Dear Therapist

What grieving clients wished their therapist would know.

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Dear Therapist,

The idea to put this together came after we got tremendous positive feedback on our publication entitled Dear Rebbi, Dear Morah, in which our Links Family members – girls and boys who’d lost a parent – wrote open letters to their teachers.

The response: 2,800 copies gone before I could blink.

Eventually, we put it up on our website and it’s constantly being referenced.

This experience has been so encouraging. It shows me that so many teachers know they don’t get it – but they want to learn.

Therapists, though? They get it. Don’t they?

For the last five years, I’ve been meeting with therapists around the country, as well as in Europe and Israel – in person and via Zoom – so our therapy referral team can provide targeted referrals for our Zisel’s Links and Little Pearls girls and Shlomie’s Club boys.

In these meetings, the therapists and I often get into discussions about therapy in general and what the grieving child may experience in a therapeutic setting. Many therapists share important insights I’ve used to help keep clients in good therapy (and to help them run away when it’s bad therapy!).

And I often hear from the therapists that what I’ve shared on behalf of our girls and boys has been helpful to them.

Therapists? They know that they want to learn.

I sent out a message to our members, saying that we were putting together a collection of open letters to therapists. I set three rules:

  1. I didn’t want responses sent directly to me so I could never confirm or deny who wrote what… I truly don’t know 🙂
  2. This was not a kvetch-fest. This was about sharing their experience and what they wished therapists would know so it could be better for someone else. 
  3. The letters had to be about their own personal experience – not one that happened to a family member. I wanted only first-hand experiences.

What follows is a powerful collection of raw, unvarnished sharing. While there’s no one-size-fits-all in the therapy room, patterns do emerge. I hope you find these responses as illuminating as I did.

Wishing you continued hatzlachah in your incredible work,

Sarah Rivkah Kohn

Founder & Director, Links Family

Dear Therapist,

The two of us traversed a journey in time, traveling down the path together. You met me at my lowest and we trekked back up as a team. You were there as I fell, as I slipped, and when I dusted myself off and continued the climb. You were there as my punching bag when the anger reared its ugly head, and as my security blanket when the dark demons appeared. You held my hand as I passed each milestone and cheered me on when the going got tough.

I met you shortly after I lost my mother. At that point in my life, I didn’t trust anyone or anything – not even life itself. You had a difficult job in gaining my trust; I tested you at every opportunity, yet you stayed strong and steady.

The relationship we forged is one that’s hard to explain. I shared with you secrets that even I hadn’t known existed. You taught me to smile again by carrying my pain. You’ve been there like nobody else has, understanding what was unspoken and explaining the unexplainable.

We fought too. It wasn’t always a bed of roses. The time I didn’t understand the seeming rigidness … when my strength diminished and I felt like I couldn’t go on … when I felt you just didn’t get how right I was or how wrong you were. Throughout, your love and patience never faltered.

With time – and with your guidance – I learned how to trust in others again, forge new relationships, and maintain them with proper boundaries. That was the goal and we achieved it together.

With that, I didn’t need you any longer. The walls of my safe haven of growth and rebirth now bore witness to an emotional termination session. We never actually said goodbye and your door is always open for me … I know. It’s not the same though.

Our relationship now is even harder to explain. Who knows me better than you? Though I can’t share with you my successful day at work or a triggering comment I received, I know how proud you’d be to hear how well adjusted and happy I am, how I love life and look forward to every brighter tomorrow. I also know how much you’d care on the days when the going gets tough and it’s hard to find the sunlight. At times, I wish to hear your voice again, see your smile, or just update you on how I’m doing.

Our sessions are a thing of my past, one that I hold dear to my heart. It’s a part of my life that I’m happy to have graduated from, though I certainly miss it. You’ve taught me how to climb and now I use those tools to continue climbing – every day.

Dear Therapist,

I know all the reasons you can’t come to my wedding but I’m still so sorry you’re missing it.

We began therapy when I was 17.

I was the “good” one. The “happy” one.

I was just a little stressed.

We did all the talk therapy and I performed well because I’d fooled myself into thinking I was fine for so long that I didn’t even feel like I was putting up a show.

But you were learning this new form of therapy – somatic something and you asked if I’d be willing to go on this journey with you.

I laughed when you asked me where I felt a certain emotion. “Nowhere.”

You didn’t push and we kept going.

I don’t remember how or when it started affecting me, but the pain in my left leg grew so strong. It traveled. It was real.

And with it came vague memories of incidents I couldn’t even grasp details of. Hazy memories of Hatzolah coming into our home… of the screaming as my mother realized my father was gone… and the crazy thoughts that ran through my mind at the time…

Suddenly, I was feeling and that was so, so scary. But also so, so liberating.

I’d never been much of a “feeler,” and you got me to do that.

As I prepare for my wedding, I know that without this capacity to feel, I would never have gotten engaged.
I can now connect to people in a deeper and more authentic way.

Thank you for constantly learning something new and for pushing me to places I never knew I could go.

