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Yael Muskat and Martin Galla: Entering Adulthood: Inside a College Counseling Center

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SUMMARY

Our mental health series is sponsored by Terri and Andrew Herenstein.

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we wrap up our mental health series by talking to Dr. Yael Muskat, director of Yeshiva University’s Counseling Center, and her longtime colleague Dr. Martin Galla about the mental health challenges at the forefront of early adulthood.

 

Young people in the Jewish community are not immune from today’s mental health crisis. They have their own, equally pressing versions of those same problems. In this episode we discuss:

 

  • How do experts deal with the mental health of college students “in between” childhood and adulthood?
  • What mental health challenges to the Jewish world in particular need to address?
  • How can young adults handle the mental health turmoil that can come with dating?
Tune in to hear a conversation about how we can get to a place where sound mental health enables spiritual growth.

Interview with Dr. Muskat begins at 7:13.
Interview with Dr. Galla begins at 55:46.

Dr. Yael Muskat, Psy.D., is the Director of the Counseling Center at Yeshiva University and has over 20 years of clinical experience. After graduating from Yeshiva University, she received a Master’s in Special Education from Columbia University and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Long Island University, C.W. Post. Dr. Muskat continued her clinical training by completing a Post Doctorate Leadership Fellowship at Westchester Institute for Human Development.

 

Dr. Martin Galla is a former associate director at the Yeshiva University Counseling Center, where he worked for 13 years.

References:


Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson

 

 

David Bashevkin:
Hi, friends, and welcome to the 18Forty Podcast, where each month we explore a different topic balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re exploring mental health. Thank you so much to our series sponsors, Terri and Andrew Herenstein. I’m so grateful for your friendship and support.   . For uplifting the brokenhearted and binding all of our wounds. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big juicy Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18forty.org, 1-8-F-O-R-T-Y.org, where you can also find videos, articles, and recommended readings.

I began high school in 1998, I believe, which is crazy how long ago that was. But when I began high school, that was the exact time that there was a great deal of attention given to the period in life, particularly in our community, of the teenage years. I remember, I think a year later in 1999, there was a front page cover story in the magazine of Agudas Yisroel, the Jewish Observer, that in big letters said Teens At Risk. And this was a time that our institutions were paying a great deal of attention to the difficulty of being a teenager growing up and trying to find your way, trying to individuate, find your sense of self, particularly in the teenage years. You’re no longer a child in elementary school and you may have questions about theology, about faith, about our community.

And there was so much attention given. I remember this cover story and they had a follow-up issue and there were institutions that were springing up. This was around the time that they were designing special high schools to address people who weren’t necessarily fitting into the mold of our regular high schools. And this was really incredible work. There were so many people who were struggling during these teenage years. I think this was around the same time that there was almost a transition in who was teaching in our high schools. The generation of older, more seasoned educators was turning over.

And in the late nineties was when you had this influx of people who were inspired from within our community to go back and teach within our community. And I remember it was the first time you had Rabbaim, you had teachers, educators, who were much younger. They were in their twenties, they were in their early thirties. And they placed a great deal of effort of connecting and building a teenage experience within our community that had resonance, that had relevance, that you felt that growing up in the community, “Wow, I can really be understood.” And in many ways the truth is we were incredibly successful in this area, the institutions we built, the attentions we gave it. I think we do a phenomenal job of educating teenagers within our community. It is really incredibly remarkable.

But within my lifetime, I believe a different set, a different demographic, began to spring up that needed a great deal of attention and is still not getting, I don’t know if they’re getting the right kind of attention that they really need. And that is not the teenage years, but people growing up within our community, specifically the twenties. People in their twenties, which most people associate that you’re an adult already, go ahead, build a life for yourself.

But I can tell you, I’ve been teaching in Yeshiva University for many years, I have so many interactions with people in their twenties. Most importantly in my own twenties, I was faced with an ambiguity, with a sense, with a pressure, almost, to really figure out my life and do it quickly. What I’ve mentioned in the past, that Bermuda Triangle of your twenties, of resolving your professional aspirations, your romantic aspirations, setting up a family, and of course your religious aspirations. What kind of community are you going to live in? What kind of person are you going to be religiously?

And there is a great deal of pressure coming from a very good and holy place, our community places such emphasis on the family unit, on building a life, on building a career. We want all of those things. Those are all good things. But the problem is this all hits you in your early twenties and for a lot of our adolescents and people in their early twenties in their community, their muscles of making choices in their life, let’s be frank, can oftentimes be flabby, particularly in the United States. This is one of the major, major differences between growing up in America, and I think it’s worse in the Tri-State area, versus growing up in Israel, where I think it’s the absolute best. People are really making choices and building lives for themselves.

You’re not a kid when you’re 21, 22 years old. But in America a lot of people are lost. That’s the honest truth. They’re in their twenties and they are trying to figure out what is my life going to look like? When is it going to start? When is real life going to start?

And all of the confusions that emerge from dating, from career choices, from trying to imagine what kind of community do I live in, where should I set up my family, this can really hinder growth. Which is why I thought it was so important to have an episode that was dedicated specifically to the experience of people within our community in our twenties and specifically through the lens of inside a college counseling center. And of course, the counseling center that I chose was Yeshiva University, where I not only teach, but I know the population that it serves is kind of the cream of the crop in many ways. People who have overwhelmingly, not everybody, but gone to Jewish elementary schools, Jewish camps, Jewish high schools, spent a year or two in Israel learning Torah, and now they’re kind of finishing off their capstone institutional affiliation within our community at Yeshiva University.

And there are a lot of issues that crop up in their twenties. They’re not all the most serious issues. I’m not necessarily minimizing it. But there are issues that require a great deal of guidance. And what I want to do in today’s episode is explore through the lens of the counseling center, what are the issues that people in their twenties are grappling with? Some of this is a little bit insider as it relates to Yeshiva University. What kind of program you’re in, what level of learning are you on? Some of it is very universal, the anxiety and the angst of finding a career, securing an internship. And some of it’s somewhere in between. How to navigate dating, how to navigate finding a spouse within our community, things that we’ve touched upon but are very importantly highlighted specifically through the lens of the counseling center.

And I am so grateful to Yeshiva University’s Counseling Center, specifically its director, Dr. Yael Muskat, who gave so much of her time and insight explaining how it works, explaining what they come in for, the process, to illuminate not only for the students listening, but even more importantly for their parents to understand what are we grappling with in our twenties? Because I believe within my own lifetime, over the last 30 years or so, there has been a great shift. The attention that we once gave to people in their teenage years, I am finding more and more that sense of being lost, that sense of trying to find the path of building a life has been delayed, and people are now confronting all of the same problems in very serious ways, though the symptoms may be entirely different, in their twenties.

So I am so grateful to Dr. Yael Muskat. And without further ado, here is our conversation with the director of Yeshiva University’s Counseling Center, the Dean of Mental Health and Wellness for Yeshiva University, Dr. Yael Muskat. I really am excited, we’re sitting here in Yeshiva University’s Counseling Center to really understand how mental health is treated on the college level. I’m so excited to welcome our guest today, Dr. Yael Muskat. Did I pronounce your name correctly?

Yael Muskat:
Yes, you did. Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

David Bashevkin:
You gave me a look. I’m like, “Oh gosh, I got her name wrong.”

Yael Muskat:
Thank you for having me.

David Bashevkin:
Let’s start again. It is a joy to have you. I want to talk first about the structure of how you set up a counseling center in a college. And my first question is just structurally, is there a set amount of counselors and therapists you need for students on campus? Is there a rule of thumb? I don’t know off chance how many students there are on this campus. We’re in the Wilf Campus now of Yeshiva University, uptown 185th. How do you know how many therapists you need?

Yael Muskat:
It’s a great question, actually. Let me take you back a little bit to how we started.

David Bashevkin:
Sure.

Yael Muskat:
I’ve been here now 18 years and the Counseling Center started one year before that.

David Bashevkin:
Okay. So you’ve almost been here since the inception?

Yael Muskat:
Yeah. The second year, thank God. So before that there was, actually one of our therapists now, Dr. Rochelle Ausubel, was working one day a week here, but it wasn’t a formal counseling center. And then it started with President Richard Joel brought it in and Dr. Rick Schwartz was the first director of it. And then Dr. Chaim Nissel. And it started with really two therapists and as we kept going, we kept adding.

David Bashevkin:
Can I just, are there laws that govern? Do you need a counseling center in a university?

Yael Muskat:
So I don’t believe that it’s a law, which is interesting. Most college campuses do have one on some sort of a level. They range from very small, to much more robust, to having specialties, to many, many counselors. So as we continue to grow, we do continue to add staff as we can. And we also include post-docs and trainees, which I’ll tell you about. Counseling centers have staff that are trainees, often.

David Bashevkin:
Like a clinic?

Yael Muskat:
Yes, specifically college campuses often have them. We’re a little bit different because we like to have them already at a high level of experience, so only sort of fourth year doctoral level, third year doctoral level students. So the answer to your question though is that it ranges very, very, very widely. So you could look at a ratio and it could look like two therapists to 1500 students.

David Bashevkin:
Which sounds like a one to 750 ratio is not great, in the classroom.

Yael Muskat:
Not great.

David Bashevkin:
But for a counseling center.

Yael Muskat:
And you could look at it and it could be one to 800. We thank God our ratio is actually, I don’t have it broken down right now, but on paper it’s a much higher ratio. And we also have two psychiatrists.

David Bashevkin:
Oh, wow.

Yael Muskat:
So that’s another, again, it’s a very big range. There are some college counseling centers that don’t have any psychiatry. We have on both campuses six hours a week. It was in person. Right now it’s virtual. And it’s an amazing service and it’s very much utilized.

David Bashevkin:
Let’s walk through the steps and almost through the eyes of the student, if you will, of a typical, or if there is such thing as typical, a reason and how they reach out to the counseling center. And I want to go through the process step by step. What do you think is the most common issue college students are reaching out to a counseling center about, at least that you see on the Yeshiva University campus?

Yael Muskat:
That’s the beauty of a college counseling center. There isn’t one. If you work in certain kinds of settings, you’re always seeing the same kind of disorder, the same kind of issue. Because it’s a general population, there isn’t exactly one, but there’s most common. So the most common are anxiety, depression, depressive symptoms, trauma, relationships, I would say—

David Bashevkin:
Relationships is people just want to talk about, I’m dating somebody, I’m seeing somebody.

Yael Muskat:
Well, the thing about relationships, it’s not always dating. It’s often, but not always. It’s a lot about friendships, a lot about family relationships. I think people might think that the most thing that we see is dating relationships. It’s a portion. It may be a big portion, but it’s not the most.

David Bashevkin:
So a student is struggling with depression or anxiety on campus. How do they find out that there is a counseling center, where the counseling center is, set up a meeting? How does that work?

Yael Muskat:
So again, it’s very, very varied. Even within that, it’s not that they know, “I have depression.” They might be feeling symptoms which would look like exhaustion, lack of motivation, sadness, irritability, something that they might feel like they don’t feel well, they can’t get out of bed. They’re not doing as well in school. They’re not interested in anything. Or somebody might tell them. There’s a lot of that that happens here.

David Bashevkin:
What do you mean somebody might tell them?

Yael Muskat:
So a friend might tell them, “Might be a good idea for you to talk to somebody.” And that’s the piece why I was mentioning the history because the more we’ve been here, the more it becomes embedded in the university and you start to get different points of entry because college mental health is very much about, the center itself is completely separate, which we’re very much allowed to do here. It’s completely separate, completely confidential.

David Bashevkin:
What does it mean completely separate?

Yael Muskat:
It means it’s completely confidential. If somebody refers somebody, nobody will know if they ever came or not. Not the person who referred them, not anybody. It’s in a somewhat removed location. When we first started we were completely removed. Now it’s in a little bit of a separate, but it’s embedded but not right in the middle of the counseling center, but it is part of the community. So we do outreach, we do tabling, we build relationships with the community, with professors, with department chairs, and so they all start to be our eyes and ears. Also the RAs, we speak to lots of RAs.

David Bashevkin:
So I want to talk about the eyes and ears. A administrator or an RA comes to you and says, “Hey, there’s been a student who has not gotten out of bed in a month.” Do you have mechanisms to proactively reach out to students?

Yael Muskat:
So just to back up with that one, then we’ll get… So if a student, either they themselves knows that they have something or a friend tells them, because thank God the friends start to tell each other, then they just do a simple thing. They email counseling@yu.ed. That’s ours. Other counseling centers have theirs. And get the appointment started. They have some paperwork to fill out. We make the appointment based on their availability and maybe other specifications which we can talk about. But then there’s those that other people see need and they might not see or something like that. So that’s very case-dependent. YU has really set up a beautiful system where they try to be aware of somebody who’s needing help. So there are ways to get that person to know and to come to us.
So we say things like the RA might approach the person, the head of housing might approach the person and say, “You know what? We think it’s a good idea, or we want you to talk to counseling. Let’s do an email together.” And we always say if an email from a housing person comes to us, we know that that means let’s get that person in. But that’s a connection. They try and make a personal connection. Sometimes I say, “Walk over to the Counseling Center.” Sometimes I tell them, “Use my cell phone.” I tell the director of housing, “Use my cell phone, tell them to call me directly because it’s easier than just making an appointment to a random place.” Once in a while we will call a student.

David Bashevkin:
You will.

Yael Muskat:
We will. It’s rare because it could be funny to get a call from a college counseling center. They do know our name, so it’s not scary. But yeah, you have to have a reason to do that. So if a parent calls us and they’re really concerned, we will say, “Does the student know? Can you get them to call us?” And sometimes they’ll say they won’t call. We say, “Do they know we might call?” And then sometimes we’ll call.

David Bashevkin:
Let’s talk about the parents’ role because you just mentioned that now a parent will call you. College students are at this liminal space, this in-between space, between being a child and being an actual independent adult who is responsible for the design of their lives. They’re not quite earning a living yet. They’re not paying bills, they’re not doing this yet. They’re also not an elementary school student where they get a note home to their parents telling them how they did in class every day. What is your general relationship to the parents of these? When a student meets you, they’re usually 18, they’re in college. Are you able to talk to the parents about what is going on, what their child is experiencing?

