AdministratorJune 17, 2020 at 11:34 am
I’m going to take a discussion that’s been happening on a different thread and bring it into its own post. As you all know, my purpose on Masterpiece is to help my members get creative and enhance their writing skills. So here we’ll take the conversation to a more practical level and talk about the pros and cons of featuring therapy as a plot tool. I’ll put the question this way, addressing both sides of the page:
1. As a writer, how do you see the benefits or drawbacks in making therapy a catalyst for change in your protagonist?
2. As a READER, do you appreciate or frown upon the use of therapy to help a character change and grow, when you are reading a story?
As we plan our plotlines, which often involve characters who encounter obstacles and how those characters deal with those challenges, I thought it would be interesting to hear more about your thoughts on this topic. This is especially true when we write fiction for the frum world, where stigma about seeking therapy is much more prevalent (although it has improved over time).
I definitely want to add my thoughts, but I’ll let you ladies start first! 😉
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 1:10 pm
So many different thoughts.
Is the therapy an organic part of the story, or will be reading a work about therapy cloaked as a novel?
There’s a genre of hashkafa books that are dialogue/letters. While it might be more readable, no one is reading it for the reading experience but to learn.
IF in the course of writing a novel, the character would benefit from therapy, and every reader would say, why didn’t someone ever bring it up, then therapy is a logical inclusion in the book. But I wouldn’t spend the time reading a book that is from beginning to end about therapy, having done it once.
Then again, OTOH (I’m losing track, is there still another hand?) there are issues that it could be helpful to read about and therapy of course is important. Like Dancing in the Dark by Shoshana Mael, which is totally focused on struggles that mean serious therapy. But why is the author writing a book? To tell a story, or to write about therapy?
ETA: I decided to edit because I don’t know how cohesive my thoughts are. (And on a writer’s forum, I want to put my best foot forward of course.) Still rambling, but I’ll let this go.
AdministratorJune 18, 2020 at 9:40 am
We love your thoughts, Fayge Y., and you never have to be self-conscious on Masterpiece. While we are all in-process of creating our masterpieces, we all know that construction projects generate lots of dust :-).
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 2:40 pm
Therapy is a wonderful thing, and kol hakovud to those who are great enough and humble enough to avail themselves of it.
Still, it’s not the only way. We are all so much stronger when we realise and we can be our own best therapist! When life tests us and we dig deep in, to connect to Hashem in a real way, to scrutinise our own actions and direct our thoughts, we come out better and bigger! I wouldn’t trade my nisyonos for anything. They’ve made me who I am. They’ve made me a better wife, a better mother, and more importantly a better Jewess.
My therapy? Three tefillos a day. Hashem is the only One who really understands us, better than we understand ourselves. It feels so good, so safe, so secure, to drop all my worries into His hands. There’s nothing like a good Shmonei Esrei to get me invigorated, refreshed and happy!
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 5:17 pm
The question is what the story goal is. If the story is trying to portray the character overcoming his/her reservations about embracing therapy, I’m all in.
On the other hand, echoing what others said, sometimes readers want to see other means of overcoming obstacles. Like Sherry mentioned, turning to ruchnius, Hashem and tefilla are the most ideal means of growing. It’s interesting, but that aspect of our lives is not mentioned very often in fiction.
All in all, it’s a tricky balance. Today, many issues can and should be solved with therapy. Ignoring that aspect of our society is wrong and unrealistic.
Maybe, as Elisheva said, some other “mentor” figure can replace some of the therapist’s role. It’s hard to say. It depends a lot on the kind of the issues being explored.
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 5:21 pm
Therapy cannot be the only solution. Life doesn’t work like that. Many people require years and years of therapy and real commitment… Therapy can definitely be used in the plot, as a tool for growth or change, as in real life. Not as the ultimate solution where suddenly therapy comes into play, and the character is a new person. It is a grueling process and definitely not a magic potion.
So I think therapy can be written about, but only if the writer has a strong background in understanding the true nature of the therapy world. Any therapist will tell you that the client has to be motivated in order to achieve results. Therapy, in and of itself, doesn’t heal – it sets one on the right path to self-awareness. Only with that awareness, can one then use therapy as a cure.
Another point – the writer has to be very careful that there is not too much emphasis on the sessions (the whole dialogue). There is also the before and after of the sessions, and the reader should feel the way the character is growing even out of the office. The readers should hear the ‘writer’s’ voice and not just the ‘therapist’s’ voice.
Just my personal opinion as a reader (and coming from a family lineup of psychologists and social workers). I don’t feel myself qualified to even touch on therapy in my own writing, for many reasons, but I would read about it if presented in the correct light.
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 5:33 pm
Anagrammer, I totally agree. Therapy isn’t the ultimate solution to every problem, and not always does it “work”.
Even if a story does include therapy, it doesn’t have to be the main focus.
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 6:41 pm
Exactly, HappiWriter. When I finish reading the book and draw up a mental plot diagram, I don’t want to come out with conflict and then therapy and then resolution. Plenty of other things should be going on as well.
