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Keren Cohen: Promoting Acceptance of Adult Therapy in Israel
Keren Cohen talks about her graduate work as both an academic pursuit and a personal story. Cohen, a second year student of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) in the Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP), is preparing to work as a therapist in her home country of Israel, where she and her husband will move after graduation. She plans to open a practice in Hadera, a town between Tel Aviv and Haifa.
According to Cohen, Israelis seek the comfort of family and friends, not professionals, for emotional support. “Therapy is seen as a last resort,” says Cohen. “It carries with it the idea of being crazy or out of control.” In addition, the country’s political situation creates such a constant state of anxiety for the entire community, she says, that individual problems are sometimes overshadowed.
With this in mind, Cohen plans to work with children—a population for which therapy is common and accepted—and use this as a gateway to treating adults. Her mother, Viki Cohen, owns Dambo private kindergartens, where Keren will start her practice when she returns to Israel. “My hope is that children will be referred to me by their parents for treatment,” she says. “But that will give me the window to say, ‘so how are things at home?’ That leads to talking about parenting, relationships, and family dynamics. Before you know it, you’re doing therapy with the parents, but it starts with the objective of helping the child.”
Cohen, who is 29, has appreciated the ability to go at her own pace while living in the U.S. She and her husband had their first baby in December of last year. But her family in Israel expected that her late twenties would be dedicated to building a family, not necessarily a career. “I’ve had to reassure them” she laughs, “that things are on track. I’ve kept repeating the same mantra: 'Everything will be okay. Your next grandchild will be born soon enough.'"
Cohen’s dissertation deals with “resistance” in therapy—how and why clients resist change and progress. Her research will explore how therapists can interact with clients to evoke the least resistance. “This is a relevant topic in all relationships, not just therapeutic ones,” she notes. “I chose it because it applies to me in my roles as a mother, a wife, and a therapist.” She quotes the ancient Hebrew phrase: “Nae doresh, nae mekayem,” or “Practice what you preach,” as an influential principle in her life. Cohen also sees the topic of resistance as relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We need to know how to approach each other without evoking resistance or putting the other side on the defensive,” says Cohen. “In this case it’s about making it clear that you have the other side’s interests in mind too. Otherwise it will always be adversarial.”
By Heather Turgeon