Dr Judith Guedalia

Nursing a Grudge
Nefesh International is now celebrating its bar mitzvah.  Begun, 13 years ago in someone's living room, its 13th annual conference will be held December 31st-January 3rd, 2010, at The Hyatt Regency Long Island, Hauppauge, N.Y*.  Thirteen years of bringing Orthodox Mental Health Professionals together to learn with each other and from one another. 
            Leah Abramovitz and I were so affected by our experience at a Nefesh International Conference that we returned to Israel and initiated Nefesh Israel, the largest branch of the Nefesh International Family.
            In 2004, Elana Wahlhaus, Nefesh CEO, and I began the Nefesh ListServ, a miraculous form of "inter-galactic" information networking which eventually morphed into the separate Nefesh Israel and Nefesh International ListServs.  They provide up-to-the minute (sometimes even nanosecond) communication between Nefesh Members regarding the many issues that Orthodox Mental Health professionals grapple with on a daily basis.  It also affords a "hands across" the universe referral source.  More than anything else Nefesh International gives us an opportunity to network with each other.
Understanding the cultural and religious background of our patients gives us a chance to save much time and effort when diagnosing and treating.  Nefesh has given countless Torah observant professionals an opportunity to bounce ideas around and learn strategies from one another.
            A recent case brought my gratitude to Nefesh to mind:
            They are an ultra orthodox Sephardi family.  Her father was very critical of her when she was a child and even as an adolescent.  To add insult to injury he himself was alcoholic, and verbally and physically abusive to her mother.  He also gambled.  His loses caused financial hardship on his family but especially on her mother who had to work to support the family, and so had little time or energy left for her many children when she returned home.   The family tried to keep all this quiet until he was once so drunk that he made a pass at another woman - on Shabbat, in front of their entire community. 
            She had originally come to the Neuropsychology Unit with her daughter who she feared was autistic.  As it turned out her daughter was actually socially immature based on a severe problem in the area of Attachment.  In essence I felt we had two generations of Attachment problems in the room.  Over two years of dyadic therapy and using the mom as my co-therapist to help the daughter, the girl was placed in a regular class and is now doing well in third grade. 
            So what's the problem?  She has come in after the birth of her fourth child, her second son.  She cannot understand why she is so angry with him.  He is just a newborn baby.  Being my "co-therapist" for two years taught her that there might be something underlying this strange anger that she feels toward him, so she called for an appointment.  I tell her to come in with him.
            He looks like an adorable newborn.  She scowls.  When he starts to fuss I watch them together.  She takes a thin cloth blanket and throws it over her shoulder.  She grabs him out of the stroller and puts him under half the blanket and begins to nurse him.

            "I think I understand the problem," I say to her.  "How many names does he have?"  "Just one", she answers.  "I think you are going to need to see your Rav and ask him if you can add a name."


She is silent for a while.  She begins to look at him a little more maternally and beginning to smile she says: "He really is a good boy, you know."
             "I know," I answer.  It isn't his fault that in Sephardi families, the second son is named for the mother's father.

            She leaves and I begin to understand the meaning of the old adage: Nursing a Grudge.


*For conference schedule and information see: www.nefesh.org.  The 10th annual Nefesh Israel conference will be held January 19th to 21st in Jerusalem.  Visit www.nefeshisrael.com for information.  

Tags: Attachment | Jewish Press | Nefesh International | Nefesh Israel