Dear Therapist,

My father passed away from COVID in early 2020, when I was 10 years old. Right after he passed away, everyone offered me therapy but I refused. I did speak to someone once over Zoom, but I really wasn’t interested.

Last year, I had a lot of panic attacks and couldn’t sleep, so my mother and my teacher set me up with you.

When I first came to you, we worked on what to do when I feel panic, but we didn’t touch anything related to my father dying. My mother told you we were open about it – which was true- and that she didn’t think his death had anything to do with my anxiety, especially since it was a few years later.

You taught me skills to manage my anxiety and I made a lot of progress. It was only when we were talking about ending therapy that I mentioned I was still very angry at the hospital… You seemed so surprised, which made me upset, but then you caught yourself and asked me to tell you more.

Let me ask you something: If someone broke into your house and stole all your precious jewelry and silver, leaving the house broken to bits, and then a few weeks later it was all cleaned up and nobody said a word or even tried to get the guy arrested… would you be angry?
That’s what it feels like for me. COVID came, doctors had no idea what they were doing. They stole my father, and nobody even did anything about it.

Oh, and it also was a time when we sat shivah on Zoom. Maybe once a day my mother would yell, “Someone wants to talk to you!” but most of the time, it was just the adults talking.

I’m good, so I continued being good. Yes, we talk about my father, but nobody ever spoke about my anger till that session we had, which was the session that made my therapy last another year. We realized then that my anger was also masking huge fears and a lack of trust and, of course, that had a lot to do with my anxiety. We also realized that I never had a chance to grieve and to get attention drawn to my father in the form of a levayah or shivah. The loneliness kept going because who was going to bring up his death when I went back to school and the world went back to normal? And who brings it up now?

We did a lot of art together, and a lot of talking, as well as a few sessions with my mother, where she told me she felt a lot of the same things I did. That helped me a lot because it made me feel normal.

I’m so grateful that you didn’t just treat the anxiety and dug deeper to help me deal with my unprocessed grief.

Dear Therapist,

My mother passed away from a sudden heart attack when I was 14. Everyone told my father I needed therapy. Since he wanted what was best for me, he shipped me off to you.

I don’t know what he told you at the intake, but you looked very emotional at our first visit and it made me uncomfortable. I felt like I might have to support you.

Prior to the loss, our family had been fairly normal and healthy, and I’d had no exposure to therapy so I didn’t know what to do.

You asked me what I wanted to talk about and I said, “Nothing:’ Not because there was nothing but because I honestly had no clue what to do. What was appropriate for me to bring up? What was considered a “waste of time”? (I learned later – NOTHING.)

You tried playing a game or bringing up things you thought might be bothering me but you got nowhere.

Of course, I was in pain, was missing my mother horribly, and my house was upside down, but I never brought that up.

After six sessions, I told my father I didn’t need therapy. I was fine. He was relieved to check this off the list and we were done.

In 11th grade, I met with the school social worker about a social fiasco and she asked if I’d ever been to therapy before. I told her it was a waste. She was curious as to why I thought so and I told her, “You just sit and say whatever is on your mind and get nowhere.”

She let me criticize therapy in every way and when I ran out of steam, she asked if she could share something. When I agreed, she said she suspected that I was judging the therapeutic experience by a therapist who was not a good fit. She told me more about the theraputic contracts she does informally with her clients, giving them an idea of what to expect in session with her and how to challenge her. “When things are so out of control at home, I find that my clients need my space to be more structured.”

I couldn’t agree more. I’m 17 now and have been in therapy for 11 months. It’s a whole different experience. I always know our goals and I love the clarity. For me, that’s what worked.

Dear Therapist,

I really shouldn’t be writing this letter to you, but rather to your director. But since you were the vehicle through which I had the experience, I’m writing to you.

I came to therapy wanting desperately to talk to someone. We had no money, so I went to the clinic in
our area.

I was 13 and in majorly raw grief. My father had been ill for so long and his death just shattered me.

I had begged for therapy but my mother was not in favor of it. When she finally agreed a year later, I was an absolute mess.

At the intake, they told us there would be a three-week wait until I got a therapist – it was almost too much.
I was terrified my mother would change her mind in those three weeks. I begged the woman who did the intake and she was kind and said she would try.

She must have, because 10 days later, I came to you.

At the first session, I began by telling you my name and that I was in pain. I began to talk, but you gently interrupted me and said that we needed to get some paperwork done first.

I was so hurt.

I wanted to talk.

I needed to talk.

Why paperwork?

You were kind and we did it quickly, but those 15 minutes killed the momentum and created an irreparable distance. You took notes and jotted things on a mountain of papers.

I thought you obviously didn’t get it if you could interrupt my flow… and l’m not sure I was wrong.

I was polite during the three sessions we had together but asked the director to change my therapist at the clinic.

The next one I saw possibly could’ve made the same mistake, but she had your papers to fall back on and so we hit it off.

You smiled at me when we met in the hallways but I could tell you wondered, “Hmm, why did she leave me for her?”

So this is your answer.