Yael Muskat:
It’s a great question that you mentioned and also you sort of explained the beauty of working with this age and one of the biggest themes that we’re working with. So that’s exactly what’s happening. No. I mentioned parents, but it’s a very, very tiny portion of what we do. Again, that’s, I believe, why counseling centers are as popular, and that’s something that we value a lot, is it’s their first time to be able to do this completely independently. So we don’t call parents and parents don’t call us very often, but if they’re very concerned, they will call the counseling center and we respond to them. We often tell them, very rarely they’ll call when we’re already seeing somebody and we’ll tell them, “Listen, we can’t speak to you at all unless we got permission from your child.” They might call us and give us information, but our therapy process almost never includes parents unless throughout the process there’s discussion with the client like, “Okay, that would be helpful.” Whether it’s because they might want to take medication now or there’s a need for family therapy, but it’s very rare. It’s very much not the majority.

David Bashevkin:
Most students, do you have any sense, I’m just curious about your data collection in general. I don’t know what you have or what you don’t have. You’re running so much and your first priority is to the students and not to coming up with some research paper on the segment of the population that you serve, which happens to be fascinating. College-aged modern Orthodox Jews, which is essentially your key demographic. But do you have any sense of what percent of the people who come to a counseling center, this is their first time seeking mental health therapy, seeking a mental health intervention?

Yael Muskat:
We have access to be able to get that exact number, but I don’t have it for you. We actually collect a lot of data, but it’s like you said, our first priority is to work with the students. So we have a new electronic medical record in the last couple of years, so all the data is even electronically stored, so I don’t want to guess on that question. I would say it’s the majority, honestly.

David Bashevkin:
That this is their first time.

Yael Muskat:
That this is their first time.

David Bashevkin:
It definitely a sizable population.

Yael Muskat:
Right. But there’s also, I would say it’s the majority, but I think that there’s a sizable minority that has already received treatment before, but for many it’s the first time which is what—

David Bashevkin:
Let’s talk about a kid who is their first time seeking mental health counseling. The first time I went to a therapist, I believe I was in fifth grade. I had trouble sleeping and it just got worse because the therapist that I saw gave me some pill. It was probably anti-anxiety or whatever it was, and I couldn’t swallow pills and I think I choked on it. I ended up staying up all night that night from the trauma of trying to swallow a pill. So it backfired. That was the first time I think I ever saw a therapist, was in fifth grade. And I’ve seen intermittently on and off over the course of my life. It’s always been, and I’m so grateful for it, something that our home is just extraordinarily open about.

What are the circumstances that somebody is in their early twenties, very late teens, and it is for the first time in their life that they are seeking a mental health intervention. Do you think it’s more about this is the stress of the time period of college and they’re finding stuff out or discovering stuff for the first time? Or are there obvious signs that parents could know about that really we should be getting interventions earlier and this shouldn’t be the first time that a sizable population is seeing, that they needed to see a therapist earlier and parents or other educators are simply missing something?

Yael Muskat:
There’s a lot there in that question.

David Bashevkin:
Yes, there is.

Yael Muskat:
There’s a lot there in that question. All important things, absolutely.

David Bashevkin:
But it’s foundational. I just want to lay it out. The one is, these kids, they’ve been sailing along really smoothly, doing really nicely, and there’s something about the college age that triggers an anxiety, a lostness, a listlessness where you’re kind of unmoored from the trajectory of your life. I know what I’m supposed to do when I’m in fourth grade. I know what I’m supposed to do to be successful in ninth grade or 11th grade. But there’s something that opens up post, definitely Yeshiva and Seminary you begin to see this a little bit where the freedom of the individual takes hold and it’s like, “Okay, here’s your freedom.” And now it’s like, “Now what? I don’t want to have to make these choices myself. I don’t want to know what I have to major in.” That’s one track.

The other track is like no, parents are missing signs. You are seeing patients, and parents, there are clear signs that your kid is not as well as you think they are. It just happens to be that the first time that they’re being forced to really deal with these long residual issues is when they’re in college. But there are things that parents should have been noticing much, much earlier.

Yael Muskat:
So you’re right on both and you’re going to see that theme probably most of my answers. They’re both correct. They really are. In the first track where this is their first time, and why would that be, even in what you said, A, it’s because of the type of problems that they’re coming in for and also because it’s their first opportunity. So for many people, if you’re in high school and you want to get help for something that you’re not as comfortable telling your parents about maybe or something has to do with the home, some kind of home functioning that you don’t even, you’re functioning okay in that system whether you have a particular role in the family and you’re the one that’s a peacemaker, and so you’re functioning just fine in that role.

David Bashevkin:
I’m the peacemaker of my family.

Yael Muskat:
Okay. And I don’t know how you manage that.

David Bashevkin:
I’m terrible at it. Weighs on me constantly.

Yael Muskat:
But there might’ve been a point in time where you’re kind of removed from that or you’re kind of ready to talk about that or you know something’s bothering you and you don’t know what that is. So you go into therapy and in the therapy process, which is a lot of what happens here in the Counseling Center, we start to unravel that. So it’s not that there’s always a defined problem, it’s just you may have left home, the person may have left home, like you says, has a little bit of space. So it’s the first opportunity and it’s the age. It could also be very much what you said, which is even through Seminary in Yeshiva, they know what they’re supposed to do and then all of a sudden people start to separate. Even developmentally, you’re starting to want less friend groups and more closer relationships.

David Bashevkin:
To individuate.

Yael Muskat:
To individuate. And there’s losses that come with that. There’s confusion that comes with that. So for those reasons, it might be their first time, whether it’s the problem itself or the opportunity. There are times that it would’ve been wonderful if a parent would’ve noticed it. A hundred percent. ADHD is a very big one that’s like that. A lot of people just sort of compensate and then they get to college and it would’ve been wonderful if they had that testing. But many other things are like that as well. And that could be because of, like we keep saying, family roles, family circumstances. So yes, I think that we’re hopeful and we do think this is happening, that more and more people address problems earlier, believe in therapy, use services, don’t feel like it means their child has something very deeply wrong with them, and go ahead and get the services.

But I don’t like to say it’s a very big problem that our community’s not doing that. But yeah, I think that there are some that if they would’ve noticed it, it would’ve helped. One more thing is, similar to what you said, you started therapy as a very young child … And that’s good that you were comfortable with therapy, but it might not have addressed at all the issue that you started thinking later on, “Oh, I really want to address this.” What it did do is make you comfortable to go to therapy. So that’s what we hope happens here also. Can we treat everything here? Not necessarily.

David Bashevkin:
So I want to talk about that. We’re going to get to the limits of the Counseling Center. College campus counseling centers, generally, they do not charge the students that come, correct?

Yael Muskat:
Correct.

David Bashevkin:
Do you ever get gifts or thank yous?

Yael Muskat:
So first of all, we don’t charge. Everything’s free and confidential, including the psychiatrist, which is an amazing service that Yeshiva University gives. And we get a lot of support from the university, honestly, from the whole administration to do that. It’s really an amazing thing. We shouldn’t take it for granted.

David Bashevkin:
Does the kid have to ask permission from a parent before going on medication?

Yael Muskat:
No, but their insurance knows about it and we do, I want to make sure to state that it’s not that we’re in some kind of collusion to hide things from parents. But it’s the students-

David Bashevkin:
It’s against the law. It’s a HIPAA violation.

Yael Muskat:
It’s the student’s point of view. It’s the student’s prerogative. We do find a lot of times when it comes to medication, they do involve parents, but some don’t want to.

David Bashevkin:
It’s their choice.

Yael Muskat:
It’s their choice. So that usually goes on their insurance. So I do just want to mention that though, that even though it’s free for the student, it’s a very big expense for the university and they’re really supportive about it. So do we ever get thank yous? We get thank yous in a lot of different ways. We don’t really get, very few gifts here and there. You get some gifts. You get beautiful thank you emails. The best is when they stay in touch with you later on. Those are the biggest thank yous.

David Bashevkin:
Outside of my family, I’ve mentioned before, the first person I thanked after having a child was my therapist who helped me get over the hump and get married. I feel a great sense and I’m always very moved and I’ve been at weddings where somebody gets up and thanks their therapist. I’ve been at weddings where somebody said, “I want to thank, got me over the …” It reminds me in a way, there’s a basketball player. I don’t know if you’re a basketball fan. There was a basketball player named Ron Artest. He changed his name to Metta World Peace. And after winning the finals with the Lakers, aside from his excitement that Kobe passed him the ball, he famously thanked at his press conference, he says, “I want to thank my therapist. I would not have been able to function at this level.” I think normalizing public Hakaras HaTov to a therapist is actually a good and healthy thing. You don’t have to say what you’re treating for, what you’re dealing with, but-

Yael Muskat:
That’s very nice. That’s very nice. I will say we have an event once a year here. I’m sure you’ve heard about it. Stomp Out the stigma.

David Bashevkin:
Sure.

Yael Muskat:
Okay. So in that they often will thank. There’s different ways in which they thank you. By sending other people. When they say, “Somebody told me,” that’s a huge thank you for us. So they say their thank yous in their way. They’re very nice. The students are very nice.

David Bashevkin:
Let’s talk about the bandwidth of a counseling center. Somebody’s coming to see you. Is there a limit on how many sessions? Can they come as a freshman and just see you straight through once a week for their entire college experience? Is there any limit or point where it’s like we are past the point of what we are able to offer, and what is that point?

Yael Muskat:
Every college counseling center has their own kind of system around that. So many, even the very big ones that I was saying, their ratios are so big and all of that, they have so many students, will maybe do zero to three sessions, and those are really more sort of crisis management … And we are not in that category. We call our model a short-term model, but it’s really 10 to 15 weeks, which we feel you can really kind of get a lot of insight, start working on that area. Even with that, it’s pretty case-by-case. There are situations in which we will extend that. There are very specific situations that kind of go with the range of the person needs more or the person is utilizing it so well, but we know that they won’t go outside. So we evaluate that.

David Bashevkin:
Is 10 to 15 weeks over the course of your, or per semester or per year?

Yael Muskat:
So what it is really is, let’s say, the course of therapy is 10 to 15, give or take. Then you could kind of do something where we might say, “Okay, you don’t need it every week, but we could do an every other week.” So maybe we would start that at week 12 and they can have a little more sessions that way. If a person has had a whole set of sessions one year, but then they call us the next year and they have a relationship with someone, we’ll definitely say, “Come on in. We’ll see you for a couple of times.” And then if it’s the same issue as before or they’re ready to do the next level, then we’d make a referral out.

David Bashevkin:
What does it mean the next level? What does that mean?

Yael Muskat:
That’s a very good question.

David Bashevkin:
Sounds like Scientology. You do the auditing and your dianetics for…

Yael Muskat:
It means different things for different situations. But for example, if you’re dealing with a trauma, which is something we do a lot. So the first set of treatment is much more about accepting, understanding, starting to learn how to cope with it, maybe diving into the situation a little, really depending where the person’s at, if they’ve had therapy before. But then there’s a level at which you might need to spend a very long time with exposure to the trauma or with EMDR, which is a different kind of trauma treatment.

David Bashevkin:
What does the EMDR stand for?

Yael Muskat:
It’s eye movement therapy. So there’s a lot of different ways where you’re connecting the two sides of your brain. So we don’t do that kind of therapy. So that’s another example where we might refer them out, meaning we just don’t do that type of therapy in a counseling center. So the person may have had trauma. We might know from the beginning, really they would benefit already from a long-term, two-year person, but they’re just starting to figure this out now. We hold onto them, we work with them, we get them ready for the next, and then we make those referrals. Because a big part of what we do is referrals and building community connections and knowing what different people do and different expertise. So it’s not a strict, “Okay, you had your 15 and then you can’t come back the next year.” Yeah, if we have a relationship with you, we’re not going to just say absolutely not. Of course not. And there are even exceptions within that. Sometimes we keep people for longer for a variety of reasons. But the majority, the way the treatment is set up is 10 to 15 weeks.

David Bashevkin:
This is a strange question. Do you pay attention to what your reputation is among students? Or do you have any idea? I actually don’t. I know that there are therapists who have phenomenal reputations. Or where students have complained the most about what the Counseling Center is either able to offer or not able to offer, their suspicions. Because every therapy has stigmas and then departments can have stigmas. HR has a stigma in corporations. And I’m curious if the counseling center, this counseling center, deals with stigmas among your student population.

Yael Muskat:
So I would love for you to do a little bit of investigation about that. We feel, thank God, and we’re very grateful for this, that we’re blessed to have a good reputation with the students. We have a lot of personal relationships. There’s a lot of respect that the students have. So even when they’ll write an article, they’ll understand that what we’re trying to do is bring more and more people in. So to sort of focus in on a particular area that somebody might not have been happy with, that doesn’t mean that there’s never something somebody is unhappy with, but there is a certain respect, I feel, for specific therapists, for us as specific therapists, but really more about the Counseling Center.

So when you ask, do we care, yes, we do care that the students should feel like they can trust us, that they will turn to us and that things will be confidential and that we have the same values that they do. Now, are there concerns about students coming to our particular counseling center and to counseling centers in general? I think there are. In general, I think there’s a feeling in general counseling centers, well, it’s so short, nothing will get done or anything like that. I don’t think we have that one. But I think you may have things like they’re religious, it’s the Yeshiva University Counseling Center, but will we be able to talk about anything? I think that’s probably…

David Bashevkin:
Religious judgment.

Yael Muskat:
That might be.

David Bashevkin:
That’s actually the next question I wanted to get to and-

Yael Muskat:
Which we work on. But yeah.

David Bashevkin:
… unpack a little bit. YU caters to a diverse religious population. Have you ever noticed any general themes about which segment of that population is most likely to come to a counseling center? Does it ever correlate to your socio-religious affiliation? Meaning in YU, in Yeshiva University, there are multiple different programs. I’m talking about the men’s campus, where we are right now, and the women’s program. It’s not divided so sharply programmatically. But you could tell there are some women, I’ve taught on the women’s campus, there’s some women who are post-seminary, very intense, very frum. And you could see. And some are more chill. They’re like your everyday college student.

And on the men’s campus here, you certainly see that. It’s divided a little bit more programmatically, depending on what your morning schedule is going to be. But there are some men who spend a great deal of time in the beis medrash and in the top, I’m using air quotes, “top” shiurim, et cetera, et cetera. And then there are some who are less, at least their schedule is less rigorous in terms of their daily learning schedule. I actually teach in one of those programs. And my question is is there a correlation between the level of religious commitment and the likelihood of coming to the Counseling Center? Not whether or not they have mental health problems. I feel fairly confident that everybody’s got some mental health problems. But do you think the stigma of going to a counseling center varies depending on the population?

