THE MEANING OF THE THERAPIST'S RELIGIOUS IDENTITY TO ORTHODOX JEWISH CLIENTS
WIKLER, MARVIN ELLIOT
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This exploratory and descriptive study examined religious difference between therapist and client as a factor in mental health treatment. The primary research questions were: (1) What is the significance of the therapist's religious identity to Orthodox Jewish clients and how do they perceive the role it plays in the treatment process? (2) Why is the therapist's religious identity important to some Orthodox clients and not to others? A third area of background questions included the following. (3) How do Orthodox Jewish clients perceive their presenting problems? What criteria and methods do they use to select therapists? and What expectations and apprehensions do they bring with them to the therapeutic encounter? After interviewing nine Orthodox Jewish therapists an interview schedule was developed. The interview schedule was used in semi-structured, in-depth interviews with twenty Orthodox Jewish clients of out-patient mental health services in either agency or private practice settings. Grounded theory was utilized to guide the content analysis of the taped interviews. The findings revealed a wide range of diverse meanings attributed to the therapist's religious identity. The process, termed "fine-tuning," by which some Orthodox clients explore details of the therapist's religious identity was described. A typology of Orthodox clients was developed based on the preferences for the therapist's religious identity. The four categories included (1) those clients who preferred to see only an Orthodox therapist; (2) those who preferred a Jewish therapist, not necessarily Orthodox; (3) those who preferred a non-Orthodox therapist; and (4) those who reported no preference. Characteristics of each category were outlined. The clients' perceptions of, and attitudes toward, their own religious identities seemed to be critical factors in determining the clients' preferences. The implications of these findings for work with other religious minority group clients were discussed. The expectations, perceptions and attitudes of Orthodox clients toward other aspects of mental health treatment were also described and recommendations were made for mental health service development in the Orthodox community. The overall findings of this study suggested that religious differences between therapists and clients can play a critical role in mental health treatment.