Dear Therapist,

I’ll never forget our first session.

I told you my father had been a raging addict who’d berated me to no end. I told you how the addiction was crazy to live with and maybe I even said I was happy he was dead so the drama was done.

You, in an effort to validate me, said he sounded awful.

I hated you for that.


Did you know he bought the best Chanukah gifts? Did you know he made sure my principal raised my grade? Did you know he fed homeless people? Did you know that he quietly raised funds for his brother every time one of his brother’s children got married?

Awful? Noooooo.

I think it was the harshness of the way you said it that shocked me into silence, and I don’t think I told you any of this.

I also asked my mother to find a different therapist.

Six years of good therapy later, here’s what I want you to know:

It’s really hard for me to share the good and the ugly parts of my father’s life in a coherent way because I find it so confusing. There are days I hate him for creating havoc and for making me a somewhat anxious child. There are days I miss him so, so much and wish I had him. There are days my wise mind wants to know if I miss him or the sober version of him that snuck in periodically. I don’t know, but it’s usually a mush, and as a 15-year-old, it was even more of a mush.

By now, I know that he was all of it. Awful sometimes. Wonderful sometimes. But at 15, I was much more black-and-white, so when you made him out to be horrid, I was confused and had to make him amazing because it didn’t feel right to make him out to be only awful.

So here’s my advice: Listen. Learn. And be patient. In a later session (had we had one), you might have heard about all the other amazing parts. And then you might have understood more about the world of confusion my mind was living in.

They call my grief complicated and that’s exactly what it is. Complicated.

There were days as a child when I wished that Hatzolah hadn’t revived him after he OD’d. There were days as a teen that I lived in terror that those thoughts had killed him. My therapist had to listen to that and not belittle it with “Nah, your thoughts couldn’t have done that!”

Instead, I was asked gently to walk my therapist through my thought process. And on my own, I said, “OK, this is crazy – how could a 9-year-old’s thoughts make an addict die five years later?!”

And that’s how I released it. Something else I learned in therapy was that my father was complicated – in life and death. His death and my grief process were complicated. But I am not complicated.

For years, the words “complicated grief” made me think I was complicated, which felt shameful. I kept trying to be as uncomplicated as I could. Four years into therapy, I’m not even sure how it came up but my therapist asserted strongly that I was not complicated at all! That made me feel so much better and accelerated so much of my growth because I stopped fighting.

Thank you for reading this. The world is lucky to have more therapists sensitizing themselves with situations like mine.

Dear Therapist,

Three years ago, our relationship began.

I was going through a hard time, as I knew it was the last few months of my mother’s life. As the youngest in my family, straight back from seminary and having recently moved away from home, real life hit hard. I knew I needed to create some stability within the chaos, but I was just so burned out from speaking with different professionals and then having to start all over again. I had a lack of trust toward many people, and it had been way too long since I’d felt truly supported.

Our connection became an unbelievable one, with a tremendous amount of sincerity, compassion, trust, and hope. Week by week, we discussed my journey. The ups and the downs. Learning to cope throughout the sickness, death, mourning, and grief. Creating a functional life of hopes and dreams. You guided me through challenging relationships, advised me about shidduchim, helped me manage in college, and most importantly, found me a home of warmth.

As painful as life was, I knew I could call or text you at any hour. And while you often didn’t respond immediately, as you had healthy boundaries, just knowing I could text you felt incredibly comforting. I would sit there with tears streaming down my face, as no one could understand how much emotional pain I was in. Sometimes I would see tears running down your face as I spoke. I knew you had lost a parent at a young age too, but little did I know what you were really thinking. You encouraged and loved me as if I were your own child. You believed in me when it was difficult for me to believe in myself. You were the parent I didn’t have in my life. You taught me how to have a connection with my mother, who’s no longer around, as well as how to create healthy relationships with friends, family, and even myself.

I learned about skills I never knew I had. Allowing myself to feel through writing. Letting my passionate thoughts run free. Feeling the power of each carefully chosen word. You understood me. Comforted me.

It’s hard not to cry as I write this. You showed me the strength that I didn’t know was possible for a person to have. You sat through many sessions, weeks on end, listening to me while ignoring your own suffering.

I refused to believe that you were sick. I didn’t want to acknowledge the pain. I wanted to pretend that people live forever. I had always imagined seeing you at my wedding, envisioning your smile, your pride and nachas as you watched hard work turn into success. Instead, despite your cancer, you continued to work and push yourself to listen sincerely until the last month of your life.

I never got closure from our sessions. I never had the opportunity to show my appreciation or say goodbye. I didn’t know it was possible to go through the death of a mother twice.

I miss you. I cherish the relationship we had. Everything I gained from you remains and will continue to help me succeed. I wish, miserable as it would have been, you would have shared where you were at so I could have had your support in this too…

Dear Therapist,

Let’s start from the beginning.

My dad died, my mom took care of us kids by herself, she remarried but it didn’t work out, and now I’m an emotionally unavailable adult who can’t let people in and even worse, sabotages everything good in her life.
Sound good? Great.