Yael Muskat:
We have not found that to be the case. I happen to agree with you. The population is much more diverse than people think it is. I was just talking to somebody who was working here after having worked in another college, and she sort of said, “Strangely, our diversity, at least academically, is almost larger than in certain universities where that’s the criteria.” The academic reason is the criteria that they go there.

David Bashevkin:
Because if you’re at Harvard, everybody is either from the same socioeconomic background.

Yael Muskat:
And certainly, grades.

David Bashevkin:
Or grades or intellectual grounding or whatever it is. There are other cultures may not be religious, but there is a homogeneity that in YU what people assume is this homogeneity of being Jewish or being frum, certainly not everybody here is frum, that’s for sure not the case. Right?

Yael Muskat:
Correct.

David Bashevkin:
They may come from a frum home, but not even everybody here does that. There’s a great deal of diversity. And you have not found the stigma depending on?

Yael Muskat:
No. So we haven’t. We’ve really found that, surprisingly, people will come, and I think, again, this is because of the relationships through the university, people will come from all the different social groups that they might be in and from all the different tracks and from all the different majors. So you could have pre-med and you could have Sy Syms, and you could have art, and here you could have YC and you could have BMP and you could have JSS. We also work with graduate students, but that’s a different topic. So we have not found that. We do find, the way they get in might be a little bit different.

David Bashevkin:
How is that different?

Yael Muskat:
There’s been a lot of relationships that have developed from the counseling center to the roshei yeshiva, so they make a lot of them and the mashgichim, they make a lot of direct referrals.

David Bashevkin:
Oh, really?

Yael Muskat:
Yes, yes. The same we have with the Torah study. So sometimes-

David Bashevkin:
There’s almost more oversight in the Yeshiva side, is that what you’re saying? They have more points of contact to the counseling center than you may have in a program where there’s less of a set rebi or religious leader who you’re with every single day.

Yael Muskat:
It’s a nice feature, I will put it that way. It’s a nice feature that they have a lot mashgichim that are watching over, and so they might refer them definitely at the women’s … We also have a lot of people who have connections with them. Again, I think we do get from all the demographics you have from all the different seminaries, and you also have within that not necessarily as different presenting problems as you may think because everybody’s sort of dealing with very similar psychological obstacles and themes that they’re working on. So yeah, we get a nice diversity, which is a very nice part of working here.

David Bashevkin:
I want to talk about one particular issue that I have definitely spoken to a lot of students about, and I’m curious if this is an issue that you personally have dealt with and that is what is known as commitment issues. This boy, girl, they have commitment issues, which I don’t know is in the DSM, the diagnostic manual. But when somebody comes in with commitment issues, I find that moniker of commitment issues, whether it relates to your professional life or relates to more commonly your romantic life and setting up and there’s all this pressure to get married, etc., etc. But I’m curious how as a mental health professional when a college age student’s coming in, how do you walk them through a decision to figure out whether or not they have a problem with making decisions versus a problem with the choice in front of them, or the person, the potential romantic partner in front of them?

How do you help college students? Because I find it to be such a central feature of the college experience, which is you have to make decisions for the first time. You’re narrowing out possibilities. When you’re in seventh grade you could be an astronaut, you could be an oyster, you could be a whatever, a firefighter, policeman. You could marry, live in every community in your head, live in … It’s all the world of possibility and things start to really narrow. So how do you know when the decision or, the “commitment issue,” I’m using air quotes because that’s how it’s usually described, is pathological and this is a person who needs help learning how to make a decision versus just somebody who’s just like, oh, they don’t like these girl as much as they think they do. This romantic partner is just not, it’s not right for them?

Yael Muskat:
When you figure that whole thing out, you can let me know. But no, it’s a great question because it’s a very big topic and it is definitely something that we work on here. So a couple of thoughts with that. A, is when somebody comes in, and I know you know this but I think it’s important, they don’t come in and say, “I have a commitment issue, help me with that.” They come in because there’s areas in their life that they’re not able to move forward in. So that’s the job of the therapy, often when it’s their first, to unpack that a little bit. That becomes the question, is this something that’s in many aspects of your life or is it specific to this? In addition to what you said about in the second option of is it the girl or the boy that they don’t like as much, I would say that that’s also in certain populations, there’s much more pressure to do things quickly, whether six months–

David Bashevkin:
I was talking euphemistically. I mean that for sure correlates with the more yeshiva elements.

Yael Muskat:
Absolutely, absolutely. Absolutely.

David Bashevkin:
The pressure to get it all done. By the time you graduate, you should have your major, your job picked out and your potential religious–

Yael Muskat:
In general, and also with dating. The pressure to do everything quickly is kind of across the board. But the pressure with specifically the marriage piece is a little bit more in the more religious, if you want to call it that, or the more yeshiva aspect. So it could play into it. But that’s the exploration. The first step of the exploration is, what do you feel like it is? How do we name this? How does it feel when you have this? How do you want to treat this? We always say to them, “We’re not going to be that person that pushes you into one thing or another.” But we want to help them lay out all the different options. What might they lose? What might they gain? What’s stopping them? Are there things from their childhood that are getting in the way?
That’s an example of something that might come here for the first time because it’s never had to face that before. We’ve seen it all. We’ve seen where they know they’re going to be able to make this decision, but they need the comfort to talk it out and they need to know with somebody objective that they’re on the right path and they need some extra help with that, and we’ve seen where it is a part of their personality structure a little bit, and they might-

David Bashevkin:
They might need what? Let’s say it’s part of your personality structure, what then?

Yael Muskat:
Right. So knowing that and working, you might need to work for a little bit longer with somebody. Let’s say it’s a thinking OCD type of a thing or-

David Bashevkin:
Illuminations.

Yael Muskat:
Yeah. So then you might need to work with someone for a little bit longer to be able to sort that out and to be able to live with the uncertainty. I mean that ultimately … There’s no therapist that’s going to take away the uncertainties. That’s what we tell them. It’s about, if it’s that, if that’s becoming an issue, working with a therapist so that you can tolerate the uncertainty you yourself as a person, meaning not that somebody tells you, “You should tolerate this anxiety.” But that you’re able to. That’s with everything. That’s with the job that you didn’t pick or did pick. That’s what the major that you did … Or the yeshiva that you went to or didn’t go to, or the event that you went to or didn’t go to.

You have to be able to kind of live with the uncertainty, “Did I do the right decision?” So we’re less about calling it commitment, and I know you were and more … That’s I guess what commitment issue starts to look like. The person just can’t settle into the one thing because their mind doesn’t let them. They always are thinking about the other thing.

David Bashevkin:
One of the things that are so interesting about this population is the religious dynamic that is kind of hovering. Debating how I should ask this question because there’s an easy way to ask this question, which is how do religious sensibilities weigh or relate to people’s mental health? That’s not the question I want to ask. I want to know, are there specific topics or, I’m afraid to use the word mistakes, or issues that you see recurring, messaging that you see recurring from rabbeim here, that you have a wishlist, “I wish they handled this differently?”

Yael Muskat:
So at risk of you thinking I’m just sort of being Pollyanna about this, you might be asking the wrong person. I wouldn’t put it that way.

David Bashevkin:
Okay. Why not? Why wouldn’t you put it that way? Obviously you don’t want to be adversarial with your potential partners.

Yael Muskat:
Yeah, no, that’s what I’m saying. That’s something that-

David Bashevkin:
So let me rephrase it. Is there anything you could do or share that would help educate, or have you ever shared in a way to help educate the religious leadership in Yeshiva University to help navigate certain issues that you see are recurring?

Yael Muskat:
Yeah, no, no, I understand. I wasn’t evading the question. I’m trying to answer it in the most authentic way to myself. Which really is that I personally don’t feel that way. I feel that there’s been a tremendous openness to mental health issues that as we’ve been here longer, there’s a lot of curiosity and openness to it and support about it. I think that it would be great if it’s continually brought up in classes to check in with your mental health. I would say with some of the sexual issues that some of the men have, trying to reduce the shame and the guilt.

David Bashevkin:
You’re talking about masturbation?

Yael Muskat:
All of those issues. Pornography.

David Bashevkin:
Pornography, affectionate, touch with romantic-

Yael Muskat:
Yeah, all of those issues. I do wish that there was a little bit, and I don’t know what’s said, which is part of why I don’t want to … I truly feel that-

David Bashevkin:
I think a lot of that shame honestly is self-generated. I don’t think they’re getting a ton of messaging.

Yael Muskat:
So that’s why I say, I don’t think that they’re getting message … And I don’t think—

David Bashevkin:
Not in YU, maybe from their year in Israel.

Yael Muskat:
I think that’s coming much more from pieces and parts that they pick up even in high school and earlier. I don’t hear that, that’s why I don’t want to say. Exactly the reason. As a matter of fact-

David Bashevkin:
But you do get … People are reaching out for-

Yael Muskat:
Definitely. We definitely have a lot of shame and guilt around all of these that you just said. Tremendous amount of-

David Bashevkin:
To the point where it’s causing so much anxiety.

Yael Muskat:
Oh yeah, because let’s say they watch something the night before-

David Bashevkin:
That they weren’t supposed to-

Yael Muskat:
They watch some kind of pornography or something that they’re uncomfortable with that they watch and then they can’t get themselves to get up to go to shul in the morning, to go to minion. You could dig yourself into some kind of a hole of shame and it’s hard to get out of that, and the guilt. We here, our outlook on that, is that you’re not going to grow spiritually if you’re feeling hopeless about yourself. Again, I think that the roshei yeshiva agree with all of that.

David Bashevkin:
I just want to repeat that line because I think it’s very important, you’re not going to be able to grow spiritually if you are feeling hopeless about yourself.

Yael Muskat:
I think that everybody would agree with that.

David Bashevkin:
I’ve lived through it-

Yael Muskat:
I don’t think they’re sending messages that are not that. There are definitely roshei yeshiva I sometimes listen in on or rabbeim, I listen in on some of the rabbeim and some of them really speak about this openly all the time. Rav Moshe Tzvi, a lot of his messaging is about—

David Bashevkin:
You’re referring to Rav Moshe Tzvi Weinberg.

Yael Muskat:
Yes. Just one example of somebody I listen to, yes. So I think what I want to say is maybe rather than the messages that they’re saying is a way to make sure that the students hear it, I think is what I’m trying to say. I think the students are not hearing, or it’s not said explicitly enough sometimes that the mental health is an important foundation for you. If you’re not learning well, why? That’s another … I’m not very-

David Bashevkin:
Correct, when people come through with a lot of these issues-

Yael Muskat:
Yeah, I’m not a big believer and I’m not motivated. What does it mean I’m not motivated? Why? What’s the reason?

David Bashevkin:
To be able to dig to uncover.

Yael Muskat:
Yes.

David Bashevkin:
I could not agree more. A lot of times people come to me and they’ll say, “I’m struggling with X, Y, and Z.” My first question is not guidance or a Torah idea or any of these things. It’s like, “What’s your schedule? Let’s talk about your process. What’s happening the four hours before you go to sleep? Walk me through hour by hour. What’s your schedule?” It helps you uncover a lot of the mental health issues. I couldn’t agree more.

Yael Muskat:
That’s one level, which is we would call it the cognitive behavioral level. But there’s even underneath that, when did that start? Were you always-

David Bashevkin:
Correct-

Yael Muskat:
Not interested? Where was the choice?

David Bashevkin:
Finding out triggers.

Yael Muskat:
Right, exactly. What’s your inner belief about that? Do you not feel like you’re matching up to what you should be? There’s a lot of comparing that they do. They try not to, but there is a lot of high standards. So those kinds of things.

David Bashevkin:
There are high standards in Yeshiva University. There’s a dual curriculum. You’re being measured, not just academically but also religiously. There is a-

Yael Muskat:
They have it themselves. They have high standards for themselves.

David Bashevkin:
They do. They do.

Yael Muskat:
Yeah, they do.

David Bashevkin:
And that’s really, really hard. I think the perfectionism within, particularly the Orthodox Jewish community. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist elsewhere, but we want to be high achievers in all areas of our life. Something I’ve definitely grappled with my fair share of that and yeah, that could be very taxing. I have nearly the same exact questions. It’s not with religious leaders, but with parents. How would you educate parents of college age students? Number one, what should they be looking out for with their college students? There’s a sense of a parent of a college age students. I do not have any children in college. But there is this sense of we made it finish line. They’re out of the house.

It’s really tricky as a parent, do you want to be too involved? You don’t want to be a helicopter parent on top of everything. You also don’t want to be absent and remote at such a volatile period in your kids’ life. I’m sure parents can make a host of mistakes when it comes to how they guide their college age students. What are some of the issues that you see emerge that if you could give advice to parents on how to be the best parents to a college age student, what are some of the issues of what to do and what to avoid?

Yael Muskat:
So one of the approaches that we take here is sort of taking them very seriously with the things that are bothering the students here.

David Bashevkin:
Taking who seriously?

Yael Muskat:
The students.

David Bashevkin:
The students seriously.

Yael Muskat:
Right. So if they’re coming in-

David Bashevkin:
they’re not kids, they’re not like-

Yael Muskat:
And their issues might seem sort of insignificant in a way if you look at them on paper, but they’re not. Whether it’s a friendship, a roommate issue. Chavrusa is a big one, a rejection from a summer program.

David Bashevkin:
People will come in and say, “I got rejected from-”

Yael Muskat:
Absolutely. That can bring somebody in for the first time-

David Bashevkin:
That’s very moving to me.

Yael Muskat:
That can be somebody’s coming in for the first time.

David Bashevkin:
And it’s weighing on me in a way that is unhealthy.

Yael Muskat:
Oh, we have a lot of these kinds of things.

David Bashevkin:
You don’t know this, but I’m dealing with this as we speak. Something that is weighing on me and it’s like a profound thought. It’s weighing on me and I know that these feelings are heavier than the actual incident that spurned it. I’m just like, where’s this weight coming from? I’m trying to understand. The scary thing is sometimes you start digging and the roots, I’m afraid to … I’m literally, as we speak, I’m feeling off. The reason is I feel a weight of something and it shouldn’t be weighing on me this much.

Yael Muskat:
So everything you just said is sort of the preciousness of what we get to work with because it’s all of that. It could be that it’s something small, but it’s bothering them.

David Bashevkin:
That they’re like, “Shoot, I don’t know what to do this summer.”

