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April 24, 2014 | 24th Nisan 5774

Temple Beth-El--synagogue based mental health care

Based on a model found at a local Methodist organization about Church-based mental health care, we have now established synagogue-based mental health care, in conjunction with our local Jewish Family and Children's Service (JFCS).

We began in the summer of 2006 using the model we received from the Methodist Church. This model indicates that we (the Temple) would supply the facility -- an office, furnishings, computer, phone, etc. -- while the social service agency (JFCS) supplies the therapist. At first, the therapist was in the office one full day each week. However, the demand moved the service to twice a week.

Currently, in conjunction with JFCS, we are now applying for grants to move the service to five days a week, full time as of January 2008. Our responsibility, in providing a facility also includes reception/security, so we need to move from a part time to full time receptionist. More important than these technical details is that we have found:

  1. While many surely prefer to receive mental health care in a more private location, plenty of people are resistant to seeking mental health care, but are more likely to do so if they think of it as seeing a "counselor at the Temple," rather than going to a clinical environment.
  2. One reason we initiated this program was that our staff was having a difficult time with mentally ill folks -- members, other Jewish people, and neighbors who would come to our building. Our hope that staff -- and here I mean primarily administrative and custodial staff, but Jewish professional staff are included -- would gain support and resources, so that we could better help our members and guests with mental illnesses, has been met beyond our wildest dreams.
  3. Also, Temple staff members have sought care from the therapist on staff, primarily when facing a specific challenge like bereavement or, in the case of one custodian, the loss of visitation rights with her grandchildren. Having the therapist on site demystifies mental health care for our staff to a huge extent.
  4. We happen to be located adjacent to a low-income area. We also happen to be the only Jewish institution located near the heart of our city. Therefore, offering this mental health service at the Temple is an outstanding and meaningful outreach beyond the congregation.

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