First thing I’d like to say is – I’m being completely transparent with you (something that a previous therapist taught me how to do).

Second, I need you to be completely transparent with me. If you cannot handle me, refer me elsewhere or make up a lie so you won’t have to see me, but for heaven’s sake, do not try to help me if you’re incapable!

Lastly, I know that if you’re confident you can help me, you will, but I have an issue accepting help, so on occasion, I might need you to shove it down my throat I may need some persistence on your end.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me be a bit softer in my appeal for help. I know a lot of what I struggle with emotionally stems from losing a parent. And my independence to create a life for myself might be keeping me back from developing new relationships. I need your help to learn how to accept the love I deserve without sabotaging it. I need to figure out the balance between taking care of my widowed mother and taking care of myself. I desperately yearn for a life that is inspiring and not one that requires sympathy. I know Hashem gave me so many brachos – if only I knew how to recognize them every day.

I’ve had therapists since I was 5 and each one served a purpose. My play therapist in elementary school gave me attention when no one else would. My guidance counselor in middle school made me feel like a freak who needed to be fixed. My therapist after high school taught me how to validate my feelings and cope with depression and anxiety. My therapist in Israel taught me that I don’t have to be a textbook product of my circumstances. And now it’s your turn. Please help me learn how to have healthy, functional relationships. Please help me enjoy the life I have and get me on the path to the life I want.

Dear Therapist,

I don’t know who you are and I’m so nervous to meet you. Everyone says that I can talk to you and it will help me a lot to see you. I hope you can help me. I am a very smart second grader. I have a lot of friends and the best family. But my father died when I was very little. Recently, my mother remarried and it’s not going that well. I feel very disappointed, hurt, and frustrated. I’m acting up in class and because I’m a smart girl, I know I can use some help. That’s why I’m here. You’ll help me. I know it!

It’s Tuesday, after school. It’s raining hard. I’m waiting in your waiting room. There you stand. You smile and show me to a small room. I feel butterflies in my stomach. There’s a lot of clutter, papers and stuff. I sit on an old, green couch. Ready for help. You take out a pen and paper and ask me some questions. I answer. I hate when things are dragged out, so I get straight to the point. I open up to you about everything that’s going on. At home, at school, everything! I talk and talk and talk. And you sit there. Writing. And writing. Why are you writing? Do you hear what I’m telling you? Why are you just writing it down? Can you hear me?

I’m very disappointed in our first meeting. You didn’t help me. You’re weird. But I’ll give another try. Time passes. I really don’t like you. You’re so formal. Writing every word I say! Listen up, Mrs. Fancypants Therapist, if you can’t remember what I’m saying unless you write it down, then it’s time for you to get some therapy.

I hate going to you. I told my mom but she says I should keep trying. Being in second grade is very hard without a father. Things at home are a mess. I wish you would’ve listened to me. I wish you would’ve put that pen down.

I am never going to therapy again. If I have a problem, I’ll figure it out myself. I’m a big girl and I won’t ever have issues!


I shared the above at the  Zisel’s Links Shabbaton and a therapist there told me her heart broke for the little girl who felt so unseen in the therapy room.

That statement broke so many stereotypes and began planting seeds in my head. Yes, at 8, I might have been too immature to differentiate between different types of therapists, but now that I was 15 … maybe it was time to try again.

My next therapist mentioned that we’d spend the first couple of months exploring what felt right and wrong for me in therapy. It was such a relief! We did that and then continued to work together for the past 18 months. I’m so glad someone changed my mind about therapy.

Dear Therapist,

I don’t know how to tell you what it’s like to live without a father for 22 years. I don’t know how to explain living with a mother who wasn’t always capable of being a parent. I don’t know which words I can use to describe the emotions, to express the pain, to communicate what feels like an eternity, in our 50-minute session. But that’s why I came to you.

I need help picking up the pieces of my shattered life. I need help to stop myself from shattering them even more. I need help seeing my life for the beautiful gift that it is, because it really is so beautiful. I need help with the anxiety and the depression, the loathing and the loving, the self-esteem and the self-respect. I’m such a mess. And just making the phone call to schedule the appointment drains me to the point of needing a three-hour nap.

Therapist, I’m here because I want a better life. Because coming late to work every day due to the anxiety keeping me on the pillow is crushing my dreams of developing a career. Because depression is holding me back from enjoying time with the people I love and the people who love me. Because my self-destructive actions stem from unresolved feelings and I don’t even know what they are.

I’lI be fair, though. I’ll be honest and straightforward and tell you off the bat that I’m going to play games. I’lI try to manipulate you. I’ll give you a mountain of lies for you to dig out the truth. And I don’t mean to do all those things. I want your help – more than anything, I want to get better. It’s just that l’ve been pushing away help for so long that my brain knows no other way to respond. I know I need to retrain my thoughts, but for the life of me, I don’t know how.

What I’m asking from you is the best you have to offer. I sought you out from highly regarded contacts and l’m willing to spend my hard-earned wages for this help. I’m trusting you, which is a rare commodity in my life, so don’t make me regret it.

