Three Graduates are the First to Receive Mental Health Counseling Master’s Degree
On Monday, May 20, 2019, as graduates of Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology marched into Lamport Auditorium, the first cohort of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS)/Ferkauf Joint Program in Mental Health were among them.
Among the initial group of nine RIETS students to embark on the pilot program designed to provide rabbis with the tools to meet the emotional needs of their future constituents, Rabbi Dan Cohen, Rabbi Jeremy Yechiel Bresler and Ian Richmond marked another milestone: the first to continue on to earn a master’s degree in mental health counseling.
The RIETS/Ferkauf Program in Mental Health Counseling is designed to bring the rabbinical students to another level of understanding of psychology and the emotional needs of their congregants and students, according to Rabbi Neal Turk, Mashgiach [kosher supervisor], RIETS Semicha Program, and director of RIETS/Ferkauf Program. “Rabbis are the often the first to notice serious problems in individuals and families,” he said. “We are training them to recognize and understand what to do when they are called upon to help these people.”
When New York State revised a law regarding the scope of practice for mental health counselors several years ago, Ferkauf was the first school in New York City—and one of the first in the state—to take advantage of the new legislation by offering the master’s degree in mental health counseling. As the quality and number of applicants have steadily increased, the school has strengthened offerings, clinical training and faculty as well as its ability to help students to make the all-important transition from training to practice.
“Equipping RIETS graduates with therapeutic knowledge and skill development in counseling provides a tremendous service to those they will serve as rabbis as well as to the communities where they will serve,” stated Michael S. Gill, director of Ferkauf’s mental health counseling master’s program.
Apparently, the benefits of the program have already made an impact.
“The program has improved the quality of my work to an enormous extent,” explained Rabbi Dan Cohen, the Edmond J. Safra S’gan Mashgiach for the Sephardic Community at RIETS. “My whole day is spent with students, whether I’m teaching Torah classes or meeting with them one on one,” he continued. “Often, they’ll seek guidance with personal struggles, and I’ve learned how to be an empathetic listener and ask open-ended questions. The students frequently will figure out how to solve a problem on their own.”
Rabbi Cohen explains that he also learned how to determine where he was capable of offering help and when to offer additional resources and referrals.
As a guidance counselor and Chumash rebbe [Bible instructor] at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy/Yeshiva University High School for Boys (MTA), Rabbi Yechiel Bresler was also among the three who continued beyond the program to a master’s degree in mental health counseling.
“The uniqueness of this program is that it is focused on the practical challenges we see with students and clients, emphasizing the aspect of being patient and providing unconditional positive regard,” he said. Oftentimes, adolescents are in a stage of exploration, and he sees his role as helping them figure out how to lead the lives they want, according to Rabbi Bresler. “It’s important to realize that they also experience real-life stresses and challenges that they’re working through.”
Ian Richmond, the third master’s recipient who began his studies in the RIETS/Ferkauf program, currently provides psychotherapy to both individuals and groups at Achieve Behavioral Health at Bikor Cholim in Monsey, New York. He also is pursuing a PhD in mental health counseling at the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky.
“I’ve been impressed by the tremendous quality of the program,” Richmond said. “We had a lot of support, and the tools I learned were incredibly helpful in my counseling position.”
The program covers a wide range of topics, from couples and family counseling to crisis counseling, which includes dealing with substance abuse treatment and grief, loss and bereavement counseling.
Dr. Lawrence J. Siegel, dean of Ferkauf, who will retire from Yeshiva University after 30 years of service, was honored to officially hood Rabbi Cohen, Rabbi Bresler and Ian Richmond during the graduation ceremony.
“It has always been my goal to collaborate with RIETS to provide the rabbis in training with additional knowledge and skills in mental health,” he said. “It has been my pleasure to work with Rabbi Menachem Penner, the Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS, and Rabbi Turk to help make this a reality over the past five years.”