Yael Muskat:
“Why is this bothering me so much?” Then we, A, take that very seriously. You don’t add suffering to suffering. It’s bothering you. There’s a reason it’s bothering you. The questioning and the judging yourself about it is adding suffering to suffering. If it’s bothering you, there’s a reason. Then to take a curious approach, why is it? Not to just, and parents don’t want their children, and I’m putting myself in this category, parents don’t want their children to go through anything hard. So, “Don’t worry about it. Let’s apply to a different one. No big deal.”

David Bashevkin:
So their first reaction is like-

Yael Muskat:
That’s one type. You want to fix it-

David Bashevkin:
Avoid the bother. “It’s fine. We have other options.”

Yael Muskat:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Fix it.

Yael Muskat:
You don’t have to be, as a parent, the person to talk to them. You may not be able to. But help them understand, “You know what? Maybe there’s something else going on, it’s really bothering you. Let’s figure it out.” It’s one of the more enjoyable parts of really allowing them to understand this means something big to you. Whether it’s because they always saw themselves as the best counselor. That was their identity.

David Bashevkin:
My whole life was geared to being NCSY Kollel madrich. I don’t mean to single out that program. I know there’s a lot of heart break over becoming NCSY Kollel madrich.

Yael Muskat:
Just an example. It could be with an internship, it could be with a business internship. “I always saw myself as sort of the entrepreneur in my class and now I didn’t get this, but this is a serious thing.” So, A, taking them seriously.

David Bashevkin:
What you are saying, and again it’s hitting me because I’m being full disclosure, breaking the fourth wall. I am dealing with this as we speak. The notion of parents not shifting, don’t shift so quickly into fix it mode and just have a little patience to stay with the bother and understand and unpack why is this weighing on me in such a disproportionate way? Sometimes it’s because the way you process is broken. You’re ruminating and you have to deal with why do you ruminate? But sometimes it’s because if you dig, it’s not about the summer program, it’s not about the internship, it’s about self-worth, it’s about who I am, what is this saying to me as a person?

Yael Muskat:
And the loss of the dream and all these kinds of things. That’s one. The other-

David Bashevkin:
That’s why therapy is so scary, honestly. Because sometimes you start digging and you came in for a counseling center, was like, “Hey, it’s bumming me out that I got rejected from …” Then you walk out, you’re like, “Wait, actually I’m dealing with my inadequacy and self-worth.” You’re like, “Shoot, I didn’t sign up for that.”

Yael Muskat:
But that’s the beauty of it, is that they’re so open to it. That’s the beauty, that they love it.

David Bashevkin:
Give me another, that’s a very profoundly beautiful idea.

Yael Muskat:
So I think that the others is understand, exactly as you said it, the question inside the answer. They need you, college age students completely need you. So we always say, “Don’t go making their room into the guest room just because they went to college.” They do need you-

David Bashevkin:
Wait, that was very specific.

Yael Muskat:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Don’t transform their room into the guest room. First semester, first job is back and you’re like, “Sorry-”

Yael Muskat:
“There’s no room for me.”

David Bashevkin:
“There’s an aufruf at shul this week, we need you to sleep on the couch downstairs.” Have you had people bring that up? “I feel like I got displaced too quickly.”

Yael Muskat:
Yeah, there’s a little bit.

David Bashevkin:
“I lost my home.”

Yael Muskat:
There’s a little bit of that. I think in general, people are aware of it. But even if people have moved communities, sold their house, moved to other countries while their college age kids go to college-

David Bashevkin:
That creates a trouble.

Yael Muskat:
Oh yeah, they’re so, so unsettled.

David Bashevkin:
Why? Tell me. Because they feel like they lost their home while they weren’t there—

Yael Muskat:
They need a grounding to be able to go back. They want to be able to separate, but the more grounded the place that you’re separating from, the easier it is to separate.

David Bashevkin:
Correct. When you don’t have a home to go back to, it almost makes the separation and the confidence that independence requires a little bit more difficult.

Yael Muskat:
Understand that they might be … Some of the things that they might be doing might be in order to separate. So making decisions that you don’t love, not doing things that you want them to do. I think the only approach you could take at this point is to have them notice that and give them all the tools to get the help that they need. At that point, there is a point at which you can’t be doing it for them. I think I’m probably on the later side of that. I feel like middle of high school you could still, if you think your child’s going through something-

David Bashevkin:
You could integrate yourself into the issue. Get in there, roll up your sleeves.

Yael Muskat:
As long as you’re feeling that there’s something that they haven’t fixed or haven’t worked on. I gave this example, there’s a type of therapy, it’s a suicide prevention. When a person says that they have suicidal thoughts, there’s a type of treatment where you stop what you’re doing and you turn around and you sit next to the person. You don’t sit across.

David Bashevkin:
A, anytime people talk about this, I get emotional, but what is it?

Yael Muskat:
So if a person says … Because we didn’t talk about suicidal thoughts, but it is a common component

David Bashevkin:
People come in and they have suicidal ideation.

Yael Muskat:
Suicidal ideation, which is that they think it would be easier if they weren’t alive. It doesn’t mean that they’re about to commit suicide. That’s a different kind of question. You always ask to see if that’s a—

David Bashevkin:
What do you ask to?

Yael Muskat:
You ask, “Are you having thoughts of dying? Do you want to die? Do you have reasons to stay alive? What would you do?” The first thing you ask is, “What would you do? Do you have a plan? Do you have means?” Then you kind of make a plan with them. You assess. You immediately assess. So the idea is when they bring that up, we use a protocol called the CAMS that you switch seats, is the point. Where you literally switch your seat and you go and sit next to the person-

David Bashevkin:
Next to the patient. Why do you do that?

Yael Muskat:
Because you kind of said, “Okay, we’re going to work on this together.” In general, the approach here as collaborative, but there’s something about that statement that’s saying-

David Bashevkin:
The physical moving of the chair. You would, so to speak, move. Instead of me talking to you, you’re right next to me.

Yael Muskat:
Yeah, I kind of thought about this in the middle of a conversation once that I think parenting a college age student is a little bit like that. They still need you, you’re still kind of the one-

David Bashevkin:
They need you next to them a lot of times.

Yael Muskat:
But it’s a lot-

David Bashevkin:
Separate chair, but next to.

Yael Muskat:
It’s a lot more next to. Because they can start to teach you and they’re interesting and there’s a lot to offer. Now I will say this, if you’re seeing, like I said about high school, that your college aged student is not functioning well, then you do need to intervene. Whether you did it in high school or you didn’t do it in high school. That looks like they’re not functioning well, they’ve changed in a way that you’re concerned about. You feel that they’re hiding things. You do need to address that, whether it’s making sure that they’re getting help or telling them that you’re very concerned and helping them and paying for it. I think the paying is an idea. We’re here. So if they’re NYU definitely bring them to us. But if you’re not, the idea of paying for something, this idea that it’s a waste. It’s not a waste, and maybe not every single session is-

David Bashevkin:
Is groundbreaking.

Yael Muskat:
Feels like it’s groundbreaking. But the process and the idea that you believe that they need this feels very supportive to college aged students.

David Bashevkin:
I cannot thank you enough. This has been extraordinarily profound. Truly. I always end my interviews with more rapid fire questions. But before I do it, I do want to open up if you feel like there’s any issue that I did not cover that you would want to surface.

Yael Muskat:
I think the only thing I would really want to mention about a college counseling center here specifically is the team aspect of it. That’s why when we talked, I wasn’t sure, maybe we could even include my team. I think that there’s something very special about working in a site like this that we really get to work with a team. We have amazing-

David Bashevkin:
Do you discuss cases with one another? Are you allowed to?

Yael Muskat:
So yeah. So what we do is we have, every person that works here has individual supervision that meet with another therapist. All of us do that.

David Bashevkin:
Including you?

Yael Muskat:
Yes. We all meet with another person to discuss our cases, and then we also have a team meeting. Private information is left out.

David Bashevkin:
Oh, you don’t mention the names.

Yael Muskat:
We don’t mention names, but we also, the level of confidentiality between the counseling center-

David Bashevkin:
Is lower.

Yael Muskat:
Is a little lower than, yeah.

David Bashevkin:
It’s like doctors in the same office.

Yael Muskat:
We always tell them … I mean, when they begin working here, that’s the biggest thing that we talk about. What happens in here. People might want to know what do you see and all of that. No, this is a sacred space and we’ve absolutely seen that to be. So we all have supervision. We work with each other. We have unbelievable therapists here, really. Part of the wonderful part of working here is, like I said before, we get to train. Then so many of them have gone on to have leadership positions. We just made a WhatsApp of all our clinicians. It’s at least 40. I think there’s more that we really-

David Bashevkin:
Even alumni?

Yael Muskat:
Yeah, yeah. We call it the alumni of the counseling center.

David Bashevkin:
Oh wow.

Yael Muskat:
It becomes very special because we’re getting to do this kind of work in people’s lives where they’re about to-

David Bashevkin:
This is a very exciting time. You are the bridge from childhood to adulthood.

Yael Muskat:
Exactly. So I want to-

David Bashevkin:
This is the transitory space. The fact that it is collaborative and that people … You have the pulse of the university here, which is an exciting time. It’s not any university. It’s specifically Yeshiva University where you have just a whole other layer of identity and issues that’s being navigated. I cannot overstate the importance of your work and the need for not just a collaborative relationship in the counseling center, but a collaborative relationship between parents, between mentors, between the patients themselves.

Yael Muskat:
Absolutely.

David Bashevkin:
Being able to work with one another and everybody having their role and helping these students kind of emerge into adulthood is very necessary. There’s a role for everybody in this.

Yael Muskat:
There’s a role for everybody. I don’t want to understate that this is something that even with whatever difficulties might be happening financially or whatever might be happening at university, there really is a meaningful feeling that they’re trying to put the resources into this from the president down to everybody. I mean, we feel it. Also we’ve never been told what we can’t talk about. There’s never been a feeling, can’t talk about this. This topic is not-

David Bashevkin:
This is off the-

Yael Muskat:
Never.

David Bashevkin:
Never.

Yael Muskat:
And we’re given resources to do trainings for ourselves because it’s very important for us to always … That’s another thing that’s amazing about our college counseling center. Because we’re generalists, we have to kind of know-

David Bashevkin:
The ins and outs-

Yael Muskat:
As much as we can about every kind of treatment, as much as we can. So we learn from our students, our trainees, sort of the newer treatments, and then we bring in professional development. So it’s exciting and it’s deep work.

David Bashevkin:
Dr. Yael Muskat, I cannot thank you enough. I always end my interview with more rapid fire questions. I am curious, do you have any books that you love to recommend to people who are meeting you about mental health for this population? Somebody who maybe for the first time in their life is discovering the fact that they’re not okay. They’ve kind of swimmingly gone through life, I don’t know why I keep using the term swimmingly, but they go straight through elementary school, high school, and now they’ve hit a roadblock, which I think a lot of people discover in their college years. Are there any specific books or authors that you like to recommend?

Yael Muskat:
I think it depends on the area that they’re interested in, but some of the famous ones that I know people have heard about. So when it comes to relationships, if they’re curious about, there’s two types. There’s Sue Johnson’s EFT model and her book is, her main one is called Hold Me Tight, but there’s others. She’s really more of an attachment model about what kinds of things you’re looking for in communication with people. So there’s that kind of model. Then there’s the Gottman, which is much more skills-based. So those are two very basic books if you’re in the relationship looking for that kind of thing.
A very basic book about trauma, but very interesting, is The Body Holds the Score.

David Bashevkin:
Body Keeps the Score.

Yael Muskat:
Keeps the Score, exactly.

David Bashevkin:
Crucial.

Yael Muskat:
That’s a crucial book. When it comes to anxiety, so there I would say, look, there’s a workbook by Burns that I think is very good. It’s a phobia and anxiety workbook. Has in there, it explains a lot of things, but also has a lot of worksheets and a lot of … Those kinds of things, sort of like anxiety and mindfulness, there’s an endless amount of resources that you could get in terms of worksheets and books that explain it. But that one’s the one that we’ve liked the most.

David Bashevkin:
Those are great. Those are great recommendations. I’m curious if somebody gave you a great deal of money and allowed you to take a sabbatical with no responsibilities whatsoever and go back to school, get a PhD, what do you think the subject and title of your PhD would be?

Yael Muskat:
I’ve thought about this, I’m not going to lie, because I’ve listened to your podcast. Where I end up always is I would not go back to get another PhD.

David Bashevkin:
What would you do?

Yael Muskat:
I would hope that I would have the ability to be in an immersive training program where I could be supervised, where I could be watched, where I would have the-

David Bashevkin:
Is there a new skill that you want to-

Yael Muskat:
So probably I would love to learn a little bit more about couples therapy because I think it applies. But to be honest, even just sort of becoming better at my own dynamic type of therapy model that I like with individuals and to really have the bravery to go back into it and be really supervised in a really immersive way. At the end of the day, I’m a therapist, we’re always learning, so the idea of being able to be more skilled at that would really be what I would want to do.

David Bashevkin:
My last question is, I’m always curious about people’s sleep schedules. What time do you go to sleep at night and what time do you wake up in the morning?

Yael Muskat:
I wish I had an organized answer for you, I really do.

David Bashevkin:
Especially for a past listener, you saw this coming from a mile away.

Yael Muskat:
I know. Anywhere between 11:45 to 12:30, I go to sleep and wake up around 6:45.

David Bashevkin:
Dr. Yael Muskat, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.