In the past, straightforward approaches were the most effective. Don’t walk on eggshells in fear of disrupting my emotional state. Don’t focus on the excuses l’m giving you when you know they’re just a defense mechanism. Call me out. Kindly. Tell me this is not how I want to live my life – because it’s not. That’s why I’m here. Use your education and experience with confidence and show me you’re capable of helping me. I don’t want to live a life of excuses. I want a life that I can be responsible for all on mv own.

So thank you for accepting those terms. Thank you for making me uncomfortable when I need to be, and for giving me a reality check when I veer off the path. And thank you so much for helping me love my life and all the people in it.

And before I forget, I must thank my internal therapist, my brave, courageous self, for going out and finding the life I deserve.

Dear Therapist,

I’m a mother of four children in therapy. One is an adult child, one a teen, and two young ones.

They’re seeing four different therapists, and for the most part, I’m involved in the journey.

Let me say this: Walking into a collateral session felt like one big judgement call. Clearly, I had not done a good enough job if FOUR of my children felt the need to find someone outside of myself to process with. I, of course, didn’t say that – but I thought it. One of the clinicians didn’t help things when she said, “Sometimes children just don’t feel safe sharing with parents,” and while I think she meant that in general, I heard a loud voice in my head saying: “See, you’re not safe enough.”

Another therapist spent the time explaining what she wouldn’t be able to share with me, which left me feeling so confused as to why I was even there.

So here’s what I want to share:

Therapy is a costly endeavor. And I don’t just mean financially. It’s a trip down the emotional highway and as a parent, I need tools to deal with the roller coaster therapy will induce in my children. I know I’m not your client, but your client will suffer if you don’t help me navigate this well.

Therapy is terrifying as a parent. Validate that. Tell me how you know I tried and if you can, reassure me that my child still needs me and loves me. Because, sometimes, it feels like you have taken that space in their life.

If you’re treating a teen and won’t be sharing much with me, can you let me know what my role should be? What I can expect, and what’s OK to ask or speak about?

I’m a mother, not a therapist. Please don’t assume I understand anything about this process. If I call you too much or too little, it’s probably because I have no clue what’s expected.

I think all the above is true for any parent. Any parent who gives their child the green light to go for therapy is giving them a gift. A very brave gift. For single parents, the cost is higher because the self doubt is carried solely by one parent… Please remember that fragile self when you share how awful my child is feeling.

Thank you for carrying my children’s pain. Thank you for being a safe space. Thank you for helping my little ones and big ones grow into wholesome humans.

Dear Therapist,

Sitting on your couch is the most unbelievably humbling feeling.

I’m a father in my 50s and I never thought I would visit a therapist – for someone of my generation, it’s really hard. I saw therapy as something positive for someone in a “really bad place.” I felt someone had to be a little “crazy” and then yeah, therapy was great for them.

My wife died of COVID. I was left with a bunch of kids; some married, some single. And I had no idea what to do.

First I was sad, but then I started getting really angry. I was angry at my kids for not helping enough. I was angry at my wife for not wearing a mask. I was angry at the hospital. I was angry at the organizations who didn’t know exactly what I needed …

Let me tell you, I built a business years back. I’m known as a kind, normal boss. I have 30+ employees. I make a good parnassah. This anger thing was new.

My married kids whispered therapy talk all around me, but I felt like it was a cop-out. Sure, send Tatty to therapy and then we don’t have to deal with him anymore.

It was actually my Rav who recommended you. He said I should go 4-6 times and if I found it unhelpful, I could quit.

The first session, I was controlled and gave you all the history.

You looked at me and told me you were grateful I was there and that if I wanted to come back, you’d be grateful to have more conversations.

You were so respectful and real and I appreciated that.

In the second session, I broke down, reliving the end of my wife’s life and the loneliness I felt.

You didn’t say, “But you know it was bashert.” You didn’t say, “That is soooooo hard.”

You just said nothing for a good two minutes and then you looked at me and said, “It feels ridiculous to try to put words to what you just shared. That pain is so real and so big and so right… I’m honestly just feeling it all over. It’s so huge.”

At that moment, I sobbed. I felt so hung over and needed to sit in the waiting room before I could drive home.

I was extremely confused and terrified that our next session would be the same and the intensity was hard.

Could I do this every week?

At our third session, you asked me how I’d felt since the last session and I shared my thoughts. You told me it absolutely did not have to be this intense each time and that you would follow my lead. You also suggested we do some grounding activity for the last 5 minutes. It was all so so helpful.

Here’s the funny thing – not only has my rage greatly gone down, but you and I have explored so many things I never would’ve gone to therapy for. Working through those issues has enriched my relationships with my children and with myself.

Sometimes I want to yell from the rooftops: Therapy is amazing. I know this isn’t true for all and that I’m super lucky, but therapy has been amazing for me and my life feels so much richer and less lonely thanks to your compassion and care.

