Joel had struggled with on and off anxiety and obsessive tendencies since he was fourteen. It had started when a friend from the neighborhood was killed in a tragic accident. His twin brother Benjamin was devastated at the time but eventually moved on. Joel seemed unable to shake it off. Sometimes the anxiety was severe, and other times it seemed to fade away altogether. It had been much better in his last year of high school, and Joel’s parents hoped that he had grown out of it and that with Benjamin to look out for him, Joel would manage in his gap year in Israel.
Benjamin was loud and a jokester, always surrounded by friends. Joel was much quieter, and more introverted, and very into his learning. Even though they were twins, Benjamin always played the role of big brother around Joel. He would insist that Joel be included in his social arrangements. If he went to get pizza, he’d bring back a pie for Joel. If playing basketball on a Friday afternoon, he’d make sure Joel had a spot. He tried his best to make sure that Joel was ok. But as the year wore on, it became clear that Joel was not ok.
Joel was regressing.
Joel was regressing. The more anxious he became, the more hours he would spend in the beit midrash. He stopped sleeping. He started to look unwell for lack of sleep and fresh air, and to develop nervous habits. The old anxiety and obsessive tendencies came back, only now they were focused on religious matters. He took on stringency after stringency and even started to cut himself off from Benjamin.
Shlavim bridges the gap between yeshivas and the mental health world.
Shlavim is Kav L’Noar’s program for the gap year yeshiva community. It bridges the gap between yeshivas and the mental health world. Shlavim provides Yeshiva faculties with psycho-educational workshops as well as personal consultation services about emotional health issues affecting their students. Shlavim provides yeshiva students with tailor-made referral and case management services.
Joel’s yeshiva rebbe had attended a Kav L’Noar Shlavim training session which provided information about addictions and a range of common issues such as anxiety. The session also discussed the difference between healthy religious dedication and growth, and potential mental distress. The rebbe took Joel aside one day and strongly advised him to see if one of Kav L’Noar’s Shlavim case managers might be able to find help for him. Joel was reluctant, saying that “this is just how I am.” The rebbe said, “tell that to the professional, not me.”
Had Joel considered therapy?
After getting to know Joel a little and hearing about the issues that were troubling him, the Kav L’Noar case manager asked if Joel had ever considered going to therapy. “Considered it?” Joel said. “I’ve done more than consider it. I’ve been through it! Not once but twice! And both times, it was a complete waste of time!
“Honestly, I don’t think therapists know what to do with someone like me.”
The first therapist was an old-fashioned analyst. He made me talk about my earliest memories, recreate every conversation I could ever remember. It was interesting, but I was there for a year and nothing changed so I gave up. The second time, I was with the sweetest guy. He was so warm, so reassuring. He empathized with everything I was going through. But I still got nowhere. “Honestly, I don’t think therapists know what to do with someone like me.” The case manager smiled. “Well you do seem like a special guy, Joel”, he said. “But nevertheless I’m confident I can find someone who knows how to help you cope with your anxiety.”
In fact, it wasn’t so easy. When the case manager went through all the names of all the therapists he worked with, he realized that there was only one whom he really felt sure would be a good match for Joel. And he had to be absolutely sure. He couldn’t risk Joel having a bad experience for the third time- and being potentially put off for life. He first called the therapist to see if he had availability. Although, he wasn’t too hopeful, because this therapist normally had a long waitlist. But he got lucky, and the therapist said that a slot had just opened up and he would hold it for Joel, but only for 24 hours.
Joel’s mother wasn’t too enthusiastic
The case manager immediately called Joel. But Joel said that since his parents would pay for the therapy, it had to be cleared by them. So the case manager called Joel’s parents in the U.S.three times, and finally got through very late that night Israel-time. Yet Joel’s mother wasn’t too enthusiastic. “There will be plenty of time for therapy if Joel wants it when he gets home. He’s only in yeshiva for a year or two- why start this all up again when it probably won’t work anyway? Shouldn’t he be focusing on his learning?”
The case manager explained why he felt that it would be worth Joel seeing this particular therapist. “I have a lot of experience with this, and I’m as sure as I can be that this therapist will be able to help Joel. If Joel gets his anxiety under control, every element of his life will improve, even the learning.
Third time’s a Charm
At last, Joel’s mother agreed and Joel began therapy. The case manager checked in with the therapist and with Joel regularly to make sure that everything was going smoothly and heard only positive reports from them both. Joel even told him that Benjamin had asked him to send a special thank you from him for taking care of his brother in a way that he couldn’t.
It seemed like everything was progressing as hoped, but it wasn’t until another phone call with Joel’s mother that he really knew that Joel had turned the corner. “Who is this therapist of yours, a magician?”- Joel’s mother said. “I feel like I’m talking to a different kid! He’s so open, so responsive, so calm! I don’t know what the therapist is doing, but please tell him from me, whatever it is, he should keep doing it!”
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*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.