Psychologist’s Study Reveals Jews Have Problems with Self-esteem
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Psychologist’s Study Reveals Jews Have Problems with Self-esteem

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Ethnotherapy–not a cultish mind control technique, but a new form of group therapy under study by California psychologist Judith Klein which relates ethnicity to emotional stability–was the subject of yesterday’s American Jewish Committee panel discussion here.

Klein, who got the idea for her study from participating in Black-white encounter groups in the 1960s, told over 100 persons that problems of Jewish identity and self-esteem are far-reaching in this country. Her therapy has already helped some Jews who participated in her research identify their hang-ups and sometimes alleviate them, she said.

The multi-ethnic panel of four served as an introduction to Klein’s just-completed study “Jewish Identify and Self-Esteem: Healing Through Ethnotherapy.”

In her research Klein led several group ethnotherapy sessions for 32 hours over an eight-week period and later followed up with individual interviews. The subjects were asked to discuss a variety of Jewish issues, and many identified anxieties about everything from sexual relations with non-Jews and abstract nations of historical figures, to negative images of Jewish looks.

“What was conceived of as WASP looks was more valued than what was conceived of as Jewish looks,” Klein said of the “ambivalent identifiers”–those who attributed their most valued and despised traits to Jewishness but never resolved the conflict.


Joseph Giordano, a panelist who heads the AJ Committee’s mental health center, praised Klein’s study and said the best kind of ethnotherapy may go on in the family. Society presents a conflict for Italian-Americans, he said, because while Roman Catholic tradition emphasizes personal care for the elderly, American culture stresses youth, financial success and getting old people out of the way by sending them to nursing homes.

Giordano wanted to see how well his 16-year-old, long-haired son had integrated these cultural contradictions, so he recently asked him if he would one day send his aged parents to a nursing home. “Never,” Giordano said his son replied, “but I want you to remember one thing: when you come to my home, it’s my home.”

“I think he’s been well-integrated,” Giordano added.

The other speakers were Harvard professor of psychiatry Alvin Poussiant and Rabbi Irving Greenberg, director of the National Jewish Resource Center. Poussaint said he saw a definite need for Klein’s study because he “has never had a Black patient or a Jewish patient” that has not in some way related problems to his ethnic background. Greenberg added that Klein “has shown us there is room and hope for improvement” in building Jewish pride and identify.

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