Dear Dr. Yael,
After reading the letter from G.R., I felt I had to share our horrific story. Our son, who is in his 30s and single, does not speak to us. Once upon a time, we had a wonderfully close relationship with him. He was a young man with sterling middos, yet quiet and shy. When he was in his 20s we sent him to see a well-regarded therapist, male, to help him work on his social skills. The hope was for a few sessions that would help build his confidence so that dating would be easier for him.
That is not what happened.
Instead, this therapist, highly-credentialed and with smicha, has convinced our son that everything wrong in his life can be laid at our feet. And not just ours. Our son has broken off contact with his siblings and grandparents as well. Today, as far as we know, he has no one in his life but the therapist, whom he sees on a regular basis.
Dr. Respler, even assuming we were the problem, wouldn’t it have made sense for the therapist to suggest some family counseling? How could the answer be to break off all contact? What about kibbud av v’eim? Doesn’t that play a role somewhere?
That is one of the reasons I appreciate your column. Therapists who give true Torah-answer are few and far between.
Thank you for your column and for bringing to light a very important issue!
A Hurting Mother
Dear Hurting Mother,
I am so sorry that you have been through so much pain with your son. Since I do not know the exact details of what too place, I will comment only on the information you have shared.
Unfortunately, there are many “therapists” who encourage clients to cut off contact with family members. As a rule, I don’t believe that is healthy or warranted, unless the relationship is toxic. While anything is possible, I do find it hard to believe that all of your son’s family relationships were with toxic people. Thus, it seems more of a case of keeping him isolated, which is upsetting to me and concerning.
A therapist’s job is to help his or her clients work through their difficulties and become more successful people. Going to therapy makes people extremely vulnerable and it is upsetting to know that there are those who take advantage of that.
Sadly, I have heard similar stories before. Sometimes people go for help with their marriage or with a family member and are encouraged to get divorced or to break off ties. Relationships of any kind require work. No one is perfect and relationships can have significant challenges. Mental health professionals should be encouraging people to work on their issues rather than abandon their families.
Another issue which may be at play is co-dependence. That means the therapist convinces the patient to continue the therapy not to help the patient, but to feed some sort of unhealthy need in him or herself. Long-term therapy is not necessary for every situation. Social skills training, as you say your son needed, should not require more than a few sessions.
Proper therapy should have a beginning, when the person first comes in; a middle, when progress is being made; and an end, which hopefully means a marriage has been saved or a relationship healed.
Perhaps your son’s therapist was more concerned with keeping your son as a client forever than in helping him become more confident, get married and work out any issues in his relationship with his family so that he could have loving relationships with his entire family. This is selfish and tragic.
Please continue to try to reach out to your son. If there is a rav with whom he is close, speak with him. I hope that you are able to repair the relationship and that you can all move on from this traumatic experience.
I wish all of my readers GeFeN: gezunt, parnassa, and nachas – and may all of your tefillos be answered le’tova.