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The Therapist’s Wife  

     Bound by confidentiality, my husband can’t talk — even to me


TO protect my husband’s clients, I need to use a pen name for this article. Even here I need to have their needs front and center. That’s the nature of being the wife of a therapist.

My husband was a successful rebbi and mashgiach, and had a phenomenal ability to connect to people. When one day in his late forties he said, “Think I should go to social work school?” I actually thought it was a brilliant move.

I had very good knowledge of what it meant to be a client in therapy. I’d suffered from horrific anxiety, and therapy had done me a world of good. I knew my husband could offer compassionate treatment to others. It seemed like a really good idea.

Nobody prepared me for how challenging it would be to be a mother and employee all while having a husband in school. His program was rigorous, as it should be; he was in school, doing an internship, working part-time so that we didn’t starve, reading about 200 pages a week, writing reports….

At graduation, I looked around and saw a group of beaming spouses. The two of us laughingly said to each other, “We made it!” Because there is truly no way any spouse can get through any sort of educational training without a supportive spouse.

My husband left his other commitments and began his journey as a full-time clinician in a clinic where he’d start the mandatory thousands of hours to work towards his C (as in LCSW). And that’s when I started to feel what it’s like to ask your spouse, “How was your day?” and get pareve answers like, “Good,” “Rough,” “Emotionally draining,” “Finally seeing some real good change.”

What else could he share about the seven hours he spent in the clinic? Nothing.

He couldn’t even so much as say he’d seen a middle-aged man whose son was getting divorced because of confidentiality. And while in the world at large some therapists will venture to share very vague info, the frum world is so small that even a line like that could be a lightbulb moment in which perhaps I’d recognize who he was seeing.

We’d talk about ideas to improve certain systems within our own lives, our own parenting styles, our marriage — incredible outgrowths of his work that have directly benefited our family — but I’d never know what inspired that thought.

I walk the streets with my husband, and it’s no exaggeration to say that dozens will nod their heads, smile, or even stop for a quick slap on the back. I know not to ask, “Who was that?” It could be a former student, current client, former client, parent of a client… and those are the ones who want to acknowledge and be acknowledged publicly.

His phone has a password only he knows and clients are listed by initial only, so that if it rings while on the counter, nobody will even accidentally see or hear a name. His professional phone is one I can’t ever use, because there’s too much risk that private information might be exposed. There have been times it made me feel so small and confused. Like did he really think I’d scroll through his texts? I knew it was a matter of HIPAA and not about personal trust, but still, it stung.

There was something so unsettling about being shut out of a core part of my husband’s day and life. I’d bring it up casually, saying things like, “It’s so weird, and sometimes feels awkward that you have a whole life I know nothing about,” but then I’d quickly change the subject because really, I loved my own therapist, and would want her to respect me in the same way my husband respected his clients.

I realized I needed to explore my fears about being left out of his life, and I also needed to explore how to raise them with my husband.

It’s taken time but I think we’ve found quite a bit of balance. He now shares his own struggles without giving me any client details, things like, “I realized that I struggle with patience for the process when it comes to fathers who won’t take responsibility for any of their parenting decisions. But I also realize they’re in my room for a reason.” That takes us into an intellectual discussion about why people would enter a room willingly and resist every bit of what’s being discussed there.

And as with good therapy, it often turns both of us inward: What are we defensive about? Why? Would I seek help for it? We admire the bravery it takes to be vulnerable. It’s conversations like these that make me feel much less resentful and more included in his life while still protecting the privacy of the clients.

Every once in a while, I’ll be standing in line at the grocery or at the pediatrician and will get compliments like, “Your husband saved my son!” or “My nephew is a new person since seeing your husband, and his marriage is transformed.” I usually can’t help but look surprised, and they in turn say things like, “You really don’t know?” It’s with immense pride that I can tell them I really don’t. And in those moments it feels so right.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 842)

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