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 6:46 pm
The thing is Hashem gave us our situations, our history, the relationships in our life… and He also gave us the tools to cope with them all. In fact, the very reason we have nisyonos is that we should become better people and closer to Hashem. Harav Avigdor Miller zt”l said we should make the Mesilas Yeshorim our best friend. Personally, I think inspirational (aka mussar) books or even something like the Bitachon line can have faster and deeper results than any therapy session. And I think this Corona, lockdown and all, has forced many of us to focus on this One relationship that gives us real inner happiness.
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 7:11 pm
People are so into destigmatizing therapy, how about destigmatizing ruchnius?
I’m not saying therapy doesn’t have its time and place, but bitachon and mussar should be the first choice. Why not? That’s how our ancestors have always coped with their nisyonos; I don’t know why anyone would settle for a watered-down, modern-day (and costly) substitute.
In my personal experience, as a reader, I roll my eyes at the occurence of therapy in fiction.
Like Elisheva said, I think having a character in the story acting as a mentor is a great idea.
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 7:27 pm
[quote quote=18983]People are so into destigmatizing therapy, how about destigmatizing ruchnius?[/quote]
With you on this.
Riva, what about using this from StoryLuver as a serial plot?
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 7:29 pm
Truer than true. I often wonder why frum fiction sometimes has almost no reference to to some of the most valuable and “עיקר” parts of our lives, Emunah, Bitachon, Tefillah.
What is true as well, though, is that a mental disorder cannot always be cured with Bitachon. Sometimes therapy is necessary, too, as StoryLuver said. So if the character needs therapy, he needs therapy (again, in ‘moderation’.)
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 7:43 pm
I once did read a book that was like that. Ariella Schiller’s Silent Storms.
And… it was so good. I finished the book with an uplifted feeling. Never got that from fiction before.
As we’re seeing here on Masterpiece, people really do appreciate this kind of content. It’s just that we all think that inspirational material has to be limited to essays and poems. What about bringing all of this into fiction?
(I am being a little hypocritical here though, I must admit. All of my fiction is very mundane. It’s a tough call, for sure.)
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 8:10 pm
If we’re going to destigmatize ruchniyus, and incorporate it in a book, it can have the same literary pitfalls as therapy.
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 8:28 pm
But, I don’t think it can’t be done right.
Mainly because ruchnius, and inspiration, can come from so many different sources, as opposed to the formality of a therapist sitting opposite her client in a plush office.
Wait, now I’m thinking about all of the fictional baal teshuva plots, and you’re right, it’s hard to pull off without sounding preachy and/or not believable, because fiction is cannot be as strange as truth.
I still think it can be done, if it’s in a natural, and not forced, way.
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 8:36 pm
Yes, ruchniyus doesn’t mean substituting a therapist for a Rebbetzin. It’s a much more all-encompassing topic than therapy. I agree that it’s difficult to portray, but it can be done.
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 10:45 pm
Great Solution – find a therapist that is a rabbi or a rebetzin as well 🙂 They make such things out there.
MemberJune 17, 2020 at 11:45 pm
Wow, I though I’d have something to add to this discussion, but so much has already been said – and even more articulately than I ever can!
Y’know the concept of “Deus ex machina”? Similarly, I think it’s important to avoid “Therapy ex machina” (a term I just coined, btw).
Therapy can be one of many tools that leads the character to their epiphany or conclusion, or whatever, but not the only thing.
Unless of course, you’re doing a novel about therapy. I believe Mirel Goldstein did one recently.
MemberJune 18, 2020 at 1:14 am
I took a course this year called Sod Haadam-Binyan Nefesh Haadam- highly, highly recommended. It’s basically a course on psychology but all with Torah sources and endorsed by big Rebbetzins (did you know that there is a Torah personality system which is similar to the Ennegram?) Anyway, what’s clear from that course is that a person has to have themselves before they can have a relationship with Hashem. A person whose heart is squashed and not connected to themselves will have a hard time connecting to Hashem. Also, a person understands Hashem based on the authority figures in their lives. This is why when writing a story about someone who is going through an emotional issue, even a minor one, it’s hard to just bring Hashem into the picture to solve their problems. Good emotional health is a prerequisite to Torah. In fact, Torah can hurt someone who is in bad emotional shape because they do not have the proper vessel to contain Torah…this was all said on the course. I think that’s why it’s hard to just solve a character’s problem who has emotional issues by having them connect to Hashem. I think there should be some kind of person in between who shows the character their worth somehow…and then the character has to learn the lesson on their own as well and eventually connect to Hashem. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to connect to Hashem to help us solve our emotional problems, it most certainly does work, BUT a person with emotional issues often views Hashem in the wrong light to begin with and therefore can’t truly connect, like Hashem is going to punish them for every little mistake, Hashem hates them, Hashem is a big bully, Hashem doesn’t care about what they want etc.
Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I feel that when reading a novel, people want to be taken for an adventure…every person ideally wants that the people in their life should connect to them and understand them, that they can be themselves around the people in their lives…and when that doesn’t happen, therapy is crucial to give a person back their own self…but in a novel, personally, I want there to be some kind of magical feeling of the character stumbling upon someone within their lives, or in a new place where they end up, who ends up connecting to them and thereby teaching them the theme…I want to also see the character stumble and make mistake after mistake until they get the theme because that would make me relate to them. To just send them to therapy would take away the magic feeling, and like the solution was given to them on a plate. Perhaps if a character must go to therapy, there should be other characters as well who help them learn the theme to give the novel a more sensational feeling than just ‘oh they went to therapy and fixed the problem, the end…’
Lastly, if people would just understand each other and be there for each other and believe in each other, we wouldn’t need therapists…it sucks enough that in real life people need to pay money to someone to do that for them…at least in a novel I want to be taken to a different type of world…
MemberJune 18, 2020 at 1:48 am
At the Torah Umesorah convention, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, shlita, said that it’s great that there are all these new tools now to help students succeed but we have to realize that there is the the ruach and the nefesh. Psychology addresses the nefesh.
So there is still the ruach. It can’t be underdeveloped. (My words.) This should be available on the Torah Umesorah website.
MemberJune 18, 2020 at 8:26 am
[quote quote=19018] Anyway, what’s clear from that course is that a person has to have themselves before they can have a relationship with Hashem. A person whose heart is squashed and not connected to themselves will have a hard time connecting to Hashem. [/quote] How does this even work? I mean, what are we without Hashem? And, how can you ‘unsquash’ your heart without Hashem? Without realising that we are nothing and Hashem is Everything, and that Hashem’s love for us is deeper than anything we can imagine, how can a person have any sort of relationship with himself? If a person’s self-worth is based on anything other than Hashem, how real or true can it be? And without the awareness that we have the bechira to choose our (and only our!) actions and thoughts and that these determine our eternity, how can a person life a happy, fulfilling life?
[quote quote=19018]Also, a person understands Hashem based on the authority figures in their live[/quote] Where do you get this from? On a personal level, as well as on an intellectual level, this doesn’t seem true.
MemberJune 18, 2020 at 3:33 pm
Ha Ha I love debating, but I don’t want to turn this forum into a psychology one (although I do think that to write a really good novel a person needs to understand how people work!) so I will try to bring this back to writing a novel.
We actually see from the Torah itself that a person’s perception of Hashem comes from the authority figures in their life. The fifth commandment, to honor our parents, is placed on the right side of the aseres hadibros together with the other bein adam l’makom mitzvos instead of on the left side with the bein adam l’chaveiro mitzvos because our first understanding of who Hashem is and how Hashem behaves comes from our parents, the first authority figures in our life, therefore showing honor to parents is like honoring Hashem himself. This plays out in many ways. Someone who suffers from OCD around mitzvos, for example, probably feels that Hashem is out to get him, or someone who feels like Hashem doesn’t care about what they want so there is no use davening probably grew up with authority figures who didn’t care about what they wanted, etc etc. Many emotional issues can be traced to this, to a person feeling life isn’t safe because they don’t understand who Hashem really is and who they really are- a neshama that is pure good and a chelek of Hashem! If a person doesn’t realize that about themselves, that they are pure good, they will not be able to connect to Hashem- if you hate yourself, how can you love Hashem?
Anyways, back to writing a novel- If a character is having an emotional issue, then to have their problem solved solely through having them connect to Hashem isn’t realistic. There should be a lot going on that pushes them to solve their problem- people who show up in their life who teach them that life is safe, life is good, there should be a lot of mistakes trying to fix things the wrong way, the character should also be slowly trying to deepen their relationship with Hashem and then failing since they aren’t there yet, and then with the resolution, the character can connect to Hashem in a deep way since they finally learned who Hashem really is and what Hashem really wanted from them all along.
What I’m saying is, to just have your character learn their theme through Torah study isn’t enough if they have emotional issues…as we see, many kids go off the derech from Torah teachers who do not practice what they preach…
MemberJune 18, 2020 at 5:31 pm
The truth is, all relationships in life are a metaphor for how to relate to Hashem. The parent relationship is really crucial, though if one doesn’t have it it’s not insurmountable in effectively relating to Hashem and human authority.
MemberJune 18, 2020 at 5:56 pm
As a Brit, maybe I see it froma different angle. stories that are heavily laced with therapy both amuse and fascinate me. Although going for therapy here is definitely a ‘thing’, it only picked up popularity and became less stigmatised more recently. When my husband and I were growing up we never heard the word therapy. In our teens we might have come across the word in more American publications. And now, as parents in our early forties we hear about it all the time. I do believe in the right therapy at the right time. I also think it has become too heavily used in Jewish novels. Having said that, therapy sessions in novels can be eye-opening, fascinating and hilarious. They make the reader look forward to the next therapy session. When well done, fictional therapists can help a reader learn more about themselves and people in general. But perhaps the reader would gain more from a protagonist who goes through a journey of growth without professional paid help? After all, there are many people American or otherwise who don’t turn to therapists or who can’t afford the hefty fees.
