I recently mentioned to a neighbor that I am returning to being a therapist in private practice, part-time. Instead of wishing me hatzlacha, he launched into an unsolicited lecture that included all his opinions and grievances about therapy and therapists. That included complaining that therapists are always asking how something makes you feel and what that’s like for you. I asked him how it made him feel when therapists asked him that.
Another one of the points he made was that therapy is a needlessly dragged-out process. “Why can’t therapists just tell their clients the advice they need to hear and move on? Why do clients have to come back week after week, often to hear the therapist rehash the same points?”
I have learned long ago that when people have an agenda it’s not worth arguing with them. As someone once said, “I’ve already made up my mind, so don’t mix me up with the facts!” But the question is a valid one. Why is therapy a process? Why can’t we just get some advice and live happily ever after?
Most people seek therapy at a time of personal crisis. Things may have become somewhat unbearable, and the immediate goal is to navigate out of the crisis. But in doing so, it often becomes evident that other personal changes may be necessary. The challenge with change is that embedded habits are not easily broken.
All our behaviors—even negative ones—serve some purpose for us. There’s a reason we do what we do, even when it impacts us negatively.
Someone who eats a pint of ice cream every time he has a tough day may be well aware that his behavior is unhealthy. Yet, he does it anyway because he is desperate for a quick boost to assuage his angst and misery.
Similarly, a parent may spend hours on his/her phone looking at social media or playing games, all the while ignoring family and responsibilities. Here, too, despite the fact that the parent may know his behavior is negative, he continues to do it anyway because he doesn’t know how else to deal with the stress of his day.
In addition, a person can be in denial that he has an issue because he is subconsciously protecting himself from the shattering of his ego that would occur if he admitted that he has a problem.
For such people, change will only be possible when they figure out a better alternative to deal with their stress.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, we are creatures of habit. We get used to doing things a certain way and it’s hard to change.
When Lot, along with his wife and daughters, were escaping Sodom, they were warned not to turn around. Lot’s wife didn’t adhere to the warning, and she became a pillar of salt.
Lot’s wife turned back, symbolizing that she could not pull herself away from that life, thereby dooming herself to being stuck in that world.
In addition, when Hagar sought a wife for her son Yishmael, she returned to her native Egypt to choose an Egyptian woman. Rashi (21:21) notes that this is a fulfillment of the idea of “throw a stick in the air and it will fall back on its root.”
That quote is poignant for us all. Especially when under pressure, we revert to what we’ve always done, because it’s always easiest to return to what feels familiar.
For all these reasons, creating new habits and routines takes time, conscientious effort, encouragement and commitment. It is especially imperative to reflect on the inevitable failures along the way so one can recognize his weaknesses and get back on the bandwagon.
Every month on Rosh Chodesh, just before Shemoneh Esrei, someone klaps on the bimah and announces “Ya’aleh V’yavo,” a reminder to insert the special Rosh Chodesh prayer. In some shuls the “custom” is for five people to klap, each louder than the previous. Then during Shemoneh Esrei itself, every other person says the words “ya’aleh v’yavo” out loud, in case you forgot from the last six reminders. How does that make you feel?
The literal meaning of the words ya’aleh v’yavo is “get up and come.” Rosh Chodesh is a time of renewal, the beginning of a new month. When I hear the klap I try to think of it as a friendly slap on the back, along with the call to “get up and come,” to renew my goals and commitments.
At the beginning of the year we decide on certain resolutions and positive changes we want to implement in our lives. We feel that this year is going to be the year! But we forget that change is a process. Then, when we invariably resort to our old habits, we think we have failed and throw in the towel completely.
Rosh Chodesh is a monthly renewal to “get up and come” back on track. We return to the starting line, invigorated and recommitted, knowing that it’s a process and doesn’t happen overnight.
With such an opportunity, how does that make you feel?
This week, 27 Cheshvan, marks the yahrtzeit of my zeidy, Rav Yaakov Meir Kohn, z”l, Rav Yaakov Meir ben Rav Yosef Yitzchak. My zeidy, like all my grandparents, was part of the “ya’aleh v’yavo generation”—those who were not given any option other than to get up and come in order to survive.
I am unable to fathom how he endured all the pain and loss that he suffered in his life. But even more remarkable is how he was able to remain true to his upbringing and maintain his love for Torah and people throughout his life.
My zeidy was a rav for almost three decades in the famous Slonimer Shul on the Lower East Side. He was beloved for his wit, warmth and charisma. He was an excellent speaker and knew how to connect with people. He was a disciple of some of the great Torah giants of his time and was himself a talmid chacham of note.
But for me, he and my bubby remain a link to a generation of heroes, of those who rebuilt from the ashes. They too could not afford to look back as they escaped destruction and had no prerogative but to get up and come. Yet, somehow, they did and, somehow, they renewed their lives and built families.
Our challenge to “arise and come” is far different than theirs was, but for us it is a challenge nonetheless. In their example we can find encouragement and confidence that we too can traverse our challenges and become greater because of them.
 During Shacharis, when it’s forbidden to interrupt, there is just a klap.
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah and principal in Ohr Naftali in New Windsor, NY. He can be reached at [email protected]