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December 02, 2010 - Image 94

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2010-12-02

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Family Focus

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P raiies r Y/

Prayer And Psychology

New book uses therapy examples
to bring Shmoneh Esreh alive.

Cynthia Goldstein

Special to the Jewish News


any people think that psycho-
therapy and prayer are mutually
exclusive, but Dr. Jeffrey Last's new
book proves otherwise.
Last draws on decades of experience as
a therapist in Detroit to explain and bring
to life the verses of the
Shmoneh Esreh, the cen-
tral prayer in the Jewish
liturgy. As a result, read-
ers with no interest in
therapy but an interest in
prayer will learn painless-
ly about therapy. Readers
Jeffrey Last
with no interest in prayer
but an interest in therapy
will learn painlessly about prayer.
Readers interested in neither prayer nor

therapy will be drawn in by Last's vignettes
about his clients. He tells stories of his work
with them and the progress they've made.
He also provides readers with questions to
consider about themselves in relation to the
issues in each vignette.
For example, the beginning of the
Shmoneh Esreh mentions Isaac, one of the
forefathers. Last sees him as courageous and
as able to set limits. After explaining these
qualities in Isaac, the author cautions that
they could lead to misuse of power, which he
applies to the lives of contemporary readers.
The vignette focuses on a client's fear of
her own power. Rachel has chronic pain, and
she allows herself to be mistreated by her
ex-husband. In therapy, Last helps her see
that she can feel angry at her ex-husband
without becoming violent. Once she safely
feels that anger, her muscles relax and her
pain decreases. That is, she uses her power
but does not misuse it.

The author concludes the section with
questions for readers, such as "Am I able to
clearly state my opinion without excessive
worry that others will disagree?"
In discussing the final section of the
Shmoneh Esreh, Last explains the importance
of trust between Jews and God. The author
stresses the importance of accepting that
imperfect communication is inevitable.
The vignette is about a teenager's difficult
relationship with his family. Kenny refuses to
follow the family's rules about curfew, chores
and politeness. He wants more freedom and
independence, and his parents want him to
follow their rules and accept more guidance
from them.
Last has the parents take Kenny's position
and Kenny take theirs. Each side learns the
value in the other's viewpoint. Then they
create a plan that meets all their needs. Their
communication and trust improve.
The author's question at the end of the
section focuses on the reader's ability to
accept others even while disagreeing with
Last's book leaves the reader with an
appreciation of the complexity and sophis-
tication of the Shmoneh Esreh, a prayer to

which regular synagogue-goers may
give time but not attention. Readers of
Psychotherapy & Prayer will also appreciate
the power of therapy to help people under-
stand and change their behavior.
That readers can learn so much from
the book is a tribute to the author's skill in
analyzing prayer and people as well as in
explaining them clearly.
Last lives in Southfield, where he has a
private practice in psychology. He is mar-
ried, with five children, and he attends
Congregation Mogain Avrohom.

Cynthia Goldstein is a communications consul-

tant in Los Angeles. She grew up in Detroit and

went to Mumford High (Class of '66) with Last.



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December 2 • 2010

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