A group of 14 strictly Orthodox men in north London have begun a three-year counselling course delivered by other strictly Orthodox men, on what was described as a “first-of-its-kind” programme.
Years of planning culminated in the launch this weekend of the ground-breaking course specifically tailored for men in the Charedi community, after an initial mixed programme led to the separation of learners into a women-only class last year.
Those behind the push say a need was identified for those already offering informal counselling in areas such as Stamford Hill to be formally trained and accredited, in order to deal with the more complex cases.
The learners have enrolled onto the Certificate in Humanistic Integrative Counselling course at CPPD Counselling School, which is approved by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
It is the first year of a three-year course, and uniquely, it includes built-in elements of Halachic discussion, alongside clinical placements, at the end of which the men will be qualified to practice as an accredited counsellor.
In the past, almost all counselling within the Charedi community has come from rabbis, or those without proper training, but there is now a growing need for a cohort of properly-trained male counsellors to deal with the more serious mental health issues that arise.
“Unfortunately there are examples of unqualified or poorly qualified counsellors and courses in the community, which may be partly due to the unavailability of appropriate accredited training,” said CPPD director Jenny Sandelson. “Hopefully this will address this problem.”
Three Orthodox groups have previously completed the training, she said, and they are now doing “impressive work within the community, including educating members about the need to work with fully qualified professionals”.
The programme’s two trainers – Chaim Kantor and Jonathan Rabson – are accredited psychotherapists known to the community. Kantor, who speaks Yiddish, emphasised that the three-year course was the only way to tackle the problems appropriately.
“There are simply no short-cuts to becoming a well-trained counsellor,” he said. “It short-changes the students, and it can be unfair to expect minimally-trained practitioners to deal with the complex mental health needs of their clients.”
Kantor said the English-language programme was being run “in a training environment that suits the requirements of a Charedi group, in a timetable which, unlike most other courses, is conveniently timed around the Jewish calendar”.
He added: “Given the lack of properly-trained psychotherapists, I have been encouraged by rabbis and community leaders over the years to set up a course without compromising the Orthodox environment that our community requires. It’s a ground-breaking initiative.”
Rabson, who also speaks Hebrew, said this communal backing, especially from rabbis, was crucial. “There may be some reticence or suspicion in the community about this profession,” he said, “but there is now a growing recognition about the difference between what a trained counsellor can do, and what a rabbi can do.”
All the learners were in their 20s and 30s, he said. “It will be challenging. All have had long-term yeshiva experience, and for many English is not their first language. Some are now teachers. Some have worked as Special Education Needs Coordinators, working with teens at-risk. Many are carers. One is a Governor at a school, who is getting some challenging cases brought to him, ranging from safeguarding issues to family discord, and he wants to be better prepared to deal with it. But the main thing is they all want to learn.”
He added: “There are so many outstanding men in our community who wish to develop their personal skills and become better teachers or mentors for our youth, as well as those who wish to consider a potential career in counselling or psychotherapy with children, young people or adults.”
He said a burgeoning Orthodox population, together with an increasing willingness to recognise the need for help, had brought with it an increased demand for counselling, so the course was crucial to secure a commensurate service provision.
“As the Charedi community expands, and we are more willing to recognise the benefit of therapy to the emotional health needs of our young people and adults, we are going to need more professionally-trained clinicians to support our services,” said Rabson. “I am really proud to be part of an initiative that is helping to create the next generation of Charedi counsellors and therapists.”