MemberJune 18, 2020 at 6:19 pm
[quote quote=19022]At the Torah Umesorah convention, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, shlita, said that it’s great that there are all these new tools now to help students succeed but we have to realize that there is the the ruach and the nefesh. Psychology addresses the nefesh. So there is still the ruach. It can’t be underdeveloped. (My words.) This should be available on the Torah Umesorah website.[/quote]
I can’t edit. Rav Aharon said it’s the ruach, NOT the neshama. Speaking to kodesh teachers in particular, that is their charge.
AdministratorJune 18, 2020 at 8:35 pm
It is so fascinating for me to watch this amazing back-and-forth. I’d like to jump in now and give you my own personal perspective, as a writer of true-to-life fiction.
A few thoughts:
1. When planning a story, I always try to appeal to the widest audience possible and so I plan my plotline to be as inclusive as can be. This means that even if I want to write about, say, domestic abuse (eg. my book Charades, published by Feldheim), I will also put other elements in it to appeal to readers who are not as interested in my main theme (In the case of Charades, I also introduced the topic of compulsive overeating and Overeaters Anonymous, as well as the theme of “Therapist, Heal Thyself!”).
2. Since real life is mostly about people experiencing challenges and how they deal with them, my fiction usually mirrors this theme. My aim is always to keep my plotline as real as possible and to put my characters through scenarios that are authentic. I will invest a lot of time and effort in making sure that my plotline stays real, including the growth-through-challenge. This means that I will try to stay within the “norm” for a character experiencing whatever challenges I’ve given him or her.
3. I actually interviewed my psychologist husband, Joel, when this conversation cropped up, as to his thoughts on therapy. In the previous thread, it seemed that there were some women who felt that therapy is an easy way out, that therapy is a poor substitute for avodas ha’middos and is also not as recommended as, say, talking things over with a mentor simply because a therapist is paid for his or her work. Since I am keeping this conversation practical (because that’s the purpose of Masterpiece!), I’m not going to get bogged down in those contentions, but I will address them briefly because I believe they are relevant to all women setting out to create true-to-life fiction. This is what Joel answered:
-Most of his clients only seek therapy after exhausting their own resources, including lots of personal struggle and exploration, reaching out to friends, family, and mentors for help, and experiencing many setbacks and disappointments before finally turning to therapy as a last resort. It is very rare for a person who encounters some sort of challenge to reach first for a therapist.
-Therapy can be a difficult, intense, and often extremely painful process. It would be insulting and outrageous to anyone who has experienced deep, healing therapy to suggest that they took “the easy way out”. Especially for people suffering from trauma, abuse, attachment disorder, OCD, anxiety & panic, or any other kind of serious mental health issue, therapy can be a lifeline.
-If you want to say that a therapist is a b’dieved choice because s/he is being paid for their services then you’d have to extend that argument to anyone being paid for their services. Are teachers less effective at teaching because they’re being paid? Is a Rav less effective because he receives a salary? To say that the therapist is not as caring as, say, a family member or (unpaid) mentor is a very different argument. As my husband so wisely pointed out, the money that is or isn’t paid is not actually the barometer of the level of “caring” in the encounter. In fact, you cannot pay anyone to care! You can have a very expensive therapist who does not care for the client–and it will be apparent in the therapy!
Okay, now back to the way I write my stories :-).
4. I have never written a story about therapy, simply because real-life is not about therapy! Real life is about, well, real life. Many of my characters struggle without therapy and do just fine (baruch Hashem! :-)). I introduce therapy in succinct places where I believe that it is the best solution for my protagonist, the most AUTHENTIC solution for my protagonist, AND, where I believe it will benefit the reader who may be struggling with the same problem. So, for example, in my book Diamond Dust, which deals with Complex PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), I had my character do a therapy protocol called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) because a)EMDR is a very powerful trauma protocol that works amazingly if done properly and would be the best way for my character to heal, and b)I wanted to introduce the frum world to EMDR because it is such a valuable resource.
5. I do believe that ruchniyus is an important theme to introduce into fiction even though presenting it is often sticky because the reader will immediately get turned off if s/he senses anything preachy or “fachnyokt” (how’s that for a great word?! :-)) about it. In my latest book, Enough, I actually was more overt about ruchniyus in the book, presenting quotes from Mesillas Yesharim and having the Rav tell my main character to learn mussar. So yes, we definitely need to bring ruchniyus into the sphere of real, tangible life, and we need to do it skillfully and in a way that’s palatable and interesting.
And now, I think I will go wash my floors for Shabbos! 🙂
MemberJune 18, 2020 at 10:49 pm
[quote quote=19066]“fachnyokt” (how’s that for a great word?! :-)) ?[/quote]
Please don’t use quacky words.
Jk. Seriously, you write page turners, agenda (like publicizing EMDR) or not. This is the big challenge for these issues. Because I’ve read books about therapy that are plodders.