Thank you for creating a space for people like me. ‘

Dear Therapist,

I have a lot of shame surrounding heading to therapy and the issues that brought me to the room. I’m a struggling single mother, widowed very suddenly, and the parenting struggles I had before I lost my husband have gotten a lot worse. I’m burnt out and if someone offered to foster my children for a year, I wonder if I wouldn’t jump at the chance. My kids range from “regular” to super challenging – like most families, probably. But l’m someone for whom mothering was not as natural as I thought it would be.

After working with you for six months, I still feel so much shame. “Mothers shouldn’t feel this way,” I tell you.
“Especially not mothers in chinuch… See, that’s my
added layer. I teach. I love my students. I’m an innovator.
I’m creative. I come up with effective new curricula. And I just don’t feel any of this same feeling at home. We debate and we discuss and you are so compassionate. You tell me so many successful people go to therapy. You tell me that it’s such a sign of health and that people who are emotionally in a better place are often the ones going to help while others resist. You tell me it’s not a sign of weakness.

I can’t help myself and I ask you, “Was there ever a time you went to therapy?”

You say, “No, but if I needed it – I wouldn’t hesitate.”

So wait… you never needed therapy? What qualifies as
“needing”? How needy does one have to be? And what happened to your mantras about successful people and healthy people going

Something felt off to me. I slept on it and l’m still finding it uncomfortable. I wonder how you can practice and believe in something you haven’t tried nor feel you have a need for. When I shopped for a vacuum cleaner, the clincher was when the saleslady pointed to one and said, “This is the one I use and love.” It was her confidence in the product that sold me. Your response came off as someone who’s not confident in the product. That stung.
Why am I investing energy and finances in someone who isn’t sure this product is as great as she’s telling me it is?

I plan to bring this up with you in session. I want you to know how much your response stung, and how deeply painful it is to be in a room with a clinician who has never been to therapy.

Thank you.

The Unsung Hero

An Ode in Three Movements

By Sarah Rivkah Kohn

3.30.2020 in pandemic

An ode to the therapist

Who’s grieving friends

And family members

Yet rises above

For 50 minutes

Forgets their own pain

And focuses solely on the other

An ode to the therapist

Who no longer has an office

Whose kids climb the walls

Whose apartment is so tiny

They must set up makeshift offices

In closets

And corners of bedrooms

An ode to the therapist

Who plays Battleship

And Guess Who

With the anxious child

By phone

Or by Zoom

Giggling at the absurdity

Releasing the tension

An ode to the therapist

Who must manage the

Highly contentious couple

Over Zoom

As each spouse jumps in

To fill the screen

An ode to the therapist

Who is seeing clients

At 5a.m.



And worst of all ... 12 noon (🙈)

Because clients are also


And struggling

And timing is hard

An ode to the therapist

Who is grieving

And can’t even admit it

As the papers announce

The death of a client

An ode to the therapist

Who is in bed

With raging fever


“I’ve got to get better for my clients”

Doing check-ins via text

In the interim

An ode to the senior therapist

Whose clinical training

Did not include technology

And who is now offering

Sessions on varying platforms

Learning something new

For the client

An ode to the therapist

The unsung hero

12.30.2021 in status quo

An ode to the therapist

Whose mother is dying

Whose child is challenging

Yet rises above

For 50 minutes

Forgets their own pain

And focuses solely on the client


An ode to the therapist

Who plays Battleship

And Guess Who

With the anxious child

Without ever sharing that

This is their fourth time for the day

Because it’s good for the client


An ode to the therapist

Who must manage the

Highly contentious couple

Providing safety and stability

And mostly, a space where

Both can be heard and understood

Because it’s helpful to the client


An ode to the therapist

Who is seeing clients

At 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Juggling and struggling

Timing is hard

Very hard

But its good for the client


An ode to the therapist

Who says no

To the many begging

“Please squeeze me in”

And “You seem like a perfect fit for me”

Because taking on more cases

Would do damage to their current clients


An ode to the therapist

Whose client leaves and

Never returns

Without any opportunity

For repair or closure

But choice is what’s good for the client


An ode to the therapist

Who is grieving

And can’t even say so

As the papers announce

The death of a client

The therapist is silent

Because even after death, it’s what’s good for the client


An ode to the therapist

Who pays a fortune

To train

And be supervised

And learn something new

Even if it’s helpful

for just one client


An ode to the therapist

The unsung hero

10.22.2023 in war

An ode to the therapist

Who spent Shemini Atzeres

Surrounding by horrific news

Barely processing

While being asked to tend to the

Neighbors, friends, clients

In pain. So much pain


An ode to the therapist

Who no longer has an office

Whose kids climb the walls

Whose apartment is so tiny

They must set up makeshift offices

In closets and corners of bedrooms

And tell their clients

“If there’s a siren, I’ll need to leave the session”


An ode to the therapist

Whose child is in seminary

And whose couple lives in the center of the Land

Who worries with each headline, “Is my kid safe?”

And then feels guilty ...

“Are all children safe?”

