By Nicole Neroulias
Religion News Service
NEW YORK (RNS) Most Orthodox Jews who seek professional counseling do so for marriage problems despite the community's relatively high marital satisfaction rate, according to a new study released Friday (Aug. 13).
The findings, reported in "Psychological Disorder and Stigma: A 25-Year Follow-up Study in the Orthodox Jewish Community," surveyed members of Nefesh, the International Network of Orthodox Mental Health Professionals.
The Orthodox Union's latest Aleinu Marriage Satisfaction Survey, which polled several thousand couples, found that more than 70 percent rated their marriages highly, compared to about 60 percent of the general population.
The differing results make sense, given the different focus of each study, said David Pelcovitz, a psychologist and Yeshiva University professor who contributed to both reports.
"People who are doing well in their marriages don't end up in the therapist's office," he said. "I don't see the happy people. We only see the failures, not the successes."
Eliezer Schnall, a Yeshiva University professor who authored the mental health needs assessment study, added that the community's high priority on marital satisfaction may be what prompts more members to seek professional help in that area. Also, Orthodox Jews may be seeking help from non-Orthodox counselors for other kinds of problems, he speculated.
His study also found that Orthodox Jews have more access to mental health services than they did a generation ago, but there are still concerns about the social stigma and cost of seeking help. In addition to marriage and family problems, the survey found a need for services for substance abuse and anxiety disorders.
Only about a quarter of patients who seek mental health professionals are referred by their rabbis, which Schnall called a potential area for improvement, especially among ultra-Orthodox families, where rabbis play a prominent counseling role.
"While some progress has been made, significant problems remain," Schnall said. "One way we might continue to improve mental health services to the community is by continuing to educate rabbis to identify mental illness and to educate them in the area of recognizing that referral to a professional is critical."