Yael Muskat:
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

David Bashevkin:
Everyone needs to individuate. Everyone needs to find their sense of self, who they are. In many ways because of the strength of the infrastructure within our community, many people grow up in our community and they don’t figure that out until much, much later in life. They’re not forced to make a lot of choices of what they want to be, what they want to become, who they really are until they’re really in their early 20s, sometimes their mid 20s, sometimes their late 20s. That is a very real change in our community and it is really incredible the work of the counseling center, specifically in Yeshiva University, that’s able to guide people through this really, really crucial stage. I thought this experience merits added attention, another perspective.
I know Dr. Muskat, who does such incredible work by her side for many, many years over a decade, was a clinician, somebody who really spent their entire time in therapeutic work. Somebody who I know by reputation through my own students, through colleagues, rabbeim who constantly would recommend and say his name. Dr. Muskat herself said, “He was one of the best that we had.” He’s no longer with the YU counseling center. He left actually I believe this year. But has over a decade of experience working with them is still obviously in the world of psychology. But somebody who I wanted to meet, I wanted to talk to, there was just such a healthiness, a cadence as we will discuss. Just the way he speaks and the way he approaches people. We want to include an additional conversation with somebody who’s really, really wonderful, Dr. Martin Galla, who has spent so much of his career advising, counseling, guiding this very demographic, people in their 20s, in their early 20s from our community.
To get that inside view, not only even that bird’s eye view, of the counseling center and what it does and how the process works, but really a deeper look of what happens inside those rooms and what type of issues people are looking for guidance for, it is my absolute privilege and pleasure to introduce our conversation with Dr. Martin Galla.
What I really want to explore is your experiences working with this population of our community, which has done such incredible work. Just the infrastructure that our community has. I mean our community as broadly speaking as possible. We have elementary schools, high schools. We have so many in-service stuff. We have camps for our kids. Then you work and you worked for many years. How many years were you at Yeshiva University?

Martin Galla:
I was there for about 13 years.

David Bashevkin:
13 years, over a decade.

Martin Galla:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
Now you’re working with really the cream of the crop of our community. People who went through a whole system and now they land in Yeshiva University. They’re learning at high levels, they’re achieving at high levels. Thematically, broadly speaking, I don’t need you to take out data and spreadsheets, what did you find when people are walking into the counseling center to meet with you? What’s bringing them there?

Martin Galla:
Well, I think even before that it was always interesting to us and something that we really appreciated that the students came in the first place. To get people to come and speak about their lives and their vulnerabilities and their fears and their concerns is like half the work. That’s how we always wanted to start our sessions and that’s how we always wanted to start our meetings, was to really appreciate that the fact that people came in.

David Bashevkin:
To acknowledge the fact that it takes some measure of strength and courage to get help or to even speak it out or to find somebody to talk to.

Martin Galla:
Exactly. The way I used to look at it was a lot of times, I mean again just generalizing, people come in after having maybe tried to talk to other people, maybe informally.

David Bashevkin:
A rabbi, a teacher, a parent.

Martin Galla:
Right. A rabbi, a teacher, a parent, friend. Again, it’s not the case for everybody. But when they came to us, you could tell they exhausted a lot of their different options and different ways of communicating with people. So we really appreciated that also. So when people finally come to see us, we knew that they were really at a difficult place and difficult spot. It’s hard to say what people come in with. I mean, you can guess. We would see people that it was like a snapshot of what a secular college would look like.

David Bashevkin:
Which is what?

Martin Galla:
A lot of anxiety. A lot of anxiety. Again, they wouldn’t necessarily phrase it that way. The students wouldn’t always phrase it, “I have anxiety.” Almost never. Usually it’s, “I’m feeling overwhelmed,” or, “I don’t even know where to start. I just thought I should come talk to someone or someone told me I should come talk to someone so I’m trying to give this a chance.” The goal there was always to try to help people feel comfortable opening up and to realize that this is their moment of really coming forward with something that’s very difficult for them. If you show that respect, then people are more willing to be open. So they would come with, they wouldn’t call it anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, struggles in relationships, not just dating necessarily. Of course that was an issue also. But different types of relationships with parents, with friends. Then there was other sort of bigger picture issues like, “What am I going to do with my life? All my friends seem like they’re doing so well and I feel like I’m falling behind.” Or, “How do I decide what kind of career I’m supposed to choose?”

David Bashevkin:
I’m trying to filter out, because we’re talking about mental health, but our community is a Jewish community primarily that we talk to, there are some non-Jews who listen to us, but a Jewish community that … I’m trying to always filter out the ways that our community filters through these issues. Not to say, and I have no data background, that we have either more or less mental health problems in any other community. But every community, the culture, the language that we use, the triggers, what exacerbates those issues is filtered through the lens of your communal experience.
So I’m trying to get to the heart of what is the unique experience of mental health issues that our community can create and just even having an awareness of that could be able to avoid? So you just gave a list of fairly typical things that do. I’m curious if you could dig just a step deeper and explain a little bit, where did see the unique experience of growing up, let’s use the term like in a Orthodox, Orthodox adjacent world? How does that affect your development in your 20s? The reason why I’m asking is that feeling of feeling behind for some reason is something I dealt with and felt uniquely in our community that there’s an insularity, there’s a lot of comparison. Where did you find that.

David Bashevkin:
… there’s a lot of comparison. Where did you find that this is a uniquely orthodox, maybe not experience, but the language, the way you are experiencing it, is communally mediated?

Martin Galla:
I think if I’m understanding you correctly, the pieces that made it unique, some of the experiences that made it unique, the presentations, I think did revolve around religion. And it really revolves around different aspects of religion. I don’t think it was external. I don’t think as much necessarily rabbeim are trying to put pressure on people to do things or to act certain ways. I never really got that sense. There was a lot of internal pressure, internal drive to try to be, not perfect necessarily, but try to be the best that they could to-

David Bashevkin:
Distinguish yourself, I felt like.

Martin Galla:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
My sense, I didn’t do undergrad in Yeshiva University, but my sense is that Yeshiva University in some ways is a microcosm of some of the issues that deal with, even in the more right wing, in the more Yeshiva world, and even to the left of people, but there is a microcosm, and what I found in Yeshiva University is, guys, the bar to feeling like a failure is very low.

Martin Galla:
A hundred percent, right.

David Bashevkin:
Guys feel like failures very easily, and I think women also struggle with this, of just what the archetype of perfection is. And how did you see that with guys of that sense of, I’m starting to feel like a failure in the way that my life is unfolding?

Martin Galla:
Right. I mean I think that’s where it came from. A lot of the work I tried to do was to get people back to why they were, around learning. People struggle. I’m not learning enough.

David Bashevkin:
You’re talking about Torah learning.

Martin Galla:
Torah learning, yes, sorry, Torah learning. I’m not learning enough, I’m not learning well enough. What I tried to do, work with them, was try to understand where did this come from? Where did your love of learning begin? Or was there even a love of learning? Trying to go back a little bit with them and trying to understand where this came from. But there was this aspect, again, not everybody, but sometimes the people that came into our office, there was this aspect of trying to compare. You sit in a Shear Torah class, and you sit next to someone and you hear how they’re learning and then you feel like you’re not learning as well or you’re not doing as much, and there was a lot of this comparing to this one, looking at that one, and I really believe that that was a major struggle and is a major struggle for some of these guys because they have a hard time sometimes appreciating learning for learning’s sake, even though they really believe that. That’s like the conflict.
They do believe that they want to learn for learning’s sake and they want to do it-

David Bashevkin:
For the right reasons.

Martin Galla:
… for the right reasons and they want that, but they find themselves sometimes getting off track and going and comparing themselves and feeling like they’re trying to compare, to do more and to do deeper and deeper. And then if they inevitably can’t keep up with the next one, it goes back to what you’re saying. They feel like failures. They feel like they’re not doing enough. So this comparison, and this piece I think is what you’re saying, I think this part is unique to our community for sure, in the sense that there’s this need to do more and to do as much as the next person is doing, and it’s hard to just be happy with the way you are.

David Bashevkin:
To feel like you’re enough, whether it’s religiously or in your career track.

Martin Galla:
Yes. A lot of the work I did with this, I found a lot of the people I worked with to be extremely resilient. It’s very interesting. They struggled tremendously. So I look at them one way and they look at themselves another way. Maybe that’s something that a lot of therapists maybe struggle with. I saw, and I still see in the clients that I see, a tremendous strength and resilience, and I don’t mean it even lightly. They’re talking to me about the struggles they’re going through, and then they’re managing to say… Not even behaviors, they are getting up and they are doing what they need to do, but to push through. When you really dig down and get into the mud about how they’re struggling and to be able to say, “No, but I’m still working on this. I don’t feel great about myself,” and they’re still able to have relationships or whatever they’re doing with their day, they have this inner strength.

It’s almost hard to put it into a box, but you get this impression and get this feeling that they have this inner strength, and they have this drive, and they want to figure things out, and they want to work through, even the depressed ones. And when you’re depressed, that’s what’s stolen away from you is your motivation and your drive. But even they will get moments of excitement and will get feelings of wanting to try to figure it out.

The balance is, what I was really appreciating, the balance between seeing and hearing the struggle and really getting into it with them, and then also seeing there was this underlying, which they weren’t even always aware of, but I would try to see it. I would appreciate it. And sometimes you’re able to hear it, sometimes not, but it was always there. So there’s always this balance.

David Bashevkin:
When I was in Ner Yisroel, I went to my rebbe’s office with Ezra Neuberger, and I asked him, and I liked the phrasing of it, I said, “Rebbe, we’re at this stage in our life where we really want to become a yeshiva bocher, a student of the yeshiva, and I said, what I’m grappling with is I don’t think I figured out where the yeshiva ends and the bocher begins. I don’t have a sense of self of what I really want that is… It’s so enmeshed in the institutions that I’ve belonged to because, as I’ve mentioned many times, we’re standing at the first time in Jewish history that essentially from nursery through elementary school, through camping, through years in Israel, through college, you’re in this institutionally-mediated Judaism, and for the first time you kind of taste your own individuality, as college starts to come to an end and you’re starting to build your life.

I’m curious for you, how do you do the work of, aside from what you mentioned, which is beautiful, of reminding somebody when they first fell in love, what brought you to this? What is the work of extricating somebody from the social competitiveness, which can be a lifelong struggle, but without toppling over the idealism that our community cultivates?

Martin Galla:
Right. That’s a very, very good question, and I like the way you phrased it. I phrased a lot of things that I talk to with my clients in this, it’s a lifelong. I really like that. I use that a lot. And I think when you frame it that way, it’s very important to me because it ends up making it more manageable. You don’t have to solve this right away. Who are you? Like you said, where do you begin and the yeshiva or yeshiva ends and you begin?

David Bashevkin:
Yeah.

Martin Galla:
I feel like it might seem like a small idea, but framing things as an ongoing, lifelong experience. So even to your question, the idea of who are you, who is the yeshiva, how does everything blend together, where do you individuate and all of that, I think the idea is to try to help people realize that, whatever we’re dealing with, it might be a momentary or something that you’re struggling with right now in terms of how the anxiety or how the depression or whatever it is, we don’t even have to diagnose, whatever it’s that you’re struggling with, it’s a part, it’s expressing yourself this way, but these are going to be lifelong questions, and they’re lifelong debates, and they’re lifelong experiences that you’re going to be going through.

And if you can look at it that way, that can sometimes help you take a step back, which really, again, this sounds like very oversimplified, but when you can help someone take a step back and look at things a little bit from a bird’s eye view and look at this as a long-term experience that you’re going to be going through for your life, not in this exact way but in different ways, then you can kind of get a handle on it. And you can kind of experience it in a way-

David Bashevkin:
I don’t have to get the final answer here, but you can develop that self-

Martin Galla:
You won’t be able to get the final answer.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah.

Martin Galla:
Almost never. That’s how therapy is different. It’s a process. It doesn’t need to last forever. Obviously therapists look at that in a different way. But yeah, the idea that you can take a step back, and you can try to maybe get to the core of the issues that you’re struggling with.

Going back to what we were saying before, about when it comes to this comparison, what are we really dealing with here? We are comparing ourselves, but is it a real question of who am I? Am I good enough? Those sort of questions. That’s the way that I work, and we can try to get to a deeper understanding of what you’re going through and understand that it’s going to be a process that’s going to expand, and it’s going to last for a long time. It’s hard for people, when you’re very anxious and you’re struggling right now, it’s hard to look at things that way. So this is ongoing conversation. I’m trying to shorten it down, but that’s the idea, is to help people see that this is an experience you’re experiencing now. This will look different, things will look different, and we can look at these as a long-term process.

David Bashevkin:
Let’s talk for a moment about, because I would say most of my students, and you talk about a host of issues, they don’t come to me for professional, therapeutic help, but we talk about issues. I assume, and I honestly know, I think we both know, there’s a lot of overlap between the conversations that we’re having.

Martin Galla:
Sure.

David Bashevkin:
And I want to talk a little bit about how you view guys who are dealing with dating issues, specifically in college, and specifically in YU, where, I find very often, they escalate very quickly. There is almost a lack of trust in their own intuition. I find a lot of students, and this is just my own experience, do advice hopping. They’re asking everyone in their orbit for advice. When people are coming in and talking about dating questions, what are they usually asking you? How do you think we as a community can deal with this in a healthier way? What is going on with guys who are just constantly going back to their rabbeim, to their parents? There’s this web of support, and it just makes me nervous that, knock, knock, is there somebody there who knows even how to fall in love and how to gauge your… What is happening in this world?

Martin Galla:
Right. Okay. There’s a lot of parts there. Let’s get to all the parts. My view of dating, and my conversation with guys around dating, was to try to make it as normal an experience as possible. So I would talk, mostly I met with the men that are undergraduate men at YU.

David Bashevkin:
And what are they nervous about? What are they coming in? Why are you in a counseling center talking about your dating life?

Martin Galla:
I think a lot of it comes down to this fear of making the wrong decision. Like I said, they’re very smart, they’re very aware. These guys, and the women, also are really in touch. They know what’s going on. So they know the fact is, it is a big decision. This is a huge… They know you can’t really beat around the bush.

David Bashevkin:
I don’t know this for a fact, and this is not supported by any data, I don’t think my parents’ generation dealing with as much dating angst as what I am currently seeing before my eyes in the community. It seems impossible to imagine.

Martin Galla:
I don’t like comparing-

David Bashevkin:
Generations.

Martin Galla:
… generations. I’m a sports fan. I know they love-

David Bashevkin:
Who’s better, Jordan or LeBron?

Martin Galla:
Exactly. Right.
It’s a flawed … my friends all the time. It’s a very flawed question because the whole environment’s totally different.

David Bashevkin:
The world is different.

Martin Galla:
People are built differently physically, but we can make an analogy to now. I don’t know if I could say this is worse than then. I could say there’s a lot more information now than then, and I think that plays a huge role. Meaning, people just know more. They just are exposed to so much more, so much earlier.

David Bashevkin:
Choice, specifically.

Martin Galla:
Choice, yeah. Choice is a big part.

David Bashevkin:
That’s true, that as a generation, we got a lot of choice, romantically, professionally, religiously, communally.