And cries because they aren’t


An ode to the therapist

Who tells her clients to avoid the gore

But sits with the clients

Who speak the unspeakable

And the therapist can’t unsee and can’t unhear

And must bear witness to all of the gruesome bits

And still smile during supper


An ode to the therapist

Who can’t sleep

Who knows exactly the somatic reactions

Their body is having

Who can’t eat

And knows exactly which trauma is one too many

But there are hearts to be tended to

And so their heart will wait


An ode to the therapist

Who is showing up

At army bases

On crisis lines

At shivah homes

Sits with parents of the kidnapped

Who has no idea what day it is

But knows Who is calling

And what their duty is


An ode to the therapist

In the safe room

Or stairwell

Supporting the elderly and the babies

Body here, mind on the many clients out there

Hoping they’re all in a safe room and safe


An ode to the therapist

Who genuinely has no more slots

But knows the Call of the Hour

And makes room (for free)

For the many who simply were caught unawares

And are grasping at their straws


An ode to the therapist

The unsung hero


The following articles by Sarah Rivkah Kohn originally appeared in Mishpacha Magazine

Ditch the Therapy Dangers

Licensed therapists are often unsung heroes.

They cannot share their successes and they get blamed for what the world perceives as their failures. They are often people who care deeply and are the kindest souls.

And every once in a while, there is the frustration when betrayals happen, boundaries are breached, and suddenly all therapists feel like the field that is supposed to provide safety to the vulnerable is on shaky ground.

Parents worry about sending their child on a trip into the unknown.

The world worries about the field – whom can they trust?

Here are some ways to weed out therapists you may want to avoid:

1. Referrals are not foolproof but they are an excellent place to start. However, get your referral from a reputable source. An agency who specializes in this, a Rav who knows you and knows mental health, a fellow excellent clinician may be able to refer a colleague. That referral you got from your cousin may be a great one but run it by someone who does many referrals. They can tell you if there have been any red flags in the past that your cousin may not know about from one experience.

2. Licensed as what? As stories emerge of betrayals by therapists, we often hear, “But he was licensed!” A licensed electrician may not practice therapy. Neither may many other people who carry a variety of licenses. Ask the question: What are you licensed as? Then, look it up. For the fields of social work, mental health counseling, or marriage and family therapy, you want to have an L before the licensure. That tells you the clinician passed the licensing exam (unless seeing an intern). For a PhD, you want it to be in clinical psychology, psychology, or psychiatry. A doctor of philosophy also has a PhD, but should not be practicing therapy. Look up the licensing – it’s all public information. You will see the year the license was given. If you can’t find it, it could be the clinician is practicing under their legal name (e.g., Joseph instead of Yossi) or it could be a woman has her license under her maiden name. All this is easy enough to clear up really quickly.

3. Sessions that run erratically – sometimes they’re 30 minutes, sometimes two hours – that’s a red flag right there. Therapy sessions typically run 45-60 minutes for individual therapy and 60-90 minutes for couples or family therapy (to give everyone a chance to talk). Some therapists working with very young children will run 30-minute sessions, if they feel that’s all the child can do. Whatever the number is, for the most part, that’s where it should stay. I’m not talking about the one-time crisis where a double session is needed and planned for. I’m talking about a session that doesn’t end when it should end. I’m talking about erratic timings. This is often very appealing to people in a vulnerable state. It gives off the I-will-be-here-for-you-as-long-as-you-need vibe. Therapy is built around boundaries. Healthy boundaries include a safe and consistent start and end time. If a therapist isn’t sticking to that core ethical value, I’d wonder and worry what other ethics are off.

4. Torah is true no matter the career choice. If you’re seeing a therapist of the opposite gender, ask how Hilchos Yichud are observed in their setting. Some use cameras pointed just at the clinician. Some have waiting rooms, windows facing outward, other shared offices … there are many options. Obviously, the answer itself is important but what’s more important is what the immediate response is. (Which is why you don’t want to email about this one!) Is it one of genuine surprise, as though they’ve never thought of this before? Is it one of frustration and defensiveness? Or is it “sure, here’s how I do it”? Listen carefully. Ask a she’eilah if need be. But if you sense any frustration with you for asking the question, run the other way.

5. Boundaries in the frum community are tough to maintain. A therapist can take on an adult client and three sessions in, her brother gets engaged to the client’s sister and with the maiden name being different from her client’s, she suddenly finds herself right in the middle of the family dynamics she’s heard all about in session. Or the couple a therapist takes on and only a few months in, he realizes this couple sits on the board of the school his son is trying to get into. And the greatest therapist nightmare is sitting at a wedding and hearing information about your sister’s neighbor and the way she yells at her children, only to realize it’s that sweetheart, sensitive client you’d never guess could verbally assault her family that way. Our world is so small. That’s why it’s imperative that boundaries be firm and unmovable. No, a client can’t move into the therapist’s home. Not even for a night. (Yes, a therapist can take in a child for foster care, so long as that child is not her client.) No, you can’t tell the concerned relative that you’re seeing the client and that she is just fine. No, you can’t meet your client in your dining room and have your married daughter pop in for a minute. A breach in boundaries needs to be taken very seriously.

