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The Politics Of Therapy

The Politics Of Therapy

The last time I recall feeling this disturbing sense of dislocation, a boyfriend informed me that he loved someone else. He explained that all through our short but spirited romance, all through his soft renditions of Yiddish lullabies and late-night phone calls, and for two years before that, he’d been seeing that someone else. I felt as if I’d been suddenly transported to an alternative and hostile universe; the person in whom I’d confided still wore the same sheepish grin, but was not at all the person I’d imagined he was.

This time, it’s a shrink who has suddenly diminished before my eyes. And this time, the issue is not the love of a woman, but the love of a country — Israel.

It happened like this: Not long ago, when I was despairing over my inability to afford more spacious Manhattan real estate and other more solemn matters, it occurred to me that I ought to check in with a therapist. I e-mailed the woman I’d seen occasionally in moments of crisis and calm during the past five years. After a week without reply, I Googled her name to find her phone number.

Near the top of the search results, I couldn’t help noticing a link to a video, posted on a web site of a group that promotes boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel. Curious, I clicked. In the video clip, the psychologist, but in her regular life as a civilian and mother, speaks about her experiences as a student-activist against the apartheid government in her native South Africa. She speaks on a panel titled “New Generation” — as in, I can only guess, the new activists campaigning against the “apartheid” state of Israel. By the therapist’s side sits a young, smiling man with curly brown hair who is clearly her son — the new generation.

Stung and stunned, I played it again and again, watching how her laughter seemed just a bit more animated than in our sessions, a bit livelier than when she was playing her role as therapist. I kept hoping to find I was mistaken. How could any sensible person believe that Israel could be directly compared to apartheid South Africa? Perhaps the anti-Israel organization had linked to the video without the psychologist’s awareness or approval? But then I thought about the blank face, the small, smiling nods of encouragement during our time together, and I realized I just don’t know what she believes. And I was angry.

Though I’m sometimes critical of Israel’s government and policies, the BDS movement — and I soon learned that groups of this nature have been sprouting up on college campuses in the last five years — seems not only self-righteous and misinformed, but also violent in its way.

Even the lefty New Israel Fund, which is dedicated to civil rights in Israel, “opposes the global (or general) BDS movement, views its use of these tactics as counterproductive, and is concerned that segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel,” according to the group’s web site.

After consulting with a friend who is herself a therapist, I write a polite but pressing e-mail. I believe my former therapist to be a compassionate soul with a talent for her profession. Perhaps we could continue to work together despite political differences?

“I really would like to make an appointment to speak with you in the near future as I’m going through a difficult time, and you’ve been very helpful in the past,” I write. “But to be frank, I am feeling somewhat uncomfortable at this moment.”

Her reply is chillingly concise: “I am not sure what to say about the talk that you saw on the Internet other than I am sorry it upset you. I was invited to speak about my experiences opposing apartheid in South Africa following a film about South Africa. I am not personally a member of the organization who was showing the film, I was invited by someone who is a member.”

Then, almost as an afterthought, she signs off, “Hope this clarification helps.”

On a crisp morning recently, the trees a riot of orange and gold, I jogged uphill in Central Park and laid out the details of my predicament to an insightful friend. Between breaths, I asked Karen Gurwitz, who runs a mentoring service for mothers, if she thought I should reach out again, meet with the therapist one last time, attempt a more formal goodbye.

Karen smiled. No, she said, using an expletive. Karen advised me to glean what I can learn about myself from the quandary, and then — move on.

She is right. I will “divest” myself of the woman’s services. And also: Sabra hummus is on my shopping list.

Elicia Brown’s column appears the second week of the month E-mail:

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