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Katz-Bearnot, S. (2018). The Art of Jewish Pastoral Counseling: A Guide for All Faiths, by Michelle Friedman and Rachel Yehuda, Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group, London and New York, 2017, 208 pp.. Psychodyn. Psych., 46(2):305-308.

(2018). Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 46(2):305-308

The Art of Jewish Pastoral Counseling: A Guide for All Faiths, by Michelle Friedman and Rachel Yehuda, Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group, London and New York, 2017, 208 pp.

Review by:
Sherry Katz-Bearnot, M.D.

The desire to enter the clergy usually involves a spiritual calling of some kind. Education to enter the clergy always involves a close and involved study of the texts and practices of the religion. Most young clerics have little idea what roles they will be expected to fill when they assume congregational leadership. In fact, clergy are mental health “First Responders.” And even if a congregational leader has good emotional intuition and excellent interpersonal skills, the complexity of situations with which one might be confronted requires additional training for the pastoral role. Friedman and Yehuda have produced a wonderful primer, written (without a trace of jargon) from a psychodynamic point of view. This book fills the gap between the formal training given in seminary and the real life encounters with ethical dilemmas, individual psychopathology, family conflict, and the unexpected, which become the cleric's pastoral responsibility. While this book is specifically directed at Jewish clerics, the religious leaders referred to are rabbis, cantors, etc., and the dilemmas described in the clinical examples draw from Jewish life, I agree with the authors that this is, indeed, a guide for all faiths. This is accomplished in particularly skillful ways. It is literally what they advise their readers to do in the pastoral encounter: They keep their focus on the emotional center of the clinical example, and leave the legal aspects of the Jewish Halacha for very complete and useful footnotes. It's a perfect illustration of “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk.”

Michelle Friedman, M.D., a Fellow of our Academy, may be familiar to many as she has presented her work at our meetings. She is the founder, and now the Director, of the Pastoral Counseling program at the Rabbinical School at the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Rachel Yehuda, Ph.D., her coauthor, is a teacher in the Pastoral Counseling program, as well as the Director of Mental Health at the Bronx VA. The authors have significant experience as mental health practitioners. So both understand and can convey the similarities and differences in frame, content, expectation, and outcome between a patient and a trained medical or mental health provider and the encounters between congregants and clergy. They have done a masterful job in organizing their understanding, so that it can be communicated using experience-near clinical examples.

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