6. Supervision is not superfluous. By law, once clinicians pass certain exams, they don’t have to have supervision to practice. That’s by law. But by good ethics, they should have one anyway. Referral agencies can and should know who a clinician’s primary supervisor is. I learn a lot about the style of a clinician based on who they take as a primary supervisor. I learn even more when someone tells me they don’t have one. “I’m past it,” scares me. There needs to be checks and balances in this field . You don’t just get to use your gut.

7. “I learned nothing in school, but I needed the paper.”

“I was always good at this stuff – I’m a natural.”

“That therapist is garbage … honestly, most are.”

“I can work with any age, any type of case, and help everyone.”

All these lines point to one thing: an inability to have insight and learn. Certainly a lack of humility. If a therapist displays these, I wonder if they have the ability to listen to another or if they have the ability to take critique and learn how to actually help the client.

8. Providing a cure-all or a number of sessions by which you can certainly be “cured” is a guarantee of one thing: failure. Humans are more nuanced and layered than an onion is. There’s no way to tell someone, “I can cure your anxiety in four or 10 sessions,” when you haven’t a clue as to what is causing the anxiety or if they’re sharing only what they know as the current trigger. Cure-all attitude often points to an inability to focus on what is right for the client and instead focuses on what is right for the portfolio. Clients are often terminated with and told that they’re done, and when the pain manifests itself again, there can be so much shame as though they “failed” the cure-all method.

9. Clients need to pay for therapy either with funds or via insurance. It’s part of good ethics. It’s also part of good ethics for every clinician to have something they do or someone they see, pro bono. If you are a pro bono client, there should be an arrangement that makes it abundantly clear that there are no strings attached. If the therapy is not paid for with money, be sure it’s not paid for with anything else. You cannot barter a service and expect to still maintain healthy boundaries.

Therapy in Seminary or Yeshiva Overseas

Going away from home often brings up a cocktail of emotions for both parent and child. It’s often a steppingstone in the journey from child to adult, and that can be rather frightening for some. Additionally, for those who’ve struggled in a particular home or school or social environment, being away from it for several months at a time can offer insight and perspective that opens up ideas and the need to work it through.

There’s also the teen/young adult who was successful in therapy and could use the continued support but whose therapist can’t continue seeing them while they’re overseas.

Step For Success

I spoke with a few clinicians practicing in Israel and these were pointers they shared:

  • If your child is currently in therapy or taking any medication, be sure to set up an appropriate arrangement BEFORE they get to Israel. Finding someone when crisis is already brewing is a sure-fire way to end up with the wrong person or to make the institution regret their decision.
  • Licensing terms and laws are very different in Israel. The word “therapist” is used much more liberally, and while most seminaries and yeshivos know to seek out licensed clinicians, not all are savvy or care. There are many excellent licensed social workers, psychologists, and mental health counselors practicing in Israel, but it’s up to the client (or their parent) to ask the important questions: What are you licensed as? Where did you get your degree from?
  • If your child is over 18, you’ ll need a release to speak with the clinician just as you would in the US. However, they absolutely can do it with your child’s permission. There are a couple of therapists who don’t do this, even when the client asks/ gives permission. It’s important that if the parent is the one setting up the therapy, they ask before what the policy is. If the seminary or yeshiva sets up the child and he/ she is over 18, it will be up to the client to decide how involved or not involved anyone is.
  • If the young man/woman is transferring from a previous therapist, it’s often wonderful if there can be one conversation between the two. Many therapists like to meet the client 1-2 times before doing this so that it doesn’t interfere with forming a fresh opinion.
  • Should the seminary/yeshiva administration know about the therapy? For the most part, it’s the wise and responsible thing to do. Having a child sneak out of the dorm or create cover stories is asking for disaster. That being said, if dealing with a therapy-resistant school administration or in the case of a bachur staying in his own dirah seeing a therapist during off hours … there may be times when it’s more appropriate to find one responsible staffer to speak with rather than the administration.
  • If the student will be doing therapy over Zoom, ensure the administration will provide a private and quiet space for this to take place. Not every school or yeshiva has the space or willingness to make this happen.
  • If you’ll be working with a therapist in Israel. .. start looking for one in June! Most therapists fill quickly and many have no slots come August.
  • Some Israel-based therapists will meet the client via Zoom prior to his/her arrival so they get a feel for each other and make sure this can work.
  • Yerushalayim is a big place. Make sure the therapist is close by so the student doesn’t waste an hour or more on commuting. This leads to so much burnout.
  • Starting therapy in September ensures you get at least 6 months in (and that’s with all the cancellations for tiyulim, etc.). Beginning to look in September often means finding in December and getting only 3 months in. Many therapists stopped taking clients mid-year for just this reason – they barely scratch the surface. If an issue does arise in January/ February, it’s often worthwhile to begin via Zoom with someone in the country the student is headed back to so they can continue once they’re back home.

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