Psychotherapy and Judaism


Sheryl Frank is a wife, mother of two children, clinical psychologist, and JWRP sister. While listening to the daily lectures during her MOMentum experience, Sheryl considered how Jewish insights and practices could guide her therapeutic work with clients. Through the Momentum Fellowship, Sheryl explored ways to integrate her clinical psychology practice with her Jewish practice, and she created the Washington, DC-based symposium, “Psychotherapy and Judaism: How Jewish Wisdom Can Enhance Emotional Well-Being.” Attended by 80 mental health professionals and clergy members, the symposium delved into Judaism’s views on mindful eating, healthy relationships, forgiveness, and more. In our conversation, Sheryl shared unexpected highlights from the symposium, as well as one powerful way that Judaism encourages positive thinking.

What inspired you to travel to Israel with the JWRP?

Before having kids, I was very involved in Jewish activism and in the Jewish community, and I realized that since becoming a mom, that part of my life had disappeared. I wanted to learn more about Jewish living and to impact my family’s Jewish life. I also wanted to take a step back from my everyday life and to reflect on where I was and where I wanted to go.

How did MOMentum impact you?

In addition to experiencing pure jubilance while dancing at Deck’s and overlooking the Kotel from a terrace in Jerusalem, I loved getting to know the Israeli women on my bus. They gave me a realistic sense of what life is like in Israel — how they feel the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what it’s like to run to a shelter during a war, and what it’s like to send their children to the army. I learned that while we share so much in common, our lives are also so very different.

When I returned home, I began making challah each Friday. Since then, I’ve made it with my 25-year-old nephew who pulled up YouTube tutorials to enhance our method, my neighbor, and my daughter — who traveled to Israel with Birthright one year after my MOMentum experience. It’s been wonderful to see the ripple effect on the people in my life.

What were some of the highlights of your symposium?

When I first discussed my idea with the other Momentum Fellows, they advised me to put together a team of people who could help. My heart stopped for a second and I thought, “How can I ask people to help?” But that turned out to be the easiest part! Not only did I work with a team of JWRP sisters and other community members, but the Bender JCC of Greater Washington hosted the symposium and the JSSA facilitated the symposium’s registration and marketing efforts. I was amazed to see people come together, pitch in, work hard, and create a beautiful outcome.

I also loved having the opportunity to read more about Jewish ideas, discuss Jewish ideas, and share those ideas with attendees in my opening remarks. I learned lessons that I have already begun to use in my daily life — both personally and professionally.

Dr. Steligman, a psychologist who promotes positive psychology, has written that there are five factors to happiness: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, mastery, and accomplishment. I realized that by creating this symposium, I tapped into each factor and felt a real sense of meaning.

What can Judaism teach us about positive thinking?

In Judaism, we say blessings for each food we eat and also during different occasions. This act reminds us to feel gratitude for each of our positive experiences. If we paused to say a blessing each time something positive happened in our lives, imagine how thankful we’d feel. Judaism teaches us the perspective-altering power of gratitude.

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