I don’t think we should be dissecting actual books but I think I can bring this up for illustrative purposes. There is a great series for elementary kids called Mr. Lister, in which a socially awkward child gets coaching. What I noticed was, while there is some conflict and tension, generally all the adults are doing the right thing and things work out. But these books are for a young audience. You can read them to first graders, but kids won’t be ready to read them till maybe end of second grade, third, so this is perfectly appropriate for that age, and for the greater good, to get the message across to children who need it, and those who don’t to be understanding.
MemberJune 18, 2020 at 10:51 pm
Heavy. Thread. Indeed.
My two cents:
If a story that involves therapy can be portrayed in a sense like Shoshana Mael’s book Dancing in the Dark, I will be interested in reading it. Why?
1. Therapy wasn’t the main focus of the story. The main character’s life was a true mess. She suffered from PTSD. She ended up seeking treatment. End of story. Therapy wasn’t romanticized or glorified.
2. The main character had conversations with her therapist in a non-clinical setting most of the time. As a reader, I didn’t feel like I was being ushered into the therapy room with the door shut behind. It wasn’t so stifling.
3. The main character’s struggles were captured in a raw and authentic manner. There was no beating around the bush. It was dark. It was gripping.
4. The author of the book is a licensed clinical social worker and accurately portrayed the main character’s symptoms and healing process.
5. There was no lecturing or focus on morals.
6. The story did not have a happily-ever-after ending. It felt more real that way.
7. The story’s POV was in first person. It felt up close and personal.
All of these factors ensured that the story did not feel fluffy or sappy. It was an honest and brutal portrayal of one girl’s suffering.
If anyone can depict a story like this, I’m all in.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 1:31 am
Fiction Fangirl, as eloquent as usual. Even your factual posts are written with flair. That’s some talent.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 12:11 am
I was not Chas V’Shalom saying that a therapist should not get paid, or implying that they are not doing holy work. What I was saying is that it’s sad the amount of people who need therapy because of the people in their lives who don’t/ didn’t believe in them/don’t/didn’t understand them/ don’t/didn’t care about their feelings.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 1:28 am
Elisheva, I absolutely get this level of pain. Too well, maybe.
I wasn’t planning to respond to your previous post as I didn’t want this to turn into a side debate, but these words you wrote are bugging me. I wish I could understand what you mean:
[quote quote=19070]if you hate yourself, how can you love Hashem?[/quote] What can make such a person love himself? I just don’t get how it’s possible for a person to feel any self-worth without putting Hashem into the equation.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 1:51 am
Sherry, that’s an interesting thought. It’s hard for us to divorce sense of self from our source of sense of self, but this reminds me of Rabbi Twerski. He wrote a 12 step book with the thesis that even atheists can tap into the spirituality of the 12 steps.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 1:59 am
Thanks for pushing the point Sherry. I agree with you. I’m going to be brazen enough to divert this conversation with you because I so passionately believe that as writers, we plant our beliefs into our writings and they penetrate deep into the hearts of our unsuspecting readers. And as frum, believing writers that gives us a tremendous responsibility to ensure that our beliefs and hashkafos are aligned with the Torah.
There is no self-worth without putting Hashem into the equation. Period. Our self-worth originates from the knowledge that no matter how flawed we are, all that is outweighed by the fact that we are a chelek elokah mimaal. For a beautiful discussion on this point, please see Your Awesome Self, by Shtrena Ginsberg.
Good emotional health is not a prerequisite to Torah. Histakel b’oiraisah ubarah alma. The blue-print for the world IS the Torah. The blueprint for our emotional health is the Torah. Therefore the prescription for true emotional health is logically found in the Torah. Rabbi Dr. David Lieberman has many magnificent shiurim and has written many fantastic books on emotional and mental health, and he draws them all from the Torah and frequently explains why true emotional health can only occur through alinging ourselves to Torah truths.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 2:28 am
“What I’m saying is, to just have your character learn their theme through Torah study isn’t enough if they have emotional issues…as we see, many kids go off the derech from Torah teachers who do not practice what they preach…”
If that’s true, then the problem only lies with the teachers themselves. It has nothing to do with Torah study.
It’s sad but true that most of what I attribute to my strong Emuna now is from what I read on my own, out of school. And I felt so ripped off, realizing that this was exactly what would have helped me survive my school years.
Only it was never taught to us.
If a kid is disillusioned with Hashem, it’s not because of lack of emotional health. It’s because the kid doesn’t understand Who Hashem Is. It’s impossible to for someone to feel upset at Hashem, and by extension terrible about themselves, unless they don’t fully know what Hashem is, aka, the foundations of emuna.
The point I want to make is, Torah is the foundation of emotional health, not the other way around. Rav Shalom Arush explains this point very clearly in Garden of Emuna.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 4:59 am
That said, Elisheva made extremely valuable points that I agree with and that when incorporated into a plot, could create a much more realistic, relatable and believable storyline. One of them is that for most people, therapy is only one factor in a confluence of events that propel their growth and journey. Some other factors as Elisheva so insightfully and eloquently mentioned, are – the mistakes we make, the detours we take, friends, books, good, true and solid people we meet, age, perspective and the shifting sands of time even when nothing else changes and most importantly our desire. The hashgacha pratis we see when we desire growth and healing is incredible.