Martin Galla:
And they know. They have choice, and they’re exposed to things, and they see things, and they hear things, and people are communicating much more easily. I imagine in the old days, old days, like my parents, if you wanted to talk to someone, you’d have to write a letter or call them on a phone. Now you can get in touch with people in a second. So people are communicating much quicker, and it’s impacting people’s decision making and how easy or difficult it is to make a decision in the moment. I think that plays a big, big role. There’s an information overload, but I think specifically when it comes to dating, I think that… So they have tremendous amount of information

David Bashevkin:
And they don’t want to get it wrong.

Martin Galla:
Tremendous options. They don’t want to get it wrong, they want to know… Sometimes people will come to me and basically say, “How do I know this is the best?” Which is an impossible question to answer.

David Bashevkin:
It doesn’t exist, obviously.

Martin Galla:
It doesn’t exist, but if a person says, “Well, if I can get better, I can do better,” whatever aspect, characteristics they’re looking for.

David Bashevkin:
How do you shake that out of people? Because it’s so similar to the first issue we dealt with. What is the therapeutic process that shakes people out of that?

Martin Galla:
I like the term shake. I actually purposely try not to shake. One of the things I try to do is I try to work with them on, something that makes them a little uncomfortable, but I try to say what’s the worst case scenario here? Let’s say you marry this person, and it doesn’t work out. What’s going to happen then? And then they get very anxious, “Well then I’m going to have to get a divorce, and then if I have to get a divorce, it’s going to be hard to get married again. And if it’s hard to get married again, then I’m going to be single.” So we work down like that slope. And I say to them… So my theory after these conversations was, “I think that’s all on your mind right now. All of these things that you’re worried about, you’ve kind of packaged it up and you put it on the table right now. So when we’re up against something like that, it’s very hard to make a decision because what if you’re wrong? Which is of course possible.”

So when we get into that conversation with them, the idea is to kind of expose them to, what is their fear, what is their concern? What if there is someone better? What happens then? And you work through with them, specifically, what would happen if your worst case scenario happened? And by doing that, the reason I valued it so much, is that we bring everything onto the table. We talk about what your biggest concern and what your biggest worry is, and then we can have a real conversation about the reality of that happening and how we’re, kind of like what you were saying, how do we deal with if we’re going to make a mistake? What is the process of how we’ve dealt with mistakes before? What if this is the biggest mistake in your life? How would we deal with that?

And when you can get people to have those conversations, it kind of a little bit drains away the anxiety and allows them to just take what’s right in front of them, that they’re not going to know. Like you were saying, you’re not going to ever know if you made the right decision. How could you know who anybody else in the world is? How do you know there isn’t someone better? So you acknowledge the reality is you don’t. Just that process takes a long time for people to get used to it. But once they do get used to that, they can kind of allow themselves to say, I could, it’s possible there’s someone better. It’s possible I’m making a mistake, but I’m going to make this choice anyway because of the information I have and the relationship that I have. I’m enjoying it. I like this person, I want to be with them, and I’m going to go forward with them. Those are kind of the success stories.

David Bashevkin:
There has been a lot of attention given to this recent book by Abigail Shrier called Bad Therapy, which says that our generation is over-pathologizing, too much therapy, and they’re using, “Oh, I’m anxious, I’m depressed.” And if we had less, we would actually be better off. From your perch, especially in their twenties, where there’s some really real things that come up, do you feel like we have it more or less right? Do we need a little bit less support? Almost like, you got to make decisions, and this is a part of life, and we’ve been like, especially in our community, we’ve been coddled a lot. The experience of going to Israel for the year, you have, the entire faculty is kind of at your beck and call. A lot of these places got, I don’t know, one to four ratio, one to five ratio, and they’re used to being the center of the institutional universe.

You got to recruit, you got to have good brochures, the most amazing time. And there are areas in life where you’re not always the main character, and learning how to get used to that and step into a larger world can be very painful. And sometimes the right way to do it is almost with less support, asking less questions. What is your view on that in terms of this slice of the demographic? We’re talking about people in their twenties? Are we seeking too much help, too much coddling or not enough? Or maybe we have it just right.

Martin Galla:
Always a difficult question to answer, especially for a therapist, because maybe yes, maybe no. It depends on the person. I don’t personally like the over-coddled term. I don’t know, it doesn’t sit well with me.

David Bashevkin:
Why?

Martin Galla:
It makes it sound like the person is weak. I don’t think people are weak. I really don’t believe that. It’s really not at all what I believe any of the problems are. To me there’s no such thing even as weakness. It doesn’t even exist in my mind.

David Bashevkin:
What do you mean by that? I like what you’re saying.

Martin Galla:
It’s important to just get to the core of what the person is struggling with. Even if we visualize, what does it mean to be weak? It means that someone is hurting. It means that someone is vulnerable. Maybe they don’t express it in a way that’s beneficial for them. Maybe they don’t express it in a way that other people can appreciate, but no one is weak in my opinion. There’s no weakness. They need a certain kind of attention, they need a certain kind of focus, but we all do. It doesn’t make them any different than anybody else. You need it, I need it. I need a certain person to speak to me a certain way for me to respond. You need it as well.

So a person who we, quote unquote, may say is weak, I don’t think it’s a weakness. I think that they either have not been responded to appropriately or have not had the tools or not been taught the tools or know the tools to be able to express themselves in a way that would make it more amenable to other people or more strong or whatever the opposite of weak is. So to me, I didn’t read this book, but I’m sure she doesn’t mean it that way either, I imagine. She means it in a much deeper point to it.

But I think there’s not an over-coddling. There might be a goal, and for sure it’s my goal with my clients, to make my clients independent and cope on their own with whatever they’re dealing with. That could take a month, could take a year, it could take five years, whatever it is. It depends on the person, depends on the problem, depends on the context. That’s the goal.
I agree with the notion that we should try to work with people to get them to a place where they can take care of themselves. That is the ultimate goal, I think, for everyone should be to say, I understand my issues, I understand where this is coming from or I understand how it’s expressing itself, and I understand a healthy way of dealing with it, and I know it’s going to be like, getting back to what you were saying before, it’s going to be a lot of ups and it’s going to be a lot of downs. It’s going to look this way one day, it’s going to look this way another day. So I don’t think that’s over-coddling to be able to provide them with that support. I think it’s what a person needs, and different people need different things. And perhaps what the person who she’s referring to that’s over-coddled or weak would just benefit from learning how to cope differently with whatever they’re experiencing and to be able to communicate differently with whatever they’re experiencing. `

David Bashevkin:
I very much appreciate that answer. Let’s talk a little bit about parent involvement. If you could write a book on parenting the current generation of Jewish people in their twenties, things to avoid, where you want to scream at the top of your lungs. You must be exploring some of these things. What are the common themes that you find parents, common… I don’t like using the word errors, mistakes, but information that you wish parents had a better grasp of, or behaviors that they were able to just know this is better. What would you want to see more of? What do you want to see less of?

Martin Galla:
Perfect. I think one thing that’s important, I don’t think this is a Jewish thing, and maybe when we talk we’ll see if it does land in the Jewish thing. I think it’s a parent thing. I think parents really have to be honest with themselves and have to really ask, is this my problem or is this my kid’s problem?

So we all come with our own baggage. We all come with our own stuff, and there’s certain things that are going to make me anxious because of my own anxiety, are going to make you anxious because of your own anxiety. That is really important to know because it’s very possible that you are reacting the way you’re reacting, if it’s an overreaction or if it’s an over the top reaction, because it’s bringing up stuff for you. So I would say possible, before you have a difficult conversation with your kid or something that you would like them to do differently or whatever you want to parent them on, you try to understand, is this my stuff or is this their stuff? And it’s really a big difference. Because if it’s your stuff, it’s going to come out as your stuff. The kid either is not going to understand or it’s going to be completely centered on why it’s bothering you. So as parents, our responsibility is to make sure that when we’re parenting, we’re parenting for their stuff.

David Bashevkin:
For their stuff.

Martin Galla:
Yes.

David Bashevkin:
And deal with your stuff. You’ve got your own…

Martin Galla:
Your stuff is also very important. Your stuff is super important. In fact, it’s going to impact everything in the family. But when you’re trying to parent, you have to know. That’s why this is something my wife and I do. We talk about it. We try to figure out before we’re going to have a serious conversation, we talk about-

David Bashevkin:
Whose stuff is this.

Martin Galla:
We don’t even call it that. We don’t call it whose stuff is this, but we try to understand what are we trying to do here? What are we getting after with… We have four boys, 14 and younger, so they’re all in a similar space. Of course, not exactly the same. But yeah, we try to have the conversation of, what are we trying to accomplish here? We’re upset. We’re disappointed in something. We’re upset at normal people stuff. And then we’re not perfect. We also yell, and we do things, and we make mistakes, and we go… I think that’s one thing.

David Bashevkin:
I love that. It reminds me of somebody, one of their kids, I think either wanted or came home with a nose ring, and his whole reaction was that, am I embarrassed because I think this is wrong for you right now? Or I’m embarrassed because of my stuff. And even if you know that, and you know what, it is my stuff, and just being honest-

Martin Galla:
I was just going to say that.

David Bashevkin:
Like being honest about what is driving the intensity.

Martin Galla:
That is important. Now again, I don’t want to sound like above the fray. This is very hard, and it might not always be so clean either, but it’s a good practice.

David Bashevkin:
But asking yourself helps.

Martin Galla:
It’s good practice anyway. It’s good practice to differentiate, and it helps you communicate in a more honest way.
The other thing that I personally, this is part of my personality, I don’t have an issue with it. I apologize when I overreact. I apologize when I don’t like the way I responded. And I get down on a knee with, let’s say, a 9-year-old, and I say, “Look, the way I yelled at you before, that was not good. I was upset, and it’s okay to be upset. People get upset. But the way I responded to you”-

David Bashevkin:
It’s so interesting that’s number two on your list.

Martin Galla:
Yeah. It’s important to me.

David Bashevkin:
Why is that so high on your list?

Martin Galla:
Because I think for me, first of all, it feels very honest. I think that that’s an expression of how I actually feel in the situation. And I want to convey to my kids that it’s good to be honest, and it’s good to apologize when you are wrong, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. And that’s something that I personally live by. I don’t think you should be apologizing for everything all the time, especially if you didn’t do anything wrong. But if you did, owning it is great, and it’s a great lesson for kids to know. It’s okay to say you’re sorry. So it accomplishes two things. First of all, I think it allows a restart to the conversation. So if things got out of control, you don’t have to, oh, I’m going to wait for him…

Sometimes I do and I sit there with my arms crossed. I wait for him to come to me. But when I’m thinking maybe a little bit more clearly, I say, “You know what? I think I did something wrong there. I’m going to own that. I’m going to go to him.” It allows for a restart.

David Bashevkin:
You’re not constantly carrying the baggage.

Martin Galla:
It disarms. Apologies, genuine ones, disarm a lot of the defenses, right? Because it’s hard to stay… You still are upset. It doesn’t solve anything, but it’s kind of, this person’s coming forward, they’re being vulnerable. I can also join in. So vulnerability can lead to other vulnerability, it allows for conversation. So I think that’s important for those two reasons.
And a broad idea, as a broad chapter, again, it might sound very obvious, but it’s good to keep in the forefront of the mind, keeping the relationship with your kid going no matter what, you can’t go on without it. So as mad as you are, as upset as you are, you’re allowed to put down rules and make punishments, but you have to always make sure that the relationship is intact. There’s no way to impact your kid if you don’t have that relationship. It could go, ebbs and flows, but it has to always come back. It has to always come back. The goal has to always be, where did we lose each other? What did we do here that went wrong? How can we improve this relationship?

It always has to be a strong relationship, and the kid always has to know that no matter what, I can come back. I can speak to my… No matter what. The nose ring situation, right? He’s got to know that the parent loves him. It’s got to be said. You should say the words, you should say I love you to them, I love you no matter what. You should say you could talk to me no matter what. But the relationship in the parent’s mind, that has to always be at the forefront of something that’s maintained through the thick and through thin, through the parents’ outreach, through the parents’ efforts to show it.

David Bashevkin:
Let me ask you about specifically religious tension that can emerge in the home. How do you figure out, I think there’s a Taylor Swift song, who’s the villain? Hey, it’s me. It’s a recent song that I shouldn’t even know exists, but I do. Here we are. I know it exists.

Martin Galla:
It’s very honest, to be honest.

David Bashevkin:
Kids come and they’re changing really rapidly that I think for parents, even who are not that much older than their kids, they don’t understand the cultural sensitivities, the religious sensitivities that surround their dating sensitivities, their dating priorities, their learning importance, their career stuff. How do you parse apart genuine parental concern? A parent, I think, has some right to be concerned-

Martin Galla:
They absolutely do.

David Bashevkin:
… about their kid is like, I don’t know. Everybody else is spending four years learning in Ramat Eshkol or this or that. And why do you have to be so on top of me? And why do you have to be so this? Do you advise, when kids come to you and they say, “My parents, they don’t get it. They don’t understand. They’re supportive enough for me.” When do you know to push the kid and be like, Bubbeleh, wake up. There’s a real world out there. You got to make choices. Or when do you realize that, you know what, your parents aren’t being totally fair to you? How do you parse that apart, especially with the way so many of these choices are religiously filtered?

Martin Galla:
Right. Again, I think it’s going to be similar to before. I think it’s yes and yes. I think usually things are not that black and white, like the parent is all wrong or the kid is all right. Usually, both parties have some right and some wrong. So the goal with that kid, to me, first things first, you have to let the person express themselves. You cannot start with the Bubbeleh, come on. It’s not what a person is ready to listen to. That’s by definition what they’re telling you that. This is not the time. Read the room.

David Bashevkin:
I need to work on that. I sometimes go straight to the bubbeleh with my students. I can be too tough on them. I used the term pea brain tonight in class.

