RIETS Training Called Out for “Practicing Courage”

The Power of Moments Cites RIETS Role-Play Training

A unique training program at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) has been cited of an example of how consciously being “in the moment” can be applied to counselor education in the book The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, by Chip and Dan Heath. (Simon and Shuster, 2017).

The Heaths’ book explores the potential of brief experiences, moments, to impact individual perceptions and actions. The authors look at our tendency to recall extreme moments—both positive and negative─or the very last part of a particular experience, while the rest is lost from our memories. They go on to suggest real-life examples of people who consciously take action in particular, defining moments and then use these example to suggest how we might improve our experiences.

The Heaths include the RIETS program in the chapter on “Practicing Courage.” The training uses paid actors to role play counseling sessions which rabbis may encounter, including conversations with suicidal individuals, abuse victims, those struggling with aging and people who are grieving. Using actors that can make the interaction more realistic calls for more courage from the seminary students who are learning to maintain a professional, supportive demeanor with congregants who may be intensely emotional.

Rabbi Menachem Penner

The RIETS program came to the writers’ attention in 2010, when it was featured in The New York Times. Rabbi Menachem Penner, The Max and Marion Grill Dean at RIETS, was then director of rabbinical training at the school and introduced the use of the actors in the sessions. The program had been using students to act out the roles of troubled congregants with each other but some felt the sessions were not effective. “It wasn’t real enough,” Rabbi Penner told The Power of Moments authors. “It was instructional but not experiential. It was the difference between reading something in a book and living through it. The actors created the level of tension that really made it valuable.”

The Heaths explain that what is happening in these sessions is that the students are “practicing courage,” rehearsing how to control the moment as it happens, despite their own fears, and gaining confidence in the process.

Chip Heath is a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he teaches courses on strategy and organizations. Dan Heath is a senior fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, which supports entrepreneurs fighting for social good. They have published three New York Times bestselling books: Made to Stick, Switch, and Decisive.

The audience for The Power of Moments, according to Dan Heath, is anyone who cares about improving the experience of other people. “That might be doctors thinking about the patient experience, or business people thinking about the customer experience, or teachers thinking about the student experience,” he said. “Our book aims to show that great experiences hinge on a few critical moments─and that we can learn to design those moments.”