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Clergy play a key and unique role with respect to mental health: they are at once spiritual leaders, community gatekeepers, educators, confidantes, role models – and quasi-mental health professionals.


What clergy says and does matters. For a family in crisis or grieving a suicide, how the clergy responds can resonate longer and have a more profound impact than anything said or done by virtually anyone else. When they get it right, it can be life-changing, leaving the grateful congregants feeling deeply connected to their belief system and their faith community, and restoring their confidence that the world is safe. But when they get it wrong, that single misstep can leave entire families feeling so betrayed that they refuse to ever set foot in a house of worship again.


Well-meaning and deeply committed, clergy may nevertheless feel ill-equipped to adequately address mental health issues, whether it’s managing a parishioner whose disruptive behavior is rooted in panic or paranoia, or safely eulogizing an adolescent who took his own life. 


We believe if clergy understand the science underlying mental illness they can not only better serve their congregants but also move the greater community from a place of judgment and fear to one of compassion and inclusion, potentially impacting thousands. 







What Do I Do When…? is the first-of-its-kind effort to better equip clergy to serve congregants facing mental health challenges, crises, and recovery.  


Originally created in collaboration with Sinai & Synapses (an organization that explores important topics from scientific and religious perspectives), Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, and The Jewish Board; and supported by a generous grant from UJA-Federation of New York; the pilot program featured an interdisciplinary faculty including Dr. Joseph E. Struckus, Clinical and Consulting Neuropsychologist and Health Psychologist, and Owner and Director, Health Psychology Associates Northwest; and Dr. Michael Myers, psychiatrist and member of the Scientific Program Committee of the American Psychiatric Association.


Here’s what one attendee had to say:


“the mixture of facts, therapeutic approaches, and religious text … helped expand my personal and professional perspective on this important topic ... the work you do is a blessing that will surely continue to breakdown stigma and build up resources, capacity and resilience.”


Following media coverage in both The Jewish Week and the ForwardWhat Do I Do When…? has since been delivered at the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ annual convention and is being rolled out to faith communities nationwide.

Interested in learning more about this program, bringing it to your community, or want to share your thoughts?

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