Filling a critical need for affordable, English-language mental health services in Israel, Yeshiva University (YU), together with Amudim Israel, opened the Jerusalem Therapy Center in late October 2022. Providing professional care for English speakers, gap-year students and Israelis, the Center is located at 3 Strauss Street in Jerusalem and offers mental health counseling that has become ever more important during prolonged lock downs and affiliated stresses caused by the Covid 19 pandemic and other factors.

The Center is being run in partnership with YU’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work and Amudim Israel, a social services organization serving individuals and families impacted by trauma, addiction, and other complex mental health related issues. Staffed by Wurzweiler graduate students, recent graduates and other professionals who specialize in a variety of modalities and concentrations such as addiction, anxiety and trauma, the Center contains several therapy rooms and a classroom to meet the needs of patients and students.

“Wurzweiler is unique in its ability to both educate the next generation of mental health professionals and provide much-needed and high-level services to our community in Israel,” said Dr. Selma Botman, YU provost and vice president for academic affairs. “This is an exceptional opportunity to connect to YU’s larger mission of serving the needs of those living in Israel. As a world-renowned institution, YU is proud to provide exceptional training, support, and expertise to the people of Israel.”

The Center will address the pressing mental health needs of English-speaking immigrants — from those suffering psychologically from the pandemic to gap-year students away from home for the first time and new immigrants struggling to adjust to life in Israel. Gap year students come to Israel to study for a year fresh out of high school and will be a key focus for the Center. These students are away from their families and familiar support systems, often for the first time, and are not usually covered for mental health counseling by the tourist/temporary health insurance. The Center will provide vital, affordable, quality mental health care to this vital population.

The Center will serve other often over-looked demographics, who may suffer alone with mental health challenges: soldiers struggling with PTSD; and those who make aliya and find the financial, cultural, and psychological stress overwhelming.

For many in Israel’s English-speaking community, dealing with mental health issues can be difficult, complicated and confusing. Diagnosis and treatment can be trying under the best of circumstances and locating appropriate English-speaking practitioners can add layers of complexity, while navigating and understanding the mental health services offered through the health system can be challenging.

Recognizing the challenges faced by English-speakers in Israel, in May, Wurzweiler co-sponsored a Mental Health Expo in Jerusalem, which drew over 1,500 participants. The large turnout was just one of many catalysts for opening the Jerusalem Therapy Center.

“Our community is in real need of mental health services,” said Nechama Munk, director of YU’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work Israel Program. “One of our basic values is to help those in need, and the Therapy Center will be here to offer relief and hope. Getting good, affordable treatment is challenging for all Israelis, and even more so when your mother tongue isn’t Hebrew.”

And good mental health services have never been more necessary. Studies have shown that anxiety and depression have increased by 25 percent since the onset of the pandemic, a wake-up call to countries around the world to step up mental health services and support. And while Munk says that COVID did not create new mental health issues, it exacerbated existing difficulties. “When everything was shut down, the people who were lonely were much lonelier, and the people who were depressed became more depressed.”

Another long-term benefit of the Jerusalem Therapy Center: it will create English-speaking clinical fieldwork placement for Wurzweiler graduate students — supervised by experienced clinicians — who will help students gain skills and give back to the community. In addition, the Jerusalem Therapy Center will provide training and enrichment seminars for gap-year administrators, educators, directors and therapists; giving them the tools they need to gain new skills and properly guide students who may be struggling.