Martin Galla:
Okay, you’ll have to tell me about that. But I’m not even sure that the person you’re speaking to doesn’t realize that the parent doesn’t have a point. That’s the interesting thing about this age. They know. It’s not an issue of, I don’t understand what my parents are talking about. They may say that, like, “I don’t understand,” but when you dig deep, it’s not that they don’t understand. That’s why I’m saying they’re really intelligent, really sharp, really resilient, and really thought out people, emerging adults. It’s not that they don’t understand. It’s conflicted. It’s that they don’t feel like they’re being understood, which might be true.
So you want to create a space where you can have real conversations with them, which is what these are, these therapy sessions, real conversations with them about why do they feel like their parents are saying crazy things? Explain it to me. I don’t know your parents. I don’t know you. So explain it to me. So you want to help them express themselves and express what they’re feeling and why they feel the way they feel. And then later on, once you’ve developed a relationship, you absolutely, in my opinion, can have a conversation of, let’s get back to what your parents were saying. Because once you establish a relationship with someone, you can be free to say what you need to say as long as the relationship is established and as long as the person is ready to hear it. And that’s the job of the therapist, to figure out when you get to these points.
But it’s not that you’re supposed to side with this one, side with that one. Initially, you want to validate, in a real genuine way, not just like, oh, that must be so difficult. In a real way. And the person can tell when you’re really in it with them. And then you can get into free flowing conversation about, “Yeah, so what did you think your parents meant when they said you have to do X, Y and Z? What are they talking about?” And it’s a totally different answer. “Yeah, I kind of get it, but I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it.” “Okay, that’s a different problem. So you do get it. You do understand. You don’t want to do it.”

David Bashevkin:
You just don’t want to do it.

Martin Galla:
So now we can understand, well, why don’t you want to do it? And then we can also talk about why don’t they hear that you don’t want to do it? What do you think they’re thinking about? And that’s also good for people to think about. Why would a person say that and why would they argue with you about that? It’s always very interesting answers. People are very insightful, especially these students. They know a lot more than people may realize. They really do understand what’s going on. It’s a matter of helping them express why they’re struggling and why the other person might be saying what they’re saying.

David Bashevkin:
It is such a fascinating age, and I’m wondering, the role that rabbeim and rabbis play, specifically in this age, I don’t know, unfortunately, people grow up and they have, I think, a healthier relationship to rabbinic guidance. It feels like they see it, they know it. They know where to find it. They can tell the difference between healthy rabbinic guidance, unhealthy rabbinic… But they even know how to filter it into their lives in thoughtful, mature ways. And younger kids, they don’t fully know that because a part of their identity is not just like, I daven in such and such shul, but a part of their religious identity is, specific to YU, which shiur I’m in.

Martin Galla:
Yeah. Which program I’m in.

David Bashevkin:
Which program.

Martin Galla:
That’s huge.

David Bashevkin:
It’s huge.

Martin Galla:
Unfortunately.

David Bashevkin:
Huge. And I know it’s the amount of shame, switching programs. I have a whole Purim shtick about Stomp Out the Stigma … My fantasy is somebody gets up at Stomp Out the Stigma, a very serious room. It’s in the Lamport. Everybody’s there. Gets up and says, “I’ve decided to switch from YP to IBC,” and there’d be a gasp. But it’s a real part of people’s identity. And for those listeners, those are just different levels of learning, program, scheduling in YU, but the shiur, the class that you are in, has a lot of sway in your religious identity.

Have you ever spoken directly to rabim about language or messaging that they could send? Or, if not, are there ever specific issues or language that we talk about that you think could make that sway a little healthier, feeling a little bit more of the sense of self even within that world? How do you go about that? And give me some concrete examples, if you have any. You don’t have to tell me the name of the rabbi, but things to avoid. Almost the book that you would write, not for parents, but for religious educators of people in their twenties.

Martin Galla:
Honestly, I had a lot of different interactions with a lot of different rabim at YU. My view of it always was they were trying very hard… I don’t know what the answer is, because they were trying very hard to convey the message… This is probably out of my category of expertise, but this is how I saw it.

David Bashevkin:
But you saw this issue, what I’m trying to describe-

Martin Galla:
No, I’m saying, I saw the issue. Of course. I think this is a huge issue. I don’t know who is, quote unquote, at fault for it.

David Bashevkin:
I don’t think it’s hierarchical. I think it’s the guys. They work themselves into a frenzy,

Martin Galla:
But the guys get a message. But maybe it’s not the message that the rabim were delivering, because I think they get a message that, like you were saying after this shiur or that shiur, the vast majority I don’t think fall into this category. I really don’t. I don’t believe people are walking around YU and saying, “Oh, you’re in that shiur? Oh, this is not good. You’re in this shiur? Oh, that is good.” I don’t think people are doing that.

David Bashevkin:
I think you’re wrong, especially when it comes to dating. Shiur, it is the number one religious identifier.

Martin Galla:
I appreciate the challenge of it. I guess what I’m saying is… Okay, maybe I’ll phrase it this way. I didn’t imagine-

David Bashevkin:
I teach in IBC.

Martin Galla:
…people walking around saying those things.

David Bashevkin:
And I know it is happening, where it’s not just the guys, the girls they are dating are very seriously hesitant. How could I date a guy? Again, these are guys in YU. They’re davening every day, and they’re just like-

Martin Galla:
It’s fair.

David Bashevkin:
This is not the guy. It’s a red flag of red flags. Let’s be real. It is.

Martin Galla:
So maybe I’m pushing back because I just don’t like it. It could be, I’m just…

David Bashevkin:
But it is a reality.

Martin Galla:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
I know it. I know it for a fact.

Martin Galla:
Right. I guess that’s what I’m struggling with in this question. It’s like-

David Bashevkin:
And they’re learning more than any… They’re learning three hours a day a lot of these kids.

Martin Galla:
The question I guess I have to your que-

David Bashevkin:
They’re learning three hours a day, a lot of these kids.

Martin Galla:
The question I guess I have to your question is, how do we figure out what the extent of this problem? I’m not disagreeing with you. I agree that this happens. I guess the question is, do we say it’s happening a lot because it’s so disturbing, or do we say that it’s actually just happening a lot? I don’t even know how we-

David Bashevkin:
I wouldn’t use the word disturbing. I think there is-

Martin Galla:
It’s upsetting.

David Bashevkin:
… An unhealthy religious expectation or even a knowledge of how to evaluate someone’s healthy sense of religiosity. And they push themselves, push, push, push, and they’re not making choices. And that question, when you began with, which I love, when did you first fall in love with this? And here’s the sad thing, and I know this is true, there are guys who have been in our Yeshiva High School, Elementary School system for their entire lives and they can’t even answer that question because they never found the bachurout of the yeshiva. They never-

Martin Galla:
Right, I like that saying.

David Bashevkin:
I’ve asked guys, a guy came to me, “I want to figure out what I should be learning after I leave YU.” And I didn’t ask him that exact question, but I said, “What do you love to learn?” “I have no idea.” That is hard-

Martin Galla:
I used to ask that question all the time, what do you like to learn? What do you love to learn?

David Bashevkin:
And what kind of answers would you get?

Martin Galla:
They would either not know or some people would say, “What I like to learn is not what other people would respect.”

David Bashevkin:
That’s a real thing, what you just said.

Martin Galla:
Yes, that is a real thing. This is a real thing that people told me. They didn’t feel like their learning was as value… This is another thing that I love to talk to people about was, what does it mean to value your learning? Who are we talking about is the, lack of better, decider of this value? And that goes back to the original question. So, we’re trying to help people focus on why they’re doing this in the first place and what is the value attached to it and the importance of learning? Now, I love learning Gemara myself.

David Bashevkin:
As do I. I happen to be good at it. So, I always-

Martin Galla:
I wouldn’t say I’m good at it, but I like it.

David Bashevkin:
I always tell my students that. It’s so not fair, I’ve been good at it since ninth grade.

Martin Galla:
So, that’s something I also hear a lot is, what if I don’t have… First getting to that conversation, what if I don’t have the head for it? Whatever terminology they use. Sometimes people have told me, “There’s no point in learning at all,” which is hard to hear.

David Bashevkin:
I had a conversation with a guy, I said, “What do you love to learn?” And I suggest, I said, “What about Shnayim Mikra when you go to work?” That’s a nice thing, Shnayim Mikra, Chumash, Rashi

Martin Galla:
What was his reaction?

David Bashevkin:
Oh, you have to do that?

Martin Galla:
Right, or they laugh at you. What is that? That’s what I’m saying.

David Bashevkin:
I don’t want to get alarmist. I think something is fully broken in this demographic of the expectations of what people think their religious lives are going to be as they transition from institutions to their individual lives.

Martin Galla:
And that’s a serious break because people just may stop learning-

David Bashevkin:
Entirely.

Martin Galla:
… Because they didn’t get this idea that there’s value.

David Bashevkin:
Could we just pause and realize, I think this is insane? We have not lived in a generation where we have more resources, more attention, more individual… That allow people to fall in love with learning, yet we have a generation that can leave this and still have no idea what they like to… Something is off.

Martin Galla:
Something is off, but when I hear that question, I think about myself. I love to learn and I developed it over time and I had to go through certain questions in my head and I had to be able to say this question. Whatever I ask people, I believe I’m asking myself. So I ask myself, “Why am I learning? What am I doing this for?” And to me, a very important question to ask and will for me is the bedrock, the foundation of the continuing to love learning is, why am I doing this? What is the value of this to me and what am I trying to get out of this? Why am I doing this? So to me, I don’t know, that would be an interesting thing for Yeshiva and Israel to talk about. I don’t know if they do or don’t do that. I imagine they do have these conversations.

David Bashevkin:
They do it like crazy, but that’s the value of Torah, the importance, but I feel like they’re doing it from 30,000 feet up in the air. A typical thing to learn yeshiva is the fourth chapter of Nefesh Hachaim, talking about the value of Talmud Torah. I don’t think that’s getting anybody to the answers that they need.

Martin Galla:
That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a conversation with another person to discuss why it’s important to you. It’s not therapy, because it doesn’t have the same kind of characteristic at all, but it has some intimate, vulnerable discussion, and I think rabbeim can absolutely have conversations like that.

David Bashevkin:
But are they?

Martin Galla:
I don’t know. I imagine some are.

David Bashevkin:
I don’t think enough are.

Martin Galla:
Maybe not enough.

David Bashevkin:
There’s a lot of stuff that brings up. One of the questions that I’m curious is when you have these conversations with students, especially in Yeshiva University, do you ever look in their eyes and be like, “This guy’s not taking me seriously, because they think I’m the psychologist who they’ve been warned about who’s trying to either interfere or water down their level of commitment?”

Martin Galla:
Not at YU. I did not have that problem.

David Bashevkin:
How do you avoid that? And that’s part of the reason why I wanted specifically to talk to you because you are beloved, really, by reputation, both by the students I have who are the most serious, and by the rabbeim I speak to. They trust you and they like you. How do you avoid that?

Martin Galla:
First, I never feared that. I never had any worries about that. I was very, in this area, confident that I would not have an issue with that, and maybe that helped, but I never tried to change anyone. I don’t try to make people different or make them go a certain direction. I came into every session and I tried to start from wherever the person was. So, wherever he was and whatever languages he was using-

David Bashevkin:
Can you code switch, get a little more Yeshivish, less-

Martin Galla:
Yes, I don’t love doing it outside in the regular world, in my personal life, that’s just not how I talk always, but in the room, absolutely. I thought, “I wonder if I go back and ask my former clients…” And I would even tell people that I was supervising, “It’s important to talk like the person you’re talking to is talking.” Now, if you can’t do it, you can’t fake it, but it’s important to understand what they’re trying to say and convey it in a way that you get it. So, I always felt like that came very easily to me, and I did speak in the code, I did speak outside of it, and I think this is a credit to the guys, actually, to the people I spoke to. I didn’t get the sense that, “Oh, this therapist is trying to change me. He’s going to try to make me less from…” Or whatever.
Usually, not more from, the fear you’re talking about, it’s less from… They didn’t come in with that. This is kind of what I’m saying. The sensibility they had, the understanding they had about how therapy works, they’re almost past that point. They’re not afraid of that. Full circle back to where we started with. They came in already saying, “I know what’s bothering me and I know I want to get help for it, I just don’t know what to do about it or how to deal with it.” So, I never had that struggle of, “You’re going to try to change me.” I spent a lot of time trying to make a connection of, I want to hear what you have to say. I’m here for you. I want to understand where you’re coming from. My job here is to learn about you, not for you to learn about me. My job is to learn about you and I want to understand where you’re coming from and I want to understand what’s bothering you, and I want to make this room very comfortable. There is no limits to what we can talk about in here.

David Bashevkin:
Do you have a standard opening question when somebody comes to visit you?

Martin Galla:
It’s probably a very lame one. How are you? What’s going on? I try to usually just start with… I don’t usually say, “What brings you in?” But I’ll say, “How are you doing? Where can we start?” Something like that. It’s nothing super interesting. I feel like I want to create the atmosphere with my body language more than my words, and I try to have a very relaxed setting.

David Bashevkin:
You come off relaxed.

Martin Galla:
That’s my goal.

David Bashevkin:
You have a much less manic intense energy than I have, and I appreciate it. We’d make a great buddy cop duo, like a good cop, bad cop. You would come in like ask questions calmly and I would come up with… I could even imagine that.

Martin Galla:
I think that’s very important, and the therapist, if they listen to this, will know what I’m talking about or will have some idea. It’s not even something that I necessarily try to do. I do have respect for the person coming in, and I do want to create an environment where the person can feel like they could talk. So, how do you do that? It’s got to be a relaxed setting. It can’t be tense. How are you going to talk if the other person’s making you feel more anxious? Now, of course, I’m a human, so sometimes I’ll make my clients more anxious. If something they’re saying is making me anxious, then I can make them more anxious, but by and large, I try to be relaxed and I try to make this very normal, as normal as this conversation can be around these very emotional, deep ideas and vulnerabilities.

David Bashevkin:
Deep, not using a lot of pathologizing language.

Martin Galla:
I just try to make the conversation normal, and then I am a therapist in a normal conversation. That’s what I try to do. I try to make the conversation normal, easygoing in terms of the rapport. I smile appropriately. If we see if they’re being depressed, I’m not going to smile, but we make jokes.

David Bashevkin:
The cadence of the conversation.

Martin Galla:
Exactly, good word, cadence of the conversation, but it’s therapy. I have a goal-

David Bashevkin:
We’re not here to schmooze. It’s goal-oriented.

Martin Galla:
That’s the difference.

David Bashevkin:
The cadence of the conversation is normal.

Martin Galla:
Your goals, what you want to do, and they could change, but yeah, it’s around the topic, it’s trying to grow and understand ourselves deeper and better emotionally, but it’s in a kind of more relaxed way.

David Bashevkin:
I appreciate it. In many ways, it feels like you’re describing a podcast. I’m joking, but I do appreciate it and really, I cannot thank you for your time and for coming in. I always end my interviews with more rapid-fire questions and I’m always looking for great book recommendations. Is there a specific book that you would recommend either to students that you found yourself recommending, “That might be suitable for you,” or perhaps a parent of somebody in their 20s? Are you a book recommender, is that your style or not really?