Which brings me to another point – that I was going to post on the original serial idea thread. So much of what was mentioned on this thread are relevant and real inner struggles that are part of the lives of so many adults, that have yet to appear in print. Our mis-perception of Hashem, based on our encounters with adults in our lives as a child, the disconnect we feel as adults, and the effort it takes to reteach and reparent ourselves as adults. The judgement and betrayals we experience that further isolate us from others and make us feel so alone. And conversely the healing that a safe, healthy, caring, loving person could bring. Feeling ripped off by the education we got and pursuing redefining the Yiddishkeit we were taught. Attempting to makes sense of and juggle the conformity our communities demand of us, with the very individual and beautiful self wanting to take flight.
These things (and others) are so core to the inner journey of so many of us women today. Some women turn bitter and cynical and distrusting. Some women look for support and approval and acceptance outside of the fold. And some keep plodding forward one step at a time (one a good day) growing bigger and humbler, stronger and softer, more skilled and more aware of their limitations, wiser and more clueless, fuller and wholer and more complete near incompleteness and paradox.
Our lives emanates from our inner journeys and it’s rare to find writing that explores the inner journeys of today’s women in an honest, unflinching way. In my opinion, this is the next frontier in Jewish writing.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 7:25 am
I’m going to chime in here as an author. My new novel, Yedidya, focuses on the main character’s struggle to overcome his life challenges, primarily through encounters with hashkafa, mussar and Torah personalities.
We explore Torah sources openly – and I agree with Riva – these scenes are SO hard to write well, without sounding forced, preachy, pat, dry, heavy, pompous. All the impressions that don’t do our holy Torah wisdom justice.
When I get feedback that these scenes touch readers – that is the most meaningful feedback I can get. Because I work so hard on those scenes!
That said: I faced an issue. My main character, Yedidya, has some serious issues and he really needs therapy – yet I didn’t want to show therapy sessions in the book, nor detract from the centrality of Torah as a source of pure healing.
I got around this by placing him in a setting where he gets therapy “by accident” without ever walking into a therapists office. My creative solution: he is working in an institution for youth at risk and he listens in on their group therapy sessions, though he ostensibly refuses to join. He also has conversations with the institution’s director that are basically therapy.
Bottom line: ruchniyus growth and personal development go together. If your story deals with a character with a big emotional problem, then some reference to the therapy experience is hard to leave out entirely in today’s world, even if you want to highlight ruchniyus more.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 11:35 am
Hi everyone! I don’t want to turn masterpiece into a psychology thread, although as authors, most of us are interested in psychology, especially in today’s world where galus has lead us to the scariest nisayon of people not knowing who they truly are. I will respond briefly here and will answer some people at more length in a personal message.
Of course, there cannot be a complete refua shelayma to good mental/emotional health without coming to the awareness of our pure neshmama, and emuna and who Hashem really is- the question is how does a person who in an emotional rut get there? Of course, trying to connect to Hashem and our pure core is always recommended, but the question is, how does someone who doesn’t feel good get there?
The short answer is, having someone in your life believe in you leads to believing in Hashem.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 11:45 am
Sorry, just want to add that of course learning about emuna and the parts of Torah that teach us about how much Hashem loves us and takes care of us also helps…but I’m not sure if in most cases that alone was enough to bring a refua shelayma, especially if the person was surrounded by negative people in their life.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 12:26 pm
[quote quote=19089]The short answer is, having someone in your life believe in you leads to believing in Hashem.[/quote]
Okay, but knowing that Hashem believes in you is so much more powerful. It’s why we say every day מודה אני… רבה אמונתך – If he gave me back my neshama today, it means He believes in me.
Dovid Hamelech was abandoned and despised by everyone, his parents, his kids… what did he do? He composed Tehillim. He formed a deep kesher with Hashem. He said (Perek 25): My father and mother may have abandoned me but You gathered me (You were there for me).
Ever read the article ‘Real Pearls’? Every relationship that exists are like plastic pearls in comparison to the real pearls of a relationship with Hashem. And it is this relationship that can that help us navigate all the lesser important relationships in our life.
(I think the argument is really about what comes first, the chicken or the egg)
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 12:44 pm
“I don’t want to turn masterpiece into a psychology thread, although as authors, most of us are interested in psychology,”
Understanding people and what makes them tick, is so important to character development and being curious about people and what makes them tick is why many of us write in the first place. 🙂
“especially in today’s world where galus has lead us to the scariest nisayon of people not knowing who they truly are.”
So true. I think we need to write more about this and use this struggle as a basis for storylines.
