Ask the Therapist? Mental Health: Importance for teachers and students

Question: ‘I’m a teacher in a Gap-Year Program in Israel. How much do teachers need to know about mental health issues?’

Over the last 20 years, schools in Israel have crossed a major threshold by recognizing the need to provide students confronting social and emotional challenges with help from a mental health professional. Many schools and gap year programs have either hired therapists to work on campus or have made referrals to the private sector.

What questions do teachers ask?

While this is a positive development, reflecting a realistic assessment of the developmental challenges faced by today’s young adults.  Teachers are often puzzled by their students’ behavior and ask questions such as:

  1. How do I encourage my student to engage in therapy?

  2. What can I do to maximize my effectiveness in the classroom?

  3. How do I best prepare my students for the future?

  4. When do I share confidentiality with an authority figure?

  5. How do I enhance the resilience and social/emotional makeup of my students?

Shlavim Gap-Year Student Program

In an effort to address some of these questions and concerns, Shlavim, the Kav L’Noar program that works with gap-year students, offered yeshiva teachers a series of specialist workshops.  The workshops provided an introduction to some of the challenges they confront with their students.

The topics focused primarily on developing an understanding and recognition of addictions and the management of stress and anxiety. In addition the importance of the teacher/student relationship and its impact on the future health and stability of that student was stressed.

Our workshop speakers underscored some of the following:

  1. Yeshiva teachers are on the frontlines. They are the first responders to an issue when it manifests itself.

  2. Students need to know that their rebbe is there for them, even if they don’t always have answers. The rebbe needs to be real and genuine. Provides confidence and ability to overcome challenges.

  3. Importance of conveying unconditional acceptance, especially when student is facing a challenge. In times of crisis, “students want to know that their rebbe cares more than they care what he knows.”

  4. When confronting a challenge with a student, try to recognize that the challenge is only the symptom and not the real reason for the behavior. When a student is addicted to a drug or to alcohol, don’t ask why the addiction or the drinking but rather why the pain?

  5. The rebbe’s role is also to help the student find his own voice while balancing same with parental values.

  6. Recognize that a rebbe/student relationship characterized by positivity and praise, will have lifelong impact, especially on the student’s self-esteem and self-worth.

Feedback from teachers

The feedback from the many teachers who participated in our workshops, showed that these insights gave them a deeper understanding about what their students may be going through. They learned how they can help. We hope that more teachers will be able to learn about emotional health in the future.

Dr. Ronald Wachtel, Founder of Kav L’Noar

‘Ask the Kav L’Noar Therapist’ is a series running every fourth Monday of the month. If you would like your question to be considered for the series, please send it to feedback@kavlnoar.org. All correspondence will be kept in the strictest confidence.

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