Martin Galla:
It’s a great question. I appreciate the question. I’m not a book recommender of general books on psychology or self-improvement necessarily.

David Bashevkin:
That’s not your go-to?

Martin Galla:
Not really. I have certain books that I recommend for certain types of presentations. So, it’s a book on OCD and mindfulness.

David Bashevkin:
Oh, cool.

Martin Galla:
Which is really good. It’s a workbook, so it’s not like theoretical.

David Bashevkin:
Correct.

Martin Galla:
And I think that’s good. Mindfulness Workbook for OCD, that’s what it’s called.

David Bashevkin:
Great, and who wrote it? Who’s the author?

Martin Galla:
Jon Hershfield and Tom Corboy. That book has helped a lot of people.

David Bashevkin:
I very much appreciate that. My next question, you did a PhD, PsyD?

Martin Galla:
I did a PhD.

David Bashevkin:
I’m always curious, if somebody gave you a great deal of money to go back to school, and I know this terrifies anybody who’s actually completed a PhD, and do another PhD in a different field, a different topic, what do you think the subject title of that dissertation would be? And if you can, in your response, what did you actually get your PhD in?

Martin Galla:
So, if I could stay within the same field, what I’ve started to get interested in, because I do a lot more supervision now, I supervise therapists, which is whole interesting nother conversation, I’m very interested in how people choose the discipline that they choose within therapy, within psychology. Why do some people go like a psychodynamic route? Why do some people go a CBT route? What makes a person choose what they want to choose?

David Bashevkin:
That is interesting, and what did you actually do your dissertation on?

Martin Galla:
I did my dissertation on the relationship between perfectionism and depression among college students.

David Bashevkin:
Holy smokes, that’s like-

Martin Galla:
I was interested in perfectionism.

David Bashevkin:
Did you have an underlying thesis that—

Martin Galla:
I had that and there was a relationship, and there was.

David Bashevkin:
And there was.

Martin Galla:
There was. It was impacted by my work at YU because I had seen-

David Bashevkin:
Perfectionism.

Martin Galla:
… And I was really touched by a lot of the… Which is a lot of what we spoke about tonight.

David Bashevkin:
Sure.

Martin Galla:
We didn’t use the word, but basically we’re referencing perfectionism, fear of failure, et cetera. So, I wanted to understand how that relates to depression, if it does. And there’s different types of perfectionism, like an internal perfectionism, and driven by your own feelings and a social perfectionism where it’s pressure from other people. So, there was relationships in both areas.

David Bashevkin:
How fascinating. I am actually quite interested, and I’ll probably follow up with you. My final question, I’m always interested in people’s sleep schedules because I, as a young child, had a very difficult time falling asleep, and thank God not as much anymore, because I’m always exhausted now. I have a difficult time staying awake. What time do you go to sleep at night and what time do you wake up in the morning?

Martin Galla:
I don’t sleep enough, partially because I like my nights because they’re very quiet and I have time to relax.

David Bashevkin:
Same.

Martin Galla:
So, I end up forcing myself to stay awake sometimes. Sometimes I just give in and go to sleep.

David Bashevkin:
Do you use your nights to relax or to do work? Be honest.

Martin Galla:
So, I have a private practice after work. So, I end up that first part of the night and then my kids, dealing with them. So yes, I work-

David Bashevkin:
Is your private practice in your house?

Martin Galla:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Separate entrance?

Martin Galla:
Yes, I do have a separate entrance. I end up working many nights… Not many nights, some nights, till 10 o’clock at night. Sometimes I see clients on Sundays to fit it in around the work. I like to go to sleep somewhere between 11:00 and 12:00, and I wake up at 5:30.

David Bashevkin:
Nah-uh.

Martin Galla:
Yes, and that’s a big part of my-

David Bashevkin:
Shut your mouth.

Martin Galla:
No, it’s great, there’s actually-

David Bashevkin:
You operate on five-and-a-half hours of sleep?

Martin Galla:
Around.

David Bashevkin:
That’s crazy.

Martin Galla:
I’m exhausted like right now. That came about a good friend of mine, Jacob Shoulder, a good buddy of mine.

David Bashevkin:
What?

Martin Galla:
Yeah, he’s a good buddy of mine.

David Bashevkin:
Holy smokes. Shout out to Jacob Shoulder, finally got the much needed shout out that he’s been clamoring for.

Martin Galla:
So, he got it here. So, we lived in Riverdale together. We lived a block away from each other when we first got married. We actually didn’t know each other so well at that point.

David Bashevkin:
I love you, Jacob.

Martin Galla:
He’s a great guy. He said, “Let’s learn,” and we learned at nights. Then, he had this crazy idea. He’s like, “Maybe we should learn in the mornings, 5:30 to 6:30, then we dive in at 6:30 and go home.” I said, “That is insane. I’m not going to be able to get up at 5:15.” He was always an early riser. I was like, “There’s no way,” or 5:45 we were supposed to learn, so 5:30.

David Bashevkin:
I can’t believe we’re at the end of the interview. This is bringing up all of my trauma of me not being the person who my father is. My father wakes up at 4:00 and I wake up as late as possible.

Martin Galla:
So, I’m saying-

David Bashevkin:
—peel myself out of bed.

Martin Galla:
I don’t have that issue, thank God. I’m able to wake up in the morning.

David Bashevkin:
And you learn.

Martin Galla:
Maybe that’s my anxiety. I need to get up.

David Bashevkin:
And you wake up at 5:30 AM?

Martin Galla:
So, I woke up at 5:30, we learned at 5:45. So, now I also wake up at 5:30. We’re not actually learning together right now. No problem, we just decided that we wanted to learn separately. So, I wake up at 5:30 and I learn by myself.

David Bashevkin:
What do you learn?

Martin Galla:
So, I’m learning Pesachim. I learn on my own. I learn tomorrow on my own.

David Bashevkin:
And then you daven.

Martin Galla:
And then I daven.

David Bashevkin:
I’m so inspired by that.

Martin Galla:
So I want to say, I don’t mean to sound like… It gives me a lot of meaning and value to do that. I feel good about it. It kind of drives itself. So, I feel good about it, I feel proud that I do it—

David Bashevkin:
And you had to discover that?

Martin Galla:
I had to discover it.

David Bashevkin:
And a lot of guys do not give themselves the opportunity to actually discover that.

Martin Galla:
Yes.

David Bashevkin:
I think it is your work, your perspective that helps people within the normalcy, within the healthiness to find that cadence in the conversation to find their true selves, particularly in the forest in that labyrinth of our 20s. Dr. Martin Galla, I cannot thank you enough for joining us today.

Martin Galla:
This was amazing, thank you.

David Bashevkin:
One recurring theme is the toll that access to information has taken on this generation. We have access to so much more choice, so much more freedom, so much more information than any other generation, and it takes a toll. There are some very good things. I’m pro freedom, I’m pro information, but it can be harder and harder to make choices. And it actually reminds me of a story in one of my favorite books that I’ve recommended many, many times before I’ve quoted in my own book, and that is the book called Einstein’s Dreams, which is such a fascinating book. Einstein’s Dreams, which was written by Alan Lightman, who teaches literature at MIT, has a science background himself, and the whole book has these short little chapters where each chapter describes a city or a town, relationships that operate under a different conception of time, which may sound mind-boggling, but once you get a hang of it, it’s a really easy read.

I actually read it in high school. It’s not a super hard book, but it really prods your imagination as each chapter, which is only like a page long, it’s a really easy read, describes this town. What would it be if your entire lifespan just felt like one day? What would it be if time was a sense? And it really makes you think about how we relate to our own experiences. If you’ll allow me to include a very brief, but gratuitous flex, as my students call it, as they’ve always used the term T4, which I discovered stands for therefore. Therefore, why are you just sharing this random flex to praise yourself? But I’m going to go ahead and do that. I read this at some point in high school, and when I took my AP English exam, this was actually on the reading comprehension section of my advanced placement English exam.

The reading comp passage came from the very story that I am going to read, and I recognized it and I saw it already. I was like, “Oh my gosh, that is so cool. I feel fantastic. Is there any way that me being able to recognize this passage, having already read this book, is that going to, I don’t know, factor into my score?” And the short answer is, it totally will not. It will just give you some very irrelevant bragging rights that no one will know or appreciate that you’ll be able to use as an anecdote many, many years later on your podcast. That’s the only thing that it gave me. I didn’t even think I did that well on my AP English exam, but I did recognize the reading comp passage and it came from the following story, and I want to read the beginning of it to you.

It begins, “Suppose that people live forever. Strangely,” the story continues, “The population of each city splits into two, the laters and the nows. The laters reason that there’s no hurry to begin their classes at the university, to learn a second language, to read Voltaire or Newton, to seek promotion in their jobs, to fall in love, to raise a family. For all these things, there’s an infinite span of time. In endless time, all things can be accomplished. Thus, all things can wait. Indeed, hasty actions breed mistakes, and who can argue with their logic? The laters can be recognized in any shop or promenade. They walk in easy gait and wear loose-fitting clothing. They take pleasure in reading whatever magazines are open or rearranging furniture in their homes or splitting into conversation the way a leaf falls from a tree. The laters sit in cafes, sipping coffee, and discussing the possibilities of life.

“The nows, not the laters, but the nows note that with infinite lives, they can do all they can imagine. They can have an infinite number of careers, they can marry an infinite number of times. They’ll change their politics infinitely. Each person will be a lawyer, a bricklayer, a writer, an accountant, a painter, a physician, a farmer. The nows are constantly reading new books, studying new trades, new languages. In order to taste the infinities of life, they begin early and never go slowly. And who can question their logic? The nows are easily spotted. They’re the owners of the cafes, the college professors, the doctors, the nurses, the politicians, the people who rock their legs constantly whenever they sit down. They move through a succession of lives, eager to miss nothing. When two nows chance to meet, they compare the lives they have mastered, exchange information and glance at their watches.

“When two laters meet at the same location, they ponder the future and follow the parabola of the water with their eyes. The nows and laters have one thing in common, with infinite life comes an infinite list of relatives. Grandparents never die, nor do great-aunts and great-uncles, great-great-aunts, and so on. Back through the generations, all alive and offering advice. Sons never escape from the shadows of their father, nor do daughters of their mothers. No one ever comes into his own.” That’s basically half the story, and I find this story to be a haunting analogy of sorts for what our generation is struggling with. We don’t actually live forever, but our access to information, our access to the guidance of previous generations, our access to different viewpoints, what other potential spouses are out there, what other careers could potentially be out there, in many ways, we are struggle with something very similar.

And in many ways, the population divides into two, the laters and the nows. And there are some people who are all about the laters, they get stuck in their 20s. How can I make a choice on who to marry if there’s somebody better out there? How can I make a choice on what kind of career, if there’s something that’s more suitable for me? And they can get stuck, frozen, paralyzed in their lives, unable to make those decisions that ultimately individuate and forge a path for our future. And then there are people who struggle with being a now. They want to make all the choices now and almost rush into being. Those are the people who they’re opening questions, “What are you up to in life? What’s going on? How’s your internship? Did you get it? Did you not get it?” And they’re so pressurized in being able to build their life that it could be a pressure cooker that ultimately can lead to an implosion.

Obviously, we don’t want to be on any extreme in life, and there are very real decisions that we have to make in order to build our lives. And as we make those decisions, we have to make sure we don’t fall into the trap, into the pressure, the very real pressure that can crush that sense of slowly coming into being, slowly getting up, slowly building a sense of self. The Gemara in Berachos, the Talmud, in the first tractate in the entire Talmud on 12b, talks about how we bow when we are saying the Amidah, when we are praying the Shemoneh Esreh. If you ever notice, kind of bow down very quickly, and there are some people who are careful to get up very slowly, and it’s from that passage in Talmud, in Berachos on 12b, that says … And when you bow down in the Amidah, you’re supposed to bow down like a stick, very quickly all at once.

And when you get up slowly, you’re supposed to get up slowly like a snake the way a snake kind of raises its head. The Maharal says something in his work on prayer in Netiv Ha’Avodah, the end of the 10th perek of Netiv Ha’Avodah, the Maharal says that this is really an analogy for growth and development itself. That when we confront those infinite possibilities, we almost lose our very sense of self. When we confront the unimaginable, the infinite, the very name of God, the infinite possibilities that we can have for our self, we almost lose ourselves in a moment. But when we get up and we kind of reclaim our sense of self, when we slowly get up after mentioning the name of God, it specifically has to be slowly because the Maharal says, all development, all growth, all reconstruction of the self requires the medium of time, experience, the knowledge of that slow growth of how we develop and build upon ourselves in each and every year of our lives and within each and every generation.

And I think it’s specifically in our 20s that people experience that all at once, feeling overwhelmed … of bowing down immediately, all in one fell swoop, feeling like you’re lost between the infinitude, the magnitude of the possibilities in front of you. And you can feel overwhelmed and you can feel that loss of sense of clarity, of who am I and what am I trying to become? And what we need in our community is the patience and the strength … of slowly raising your head, finding the path, building that sense of self and moving forward to build lives of meaning, passion, and purpose. So, thank you so much for listening. This episode, like so many of our episodes, was edited by our dearest friend, superstar, we wouldn’t have any episodes without her, dina Emerson. I am so grateful for your patience. The recording with Dr. Yael Muskat was done with our friend Uri Westridge. I’m so grateful for your help and your friendship.

If you enjoyed this episode or any of our episodes, please subscribe, rate, review, tell your friends about it. You can also donate at 18Forty.org/donate, and thank you once again to our series sponsors. I am so incredibly grateful from the bottom of my heart to Andrew and Terri Herenstein for your friendship, for your support, for your guidance. Horofei lishvurei leiv umechabbeish le’atzevosom. It’s through all of our listeners’ collective support and friendship that helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content. And of course, you can always leave us a voicemail with feedback or questions that we may play in a future episode. That number is (516) 519-3308. Once again, that number is (516) 519-3308. If you’d like to learn more about this topic or some of the other great ones we’ve covered in the past, be sure to check out 18Forty.org. That’s the number 1-8, followed by the word Forty, F-O-R-T-Y, 18Forty.org, where you can also find videos, articles, recommended readings, and weekly emails. Thank you so much for listening and stay curious, my friends.