maintains a full-time private practice in psychotherapy with adolescents and adults in Brooklyn, New York.
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“I would suggest that you read the excellent and bold columns The Role of Parents and Beginning the Healing Process by Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin s’hlita …. His columns, available on his website, www.DrSorotzkin.com, should be required reading for all parents in our community. Dr. Sorotzkin is an accomplished talmid chacham, as a review of his brilliant columns on Bechira and The Pursuit of Perfection will reveal. He is also, in my opinion, one of the top frum, clinical psychologists in the world. Dr. Sorotzkin has helped many hundreds of frum children regain their footing and resume the path to successful lives. His eloquent words ought to be taken very seriously.”
– Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, a widely respected mechanech, the founder and Menahel of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and founder and Director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services). [ www.RabbiHorowitz.com – “Does Parenting Matter?” 11/2/06 Chicago Community Kollel Interactive Parenting Column #13]
See the Forward to the Book
In over 40 years of doing psychotherapy with adolescents and adults in the frum community, I have shared in the trials and triumphs of many patients and their families.
From these experiences and with a great deal of seyayta deshmaya I have developed insights into the way emotional disorders are most often manifested in the frum community. I am sharing these insights with the hope that this will increase the level of understanding of emotional distress among sufferers and their families. More importantly, I hope that these insights will lead to improved prevention.
The currently popular approach is to see emotional disorders as primarily biological and genetic in nature (“emotional disorders are no different than diabetes or asthma”). This is motivated, in part, by the desire to reduce stigma. Besides the fact that research shows that biological explanations actually increase stigma, it also makes parents feel helpless to prevent their children’s emotional disorders.
I will try to demonstrate that, in fact, there is a great deal parents can do to prevent emotional and behavioral disorders in their children. This should make parents feel empowered. Unfortunately, some parents see this as “being blamed” and they therefore feel compelled to reject the notion that they have anything to do with their children’s emotional difficulties. While this may help them avoid feelings of guilt it also strips them of their powerful influence to prevent and repair their children’s emotional distress.
A wise mother once told me that she hopes that her son’s emotional disorder is the result of her mistakes. This way there is hope that she can help him by correcting her mistakes. She’d rather be “at fault” with a course of action than be blameless with no hope for recovery.
One of the common features of frum youngsters with emotional disorders is a distortion of basic tenets of yiddishkeit. While these distorted beliefs are not the cause of the disorders, they do help to maintain the disorders. I will explore the root causes of these distortions and bring sources that delineate the Torah-true hashkafah on these topics.
I am not suggesting that readers accept what I say just because I say so. I try to document the source for every assertion or at least to explain the logic behind it. More importantly, since most important decisions require the balancing of conflicting imperatives, I hope that I can contribute toward achieving this balance by emphasizing issues that many people are either unaware of or give inadequate importance to.
Since I am, for the most part, addressing my words to a frum audience, I do not consider it necessary to spell out the basic tenets of Yiddishkeit. I assume that my readers are well 3 aware of the importance of learning Torah and keeping the mitzvos etc. When I discuss the possible limitations to the obligation of kibud av v’eim for abusive parents, for example, I’m assuming that the reader is well aware of the importance of this mitzvah so I don’t belabor that point. Likewise, when I write about the emotional damage that can result from feeling unduly pressured to learn perfectly, I would hope readers will not assume that it must be that I don’t appreciate the importance of learning. Sadly, that was the reaction I got from one reader of my articles, who concluded that if I say that parents shouldn’t force their children to learn or daven it must be that I don’t value those activities sufficiently. I would have hoped that it would have been clear from the articles that it is specifically because I highly value these activities that I warn against pressuring children to be involved in them in a manner that will create negative associations to these activities.
Most frum people are aware of the importance of discipline and structure in a child’s life. If I write about the danger of too much discipline and structure I don’t find it necessary to stress the importance of discipline since I assume that that is well-known to my readers, rather I am emphasizing the need for balance. It is impossible for parents to strike the right balance when they are only aware of the dangers of too little discipline while being unaware of the danger of too much discipline.1
Rav Pam related to a group of mechanchim how in his early years as a rebbi a student once came late to class. The student gave some excuse and added: “I can even bring a note from my parents.” Rav Pam responded: “You already told me what happened, why do you need to bring me a note?” Rav Pam told the mechanchim: “In truth, I wasn’t sure that he told me the truth, but I couldn’t let him feel that I don’t trust him.” Most teachers would be much more focused on their fear that the student will feel that he put one over on the teacher. They probably wouldn’t even consider the harm that distrusting their student would cause. Rav Pam, the master mechanech, was obviously sensitive to both issues and ruled that enhancing the rebbi – talmid relationship takes precedence over protecting the rebbi’s ego or image.2
I am not suggesting that giving precedent to preserving the parent or rebbi/child relationship is always the correct answer, but I am suggesting that it always has to be seriously considered. If that is the aspect that is given the most emphases in my articles, it’s because I find that many parents and teachers are unaware of the major role that relationship plays in success in chinuch.
 See Rabbi Yechiel Yaakovson’s important book “Spare the Child” (2019), especially Part 2, Section 1.
 ספר מורה צדק עמ’ קט’-קי’.