AdministratorJune 21, 2020 at 5:26 pm
Very well-said, C.K. and thank you for bringing this important point home.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 1:00 pm
[quote quote=19082]Thanks for pushing the point Sherry. I agree with you. I’m going to be brazen enough to divert this conversation with you because I so passionately believe that as writers, we plant our beliefs into our writings and they penetrate deep into the hearts of our unsuspecting readers. And as frum, believing writers that gives us a tremendous responsibility to ensure that our beliefs and hashkafos are aligned with the Torah. There is no self-worth without putting Hashem into the equation. Period. Our self-worth originates from the knowledge that no matter how flawed we are, all that is outweighed by the fact that we are a chelek elokah mimaal. For a beautiful discussion on this point, please see Your Awesome Self, by Shtrena Ginsberg. Good emotional health is not a prerequisite to Torah. Histakel b’oiraisah ubarah alma. The blue-print for the world IS the Torah. The blueprint for our emotional health is the Torah. Therefore the prescription for true emotional health is logically found in the Torah. Rabbi Dr. David Lieberman has many magnificent shiurim and has written many fantastic books on emotional and mental health, and he draws them all from the Torah and frequently explains why true emotional health can only occur through alinging ourselves to Torah truths.[/quote]
I’m trying to bring this back to writing.
I read the first bolded and thought, can you flip this to the positive? I’m imagining a teen or even an adult (yes, the kind who wonders why she never heard this in her formal education) who would desperately like to hear this as the positive, who will feel even more of a gornisht if they hear it in the negative. (OK, Riva, enough ideas for the next serial?) Then I saw what you wrote after the period.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 1:01 pm
“What I’m saying is, to just have your character learn their theme through Torah study isn’t enough if they have emotional issues…as we see, many kids go off the derech from Torah teachers who do not practice what they preach…”
If that’s true, then the problem only lies with the teachers themselves. It has nothing to do with Torah study. It’s sad but true that most of what I attribute to my strong Emuna now is from what I read on my own, out of school. And I felt so ripped off, realizing that this was exactly what would have helped me survive my school years. Only it was never taught to us. If a kid is disillusioned with Hashem, it’s not because of lack of emotional health. It’s because the kid doesn’t understand Who Hashem Is. It’s impossible to for someone to feel upset at Hashem, and by extension terrible about themselves, unless they don’t fully know what Hashem is, aka, the foundations of emuna. The point I want to make is, Torah is the foundation of emotional health, not the other way around. Rav Shalom Arush explains this point very clearly in Garden of Emuna.[/quote]
Again, this could be fascinating to explore for a writer of fiction.
I heard a concept oh, about 20 years ago, that made me think, why didn’t I hear this 20 years before when I really needed it. I think I got a different, more open education than you did, and would like to think I might have heard it before. In any case, the formal education I got was still a great foundation for the informal education I’ve chose to get since then.
Edited to add: Wow, C.K. said it so much better.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 6:38 pm
[quote quote=19093](I think the argument is really about what comes first, the chicken or the egg)[/quote]
I remember hearing the concept of a(n equilateral) triangle representing the three relationships in a person’s life: 1) With Hashem 2) With himself 3) With others. Each relationship feeds off of the other two, meaning to say that enhancing one relationship will positively affect the other two, and vice versa.
MemberJune 19, 2020 at 7:08 pm
Thanks Anagrammer. You’re reminding me of something I heard from R’ Ezriel Tauber zt”l on this concept. And it’s clear that each relationship we have needs Hashem at its centre in order to have any existence.
What I still don’t get is how a person can pump himself (or have others do it for him) without reverting to the love Hashem has for each one of us. What worth does a person have beyond that? Our talents and all we own (our very life!) are all His. And it’s that He values my existence that gives me self-worth, especially because I know He knows my failings better than anyone does, even those I try to hide from myself.
And sometimes it’s those verbally abusive relationships, from the people who should love us most, that force us to dig deep within and mentally refute all their put-downs with G-d’s view of us. He values me = I’m valuable. He considers me worthy = I’m worthy. Ater all it is He that is All-knowing.
MemberJune 22, 2020 at 5:19 pm
I’m catching up a bit on this thread so forgive me if I refer back to some older topics.
Regarding including ruchnius growth in fiction, no one’s opening a novel because they want to read a mussar sefer. It’s a very tricky balance.
As I was thinking about this, I had a major epiphany. Some time ago, I started a thread about the M Kenan’s Khazar series. My primary interest was finding that “secret sauce” that makes the stories so compelling. The current conversation made me think again about the trilogy. I realized the real secret ingredient – the spiritual element. Yes, the characters and setting make a big difference, but the elements that draw the readers in are the true and relatable spiritual struggles. When the external plot and setting is put aside, that’s all the story’s about. The spiritual conversation is everywhere, but it’s not cumbersome. It simply makes us think about our own spiritual growth. You walk away not only entertained but uplifted. That is what our neshamos truly want.
As I said, it takes a great deal of effort and talent to keep a story spiritual but not preachy. The authors who manage to do this come out with a deeper and more meaningful product.
