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by Susan Schnur

Analyze THIS

Why Do Therapy and Jewish Women Go Together?

What Jewish Women Dislike about Themselves (and Me)

Laura Brown, clinical psychologist, Seattle*

I have to say that Jewish, female clients definitely bring out something different in me. I have to work hard at this “how-is-this-person-not-like-me” challenge. In the beginning, I was surprised by the degree to which other Jewish women felt alienated from Jewish culture; I myself had such a positive Jewish experience, with education and powerful women role models. I hadn’t appreciated how unusual this was. Therapy is not as Jewish a profession in Seattle as it was in Cleveland, where I grew up, so discovering a quite non-Jewish psychotherapy community was a big surprise.

The clients for whom my Jewishness has been most salient and powerful have not been Jews. On the ground here in Seattle, Jews are a little scarce; many people have had little to no contact with a Jew until they walk into my office. Because I can offer an alternative to dominant (a.k.a. Christian) norms for, say, forgiveness, conflict or grief, I can illuminate different ways to be in the world. Clients find this valuable. At times I’m seen as the exotic “Other,” but such are the vicissitudes of transference.

I think that internalized sexism affects some of my Jewish female clients’ ability to bond with me; they don’t like themselves for being or looking like a Jew, and I am not only very overtly a Jew culturally and intellectually, but I’m also a physical prototype, zaftig with curly, wild hair. I represent what Jewish women dislike in themselves. I then struggle in myself to have compassion for their negative stereotypes about Jews and Judaism, and this plays out in the therapeutic relationship.

At age 9, I decided to become a psychologist, and in my case the stereotype of difficult families spawning good therapists was painfully true. I was the oldest child, the only daughter of a very depressed woman. Her gender and mine had a lot to do with my career choice.

As a client, I’ve only had one Jewish therapist, a male with a nasty “Jewish mother” countertransference who was undermining in very destructive ways. I’ve run into this a lot with Jewish male therapists being much more competitive with powerful Jewish women. My other therapists have been non-Jewish women. One in particular, a child-refugee from Cuba, really understood issues of exile and alienation — from both the dominant culture and one’s own — and she was able to connect with me around how being a Jew is so important to my sense of self.

  • Karen Koffler

    I was so disappointed to see Kew Gardens, Queens unfairly maligned in your piece “The Tikkun Olam of Kitty Genovese” on pages 22 and 23 of the Winter 2012/2013 issue. The murder of Ms. Genovese was a horrible tragedy. For decades, the residents of Kew Gardens have been unfairly accused of watching and doing nothing during the crime. This misinformation has found its way into social psychology text books and many articles over the years.

    The New York Times debunked myth of the callousness of the residents of Kew Gardens in 2004: “Kitty, 40 years later.” The author could have easily found it if she had done a simple search.

    Ironically, the day after I read the piece in Lilith, the topic was once again covered in the January 30, 2013 issue New York Times: “Timeless book may require
    some timely fact checking.” The article addresses a reissue of A.M. Rosenthal’s nonfiction account of the murder and the question of how changes in interpretation of fact should be handled. I recognize that this particular article appeared after the issue went to press, but it helps to clear the good name of Kew Gardens residents.

    I expect Lilith to engage in fact checking. In a piece about repairing the world, I am especially disheartened to see Kew Gardens denigrated carelessly.

    Note that I am a Jewish woman, a psychologist by training and a former resident of Kew Gardens, where many Austrian and German Jews made their homes after fleeing Europe.

    Karen Perlmutter Koffler