Houston mental health program launched in honor of Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 120th birthday

Posted Thursday, Mar 30th, 2023


In April 2022, Hasidim from around the world gathered in Crown Heights, N.Y., to celebrate the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 120th birthday. At the gathering’s conclusion, Hasidic groups decided to assemble new organizations in the Rebbe’s honor. After a year of planning, Chabad West Houston has launched a pilot mental health initiative, in collaboration with the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) Wellness Institute.

Rabbi Dovid Goldstein oversees the program of resilience education, which is based on a model known as spiritual psychology.

“Spiritual psychology is a school of thought among psychologists, which takes spiritual wisdom and couples it with modern psychology,” Rabbi Goldstein told the JHV. “So basically, where psychology really deals with the conditioning of the mind, spiritual psychology puts the soul element into it, and conditioning the soul can condition and influence the mind.

“What I’m presenting is the Jewish angle of spiritual psychology. And, since we are the Hasidic movement, it’s fused with a lot of mysticism and Hasidic philosophy within the teaching.”

Spiritual psychology is not new to the rabbi. Nearly 16 years ago, Rabbi Goldstein was asked by the Menninger Clinic to help a person struggling with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Part of the clinic’s teachings is spiritual. The clinic needed an Orthodox rabbi to come in. Rabbi Goldstein relished the experience and, before long, he became their Jewish chaplain and has been there ever since.

In addition, Rabbi Goldstein currently is working with Friendship Circle volunteers on Nefesh Network, a new and exciting project being developed in conjunction with JLI in New York. “It’s what they call peer mentoring,” Rabbi Goldstein explained, “which is basically training people to be just buddies of people that are struggling in their mental health, to be motivators, not therapists, but to be a friend and a motivator.”

Rabbi Goldstein also has brought a six-week course, “The Happiness Hack,” to Kehillah High. He has presented lessons during Yom Limmud, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston’s community-wide day of learning. Next year, Rabbi Goldstein will offer a new, accredited course based on spiritual psychology.

“The Wellness Institute of Houston provides spiritually centered evidence-based education and support to any and every individual in the Houston community,” said the rabbi.

On Tuesday, March 22, The Wellness Institute of Houston kicked off its new program with, “Thriving with Anxiety – How to Flourish in the Age of Anxiety.” Held in the Becker Theater at The Emery/Weiner School, the event featured David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., ABPP, founder of the Center for Anxiety and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Rosmarin is an innovator in the treatment of anxiety and depression, a board-certified clinical psychologist, author, researcher and peer-reviewed scholar. His work has been featured in Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

The U.S. treats anxiety differently from much of the world. “One in 10 doctor visits in the country (any doctor) leads to psychiatric medication being prescribed,” said Dr. Rosmarin.

“What’s really fascinating is, if you zoom out globally, there’s a very different picture. Anxiety is less common, far less common in Third-World countries, compared to the United States. And actually, it’s stratified by income. Middle-income countries versus high-income countries have about half as much anxiety. Low-income countries, compared with middle-income countries, have about half as much.

“Now, on the surface, this is completely bizarre. Why is it that citizens of countries with stronger economies, better technology, more advanced medical care, have higher risk for anxiety? Why are we so scared?”

Dr. Rosmarin believes it is because that we’re accustomed to having a sense of control and security.

“By contrast, in lower-income nations, people don’t assume that things are secured. There’s a lack of basic infrastructure. You have completely corrupt governments. Why would I expect to have health care or a home to live in? Citizens in these countries have an advantage when it comes to anxiety,” said Dr. Rosmarin, “because they know that they’re not in control.”

The doctor contends that anxiety is not a bad thing.

“Anxiety can sharpen your mind. It’s part of your life. Because we have it, people interpret it as a problem, but it’s not. If you are going to accomplish anything in life, you are going to have to face your fears and realize stopping that anxiety and trying to get rid of it is exactly the wrong direction you should be going. That is what’s making it hard to thrive.

“The goal is to learn to thrive with anxiety and not to get rid of it.”

After the lecture, the Joan and Stanford Alexander Behavioral and Mental Health Services clinical staff hosted a panel of experts in the field. Kaitlyn Bleiweiss moderated the discussion; Gittel Francis, Jeffrey Stern, Dr. Alan Kellerman and Dr. Rosmarin fielded questions.

“Judaism is so rich with psychology. It’s just unbelievable,” said Rabbi Goldstein. “And that’s why some of the greatest psychologists are Jews. Viktor Frankl was Jewish. Sigmund Freud was Jewish. It’s in our DNA. Some people always look elsewhere for help,” said Rabbi Goldstein, “and sometimes, when you come just home into your own essence, you go deep down and you find how many treasures there are and how helpful it is.”
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The Thriving with Anxiety program was produced by The Wellness Institute, a division of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Sponsors were Chabad West Houston, The Emery/Weiner School, Joan and Stanford Alexander Jewish Family Service and Houston Jewish Community Foundation Goldstaub Fund.

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