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For the most part, the literature on cultural diversity tends to ignore the effects that religion has on psychotherapy and counseling. Judaism is an excellent example of a religion that ignores its effects on both psychotherapy and counseling. Orthodox Jews also serve as an excellent example of a minority group that fails to utilize the psychological health services offered by the majority culture.
According to Schnall (2006), many barriers, both personal and institutional tend to prevent Orthodox Jews from receiving satisfactory psychological health services. The main reason that contributes to this situation is the fact that multiculturalism tends to exclude Jews, their issues and anti- Semitism.
Such treatment is highly discouraging because it demonstrates a worrying trend of anti- Semitism. Besides, there lacks comprehensive scientific studies that examine psychotherapy relating to Orthodox Jews. This lack of concern is manifest in that most forms of literature, including books and academic journals, hardly ever cover Jews in their studies.
Moreover, although there are clear signs that Orthodox Jews favor non-Orthodox therapists, the number of culturally competent counselors to handle this population adequately is small. However, it is still sensible for the Orthodox Jews to receive counseling services from non-Jewish or non-Orthodox counselors.
Demographic Information Relating to the Orthodox Jews
The term Orthodoxy has been in use for quite a long time. The first application of the term dates back to 1807 when Napoleon liberated the Jews from the slums. This term was applicable to the Jews who abided by the Jewish laws and customs. Orthodox Jews believe that God gave the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai together with a number of exquisitely designed interpretations of its commands. When working with this population, mental health professionals should understand that Orthodox Jews has several subgroups.
The various subgroups differ widely in terms of worldview, language, religious practices, diet and dressing. In the United States, there are approximately 5.2 and 6.7 million Orthodox Jews, with the Orthodox Jews constituting only a small fraction of this population (Schnall, 2006). Although the Orthodox Jews population is relatively small, they are often inclined to live in concentrated neighborhoods. They also prefer living in major capitals in the northern parts of America such as Baltimore, Toronto and Los Angeles.
The incompatibility of Western mental health care and the needs of the Orthodox Jews arise because of the differences in these cultures. For this reason, it has been difficult for them to seek these services and receive sufficient care. One of the obstacles affecting counseling relates to the issue of finances.
Most Orthodox Jews are highly devoted to their religion, which leaves them financially pressed. In addition, most Orthodox Jews tend to perceive seeking mental health services as revealing their personal weaknesses. Furthermore, classical Jewish literature is highly critical of the medical profession in general. Consequently, many Orthodox Jews tend to question how non-Jewish counselors can understand some significant aspects of their culture such as the Jewish soul using worldly knowledge (Schnall, 2006).
University education of mental health practitioners presents another significant barrier for the Orthodox Jews. In most cases, the Orthodox Jews consider such people as corrupted and belonging to the secular world. Besides, they fear that therapists and counselors will not respect their values. Orthodox Jews are also likely to demonstrate suspicion when dealing with outsiders owing to their long history of persecution.
In this case, they are likely to suspect outsiders for holding ulterior or anti-Semitic motives (Schnall, 2006). The Jews might also harbor fears that the counseling sessions might involve inappropriate interactions with members of the opposite sex. Finally, there is a disgrace attached to seeking mental health services in the Orthodox Jewish culture.
They fear that others may perceive them as being crazy. The situation becomes even more complicated because an individual’s background plays a critical role when considering a marriage partner. The Orthodox Jewish community is cohesive, which means that keeping secrets is not easy. For that reason, Orthodox Jews often seek the services of a rabbi to solve their problems.
Factors affecting Multicultural Competency
Numerous barriers affect multicultural competency in counseling. The most disturbing barrier to multicultural competency is the fact that there are numerous subgroups among the Orthodox Jews. Each subgroup has different religious practices, worldviews and customs. This requires the counselor to have the ability to understand different body movements, languages and facial expressions.
The stigma associated with seeking mental health services also serves as a barrier for counselors working with Orthodox Jews patients because the shame involved complicates matters. In addition, it is not easy to counsel Orthodox Jews on matters relating to family planning because they do not acknowledge modern methods that require ceasing or delaying childbearing. Besides, they aspire to replace family members killed in the Holocaust (Schnall, 2006).
While therapy often requires making inquiries about spouses, Orthodox Jews often show reluctance to share any negative information. Asking certain questions to assess intelligence also poses problems for the counselor because the Orthodox Jews isolate themselves from the secular world. The conflict between Western explanatory models and Orthodox Jews religious beliefs and preconceptions also complicates matters because they both have different ways of interpreting the problems (Schnall, 2006).
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In addition, many Orthodox Jews will consider seeking counseling from their rabbis, as opposed to professional counselors. Besides, it is difficult to provide counseling to women because their role in society is not clear. Moreover, counselors may not understand issues revolving around Jewish spousal relations because strict laws often guide them. Lastly, the issues of countertransference and embarrassment also act as barriers during counseling.
Recommendations for Improving Counseling
The most effective recommendation for counselors intending to work with the Orthodox Jews is for them to coordinate with the rabbis and other authoritative figures of their community. Such liaisons are essential because they help the counselors to earn legitimacy and credibility. Counselors should also learn some of the mannerisms and customs of the Orthodox Jews because this will enable them to understand them in a better way.
The counselors should also consider incorporating customary Jewish thought into their treatment plans (Schnall, 2006). Similarly, the counselors should incorporate some biblical readings in their treatment plans because this helps to promote emotional and psychological well-being. In addition, counselors should frame their ideas and explanations in religious terms because this helps to make the therapy more convincing.
In some cases, incorporating Jewish ritual may be helpful in encouraging participation. Besides, use of biological models to deal with mental illnesses is appropriate because the Orthodox Jews patients’ are more comfortable with this approach.
Moreover, counselors must ensure that the clinic environment is comfortable and staff members observe a reserved dress code to reduce anxiety. Counselors should also appreciate that Orthodox Jews patients’ value privacy and would prefer meeting at secluded locations, away from other members of their community (Schnall, 2006).
Additionally, counselors should be cautious when determining their fees because most Orthodox Jews are not financially stable. Lastly, counselors should consider employing a team approach when proving counseling. In addition, the counselor may advise the client to bring along a chaperon who would act as a “cultural bridge.”
Schnall, E. (2006). Multicultural Counseling and the Orthodox Jew. Journal of Counseling & Development, 84 (1), 276-282.