Dovy was 12 and the middle child of three brothers. His father and brothers had been die-hard Beitar Yerushalayim soccer fans since even before the family’s aliyah from Boston. They followed the team’s progress obsessively and after moving to Jerusalem three years ago, attended as many matches as they could. Dovy’s brothers both had lots of soccer-mad friends and also spent a lot of time playing soccer together with them in the park. Dovy had no interest whatsoever in either the team or the game. He found soccer deeply boring and when he had attended Beitar games, was frightened by the noise and aggression of the crowds. Dovy was naturally gentle, refined, and happy spending time by himself at home. Even at school, he would invariably spend recess in the school library with just a sci-fi book for company. This worried his parents, who thought it was unhealthy for a boy to spend so much time indoors by himself. His father also found it hard to give Dovy the same time and attention as his brothers when they didn’t really have any shared interests.
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For the past year or so, Dovy had a lot of trouble with insomnia. He followed all his doctor’s directions- cutting out screen time before bed, taking melatonin, and his parents even bought him a special weighted blanket but he could just not fall asleep. The problem was becoming worse and worse. Initially, it would take an hour or two to drop off, then three hours, and now Dovy would find himself still lying awake in despair at 3 or 4 am. He would google ‘sleep deprivation torture’ and ‘can you die from lack of sleep,’ but all his parents would say is that he needed more fresh air and exercise and it was his unhealthy lifestyle that was causing insomnia.
The lack of sleep wore away at Dovy, making him feel angry and on edge and magnifying any problem to a seemingly unmanageable size. Dovy’s parents found it stressful to see their son looking so miserable and ended up yelling back when he lashed out at them. They nagged him to be more active and invited families from the neighborhood for Shabbat meals purely to try and force Dovy to socialize with the neighbors’ children.
After a few months of constant battles, Dovy’s parents called Kav L’Noar saying that they’d run out of ideas. Dovy’s mother told the therapist that she could see that she was driving Dovy further and further away but that her anxiety about her son’s welfare made her snappy and impatient despite her best intentions. Dovy said in turn that he was doing his best, but that didn’t seem to be good enough, and he constantly felt like a freak and a problem for everyone in his family.
When the therapist met with him individually, Dovy mentioned how powerless he felt. One of the first things that the therapist encouraged him to think about was his own strengths. Dovy said he didn’t have any- he couldn’t even fall asleep, a skill that even babies have, let alone anything else. The therapist asked him to really try hard to remember a moment of personal triumph- where he’d managed something he didn’t think would be possible. Dovy said that there was one time recently when he’d feel even more zombie-like than usual after an exceptionally bad night, and he’d had to give a presentation in class. “I’m still nervous about my Hebrew and I just felt so awful I thought there was no way I would be able to stand up and speak. But then I went into autopilot and I ended up getting a really high grade.” The therapist said how impressive that was and then helped Dovy analyze all the different components of the success, his memory, the presentation’s content, his determination, overcoming his nerves, doing it all in a new language, and all with no sleep. Dovy gave a little smile in response. Over their next sessions, the therapist continued to encourage Dovy to think about his strengths, but he also provided an empathetic ear for when Dovy didn’t feel like being positive and just wanted to share his fears and frustrations. He made Dovy feel like he had a true ally, someone safe to talk to about anything and who truly cared about him.
At his monthly sessions with Dovy’s parents, the therapist was similarly supportive and understanding of their concerns. But he also went a step further and introduced them to a parenting approach called PACE, which stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, and Empathy. The therapist acknowledged that in the heat of the moment, it was very hard to respond playfully with a joke instead of getting angry, or to take a step back and really ask Dovy what he was experiencing, or to show him that they understood where he was coming from. Perhaps hardest of all was to accept that this was how their son was and that however convinced they were that things could be better for him if he did things differently, nothing major was going to change right now. But the therapist encouraged Dovy’s parents to try and keep the principles in mind wherever possible, and over time, it did slowly begin to make a difference.
Dovy and his family continued with the therapy for nine months. The insomnia didn’t go away, but it did improve a little, and Dovy said that he felt stronger in himself and better able to handle it. His parents also reported that they felt calmer and empowered by the process, and more able to appreciate their son for who he was.