayim and someone who’s been in the trenches with him for a few years, I can honestly say that Off The Couch does an exceptional job of capturing Dr. Freedman’s unique, hilarious, and fundamentally dedicated persona.

So if you’re a patient who needs to know that you’re not alone, a mental health professional who wants to see what it’s like in the office of a psychiatrist working here in Jerusalem, or just about anyone who cares about the Jewish people, you’ll find the book quite relevant. This is 360 pages of pure gold.

Off The Couch by Dr. Yaakov Freedman is available at book stores across Israel and via Menucha Publishers: www.menuchapublishers.com/

(Yair Berko LICSW is the clinical director of Ezer Mezion’s Family Therapy services in Jerusalem as well as psychotherapist in practice)

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