Going back to the original topic about using therapy as a plot tool. As Riva mentioned, if the story is set up in a way that therapy is the best possible solution, it would be a disservice to the character and to the reader if therapy isn’t included. The main thing is to make sure therapy doesn’t become the focal point. Like others said, every therapy session doesn’t need to be dramatized.
Personally I wouldn’t set up a story in a way that needs therapy as the solution because I don’t feel qualified to write about the topic.
MemberJune 22, 2020 at 6:26 pm
HappiWriter, your perspective touched my soul. You’re insightful for highlighting the spiritual element of a story as being the secret sauce. I’ll admit I struggle in this area. It’s so easy to become wound up with the making of a great story and fail to miss the point. Yes, when writing fiction, we’re focused on entertaining the reader and not shoving mussar down the throat. But the entertainment should come from a source of ruchniyus. It should be meaningful. With all secular writing books and courses out there, the brain becomes wired to write the next great bestseller. What they don’t teach you is to create your story from a place of depth. This platform is a perfect place to challenge that. How about a proposal for all wonderful and talented women here to create the Jewish Guide for Writing Frum Fiction?
MemberJune 22, 2020 at 6:40 pm
Wow, wow, I love what you said, Fiction Fangirl. We frum writers are really on a completely different wavelength than our secular counterparts. We have a dual purpose: to entertain and also to uplift.
MemberJune 22, 2020 at 6:45 pm
This conversation is actually very touching in another way. The prevalent attitude on social media these days is into anything but ruchnius. I’m nowhere close to being this highly ruchniusdig rebbetzin, but sometimes I think about our society. We’re drowning in physical messages. Does anybody care about spirituality anymore??
This thread is making me realize that deep inside, our neshamos are still burning. Our society still seeks that spiritual connection…
MemberJune 22, 2020 at 7:01 pm
Well, if we’re continuing the conversation, it’s obvious we care. I find your realization uplifting and encouraging. Maybe our readership is spiritually thirsty. Maybe we do have the power to tap into that longing and create meaning.
Now that sounds like a Viktor Frankl approach. Which ties us back to psychology. Hooray!
MemberJune 22, 2020 at 11:27 pm
Hi FF Girl and Happi Writer. I think what you’re talking about is that a novel has to have a theme. Jessica Brody talks about this in “Save the Cat Writes a Novel” She says that even action novels should have a theme, and by theme, it means that the character must learn something and change by the end of the novel. Think about the character arc- that’s the path of the character’s internal growth. Every novel needs that- even non-Jewish ones- to make a satisfying, meaningful story. You don’t have to shove mussar down someone’s throat when writing a novel. Watching the main character change is enough that by the end, you change with them and learn the theme as well. I think that as frum writers our goal should be to give classic themes a Jewish twist. For example, in the novel I’m writing and posting on here, the theme is to ‘believe in yourself’- but I don’t want to stop there. I want to show how not only should a person believe in themselves, but also how believing in yourself is crucial to believing in Hashem. Other common novel themes are responsibility, forgiveness, love, faith etc. It’s easy to see how these themes can be highlighted in a Jewish perspective- Yiddishkeit has a lot to say on these topics!
MemberJune 23, 2020 at 1:51 pm
Elisheva, you’re totally right. The more I study character arcs, the more I realize how much soul goes into writing fiction and how careful we should be with our reading choices.
MemberJune 25, 2020 at 3:28 am
I just joined Masterpiece and my eyes were drawn to this post since my first novel recently in print is about a yeshiva boy who first manifests signs of bipolar while away in Yeshiva in Israel. I wrote it to reach 3 audiences simultaneously. To validate for the frum mentally ill person the extreme journey a frum person has to go through, fighting the strange things happening to his mind and body while fighting the obvious and not so obvious stigma from family and community, to give knowledge of mental illness for those suffering in secret afraid to seek help, and to engender empathy by the Jewish community for those with mental illness among us.
In order to accomplish this I had to be real about psych wards and therapy sessions, and I had to be real about religious life and the positive pull of spirituality. For example, my character is kicked out of yeshiva and is begging to go to the kotel but they take him to a psych residency instead. It had to be written in first person to be powerful and I had to weave in all the elements blocking his healing and all the elements bringing him back to stability, including his therapists belief in him at the time when his family didn’t believe in him, and the powerful uplifting feelings he received from visiting the kever of a Tzaddik.
The characters in our books have to fall in someway that rings true and they have to change and find their way up to give courage and strength to our frum readers. B”H I have received thanks from people suffering with mental illness for writing this truthful book, and therapists were happy to see that I included practical therapeutic tips, some in group therapy sessions but mainly as thoughts running through his mind as to how that therapy was pulling him up or down.
AdministratorJune 25, 2020 at 7:02 pm
Zimnovels, mazel tov on your new novel–it sounds like a very fascinating, excruciating, and important read! As you have seen from the feedback, well-crafted stories that offer guidance, support, and above all, VALIDATION, can be a lifeline for anyone going through the same experiences. Kudos to you for obviously going to great lengths to write what sounds like a truly authentic story!
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