What is Spiritual Counseling?

We all have times when our day to day life, our moment to moment existence feels quite, unrelated to our death, the whole of our life, and to the cosmos that is its setting. Is it time for you to connect them?
1. What is spiritual counseling? 

When one thinks of the word “spiritual” it may evoke religion, art, music, literature. When we are caught up in the immediate and individual needs that life places upon us, we often forget that the universe and a greater whole is present in every aspect of day to day living. These considerations yield wisdom, comfort, relief from anxiety and a sense of meaning in our lives. When we sit in the presence of a trained counselor and raise questions, share our thoughts, wrestle with what troubles us, we can begin to develop or deepen our own spiritual awareness and tools to relate to our life challenges. 

2. How is spiritual counseling different from other forms of counseling? 

Psychotherapy and other forms of counseling operate on a model of addressing problem solving and pathology through a variety of modalities. Spiritual counseling, which may be done in conjunction with psychotherapy, differs by going beyond analysis of the ego and personality, exploring the states and areas of our consciousness that go beyond the limits of personal identity – commonly called the transpersonal realm. Property of the Jewish Healing Center of Los Angeles, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. All rights reserved. 

3. When is it appropriate to seek out spiritual counseling? 

Any time. Innate spiritual seekers work to develop a spiritual vocabulary, a frame of reference that they are always seeking to refine or deepen. More commonly, people are brought to spiritual counseling by life crisis. They seek to know if there is something beyond their individual experience that holds the key to release from their current challenges and suffering. They may face grief from loss, relationship issues, issues of identity, creativity, illness – anything that prompts deep questions about the nature of being, the world, life and death. 

4. Is there a code of confidentiality? 

Absolutely. That is an area that psychotherapy and spiritual counseling share. Confidentiality is honored and maintained. Additionally, the spiritual counseling practitioner is aware of and draws attention to sacred presence and holiness in the shared relationship, which honors and respects the individual. 

5. Is spiritual counseling only for individuals, or is it sometime done for couples, families, or groups? 

Spiritual counseling assumes that the fabric of human relationships is the underpinning of our being and therefore when we are in crisis or struggling, our relationship system and the individuals within that system are affected. Therefore, spiritual counseling is well-suited to couples and families as well as individuals. 

6. What if I’m not a practicing Jew or don’t believe in God? 

If you have gotten to this question, you might have noticed that nowhere above is the “G” word mentioned. A key component of spiritual direction is God-wrestling – for Jews, that is the meaning of our tribal name – Israel. Every person of any tradition who has described themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” atheist, or agnostic is describing a relationship to a god-head, either through belief, non-belief or questioning it all. No specific belief system is a requirement for exploration of meaning. Property of the Jewish Healing Center of Los Angeles, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. All rights reserved. 

7. Who administers spiritual counseling for the Jewish Healing Center of Los Angeles? 

At the Jewish Healing Center, all spiritual counseling is done by our founder and executive director Rabbi Carla Howard who has been doing spiritual counseling for twenty years. Her CV can be found on our website. 

8. Where does the Jewish Healing Center’s spiritual counseling take place? 

Most spiritual counseling sessions take place in an office in West Los Angeles, much like a traditional psychotherapy office, insuring privacy and confidentiality. If the need for spiritual counseling arises in conjunction with serious illness, hospitalization or end of life, those sessions are conducted where the person is – home, hospital or other facility. 

9. What is the cost? 

The Jewish Healing center’s fees of spiritual counseling are commensurate with those of traditional psychotherapy, on an hourly basis. Please check with our office for details. We offer a sliding scale for those in need, based on income.

10. Who should I contact if I’d like to try spiritual counseling?

For more information, directions, or to schedule an appointment, please call our office at (310) 277-1550 or email us at


A Time for Healing

By Norman Sklarewitz

From its very beginning 20 years ago, the Jewish Healing and Hospice Center of Los Angeles has offered bereavement care as one of its key services.  Also known as grief counseling, such care over the years has become one of the Center’s most valuable and widely-used professional services.

The Jewish Healing and Hospice Center, Los Angeles, provides bereavement care to family members whose loved one has been in its hospice care.  Such service is covered by Medicare. Individuals seeking bereavement care for loved ones not on hospice may receive service on a sliding scale fee basis.

Not surprisingly, the interpersonal restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic starting a year ago, have changed the way bereavement care counseling has been offered by the Center.  One-on-one visits formerly offered by a counselor in an office setting have been replaced by telephone or Facetime “visits”.  In addition, small bereavement groups have been formed to meet via Zoom.

Such changes have extended the reach of this service to out of state and even international clients facing a loss either COVID related or otherwise.  The high death rate in metropolitan Los Angeles due to the Covid-19 has only increased the requests for help from grieving family members.  Rabbi Howard, the Center’s founder and executive director, has seen the number of bereavement clients double and because many communities around the U.S. do not have local entities that provide such service, the JHCLA has received calls and extended its counseling to those seeking solace from around the U.S., from Europe and even Israel.

However, this increased need warrants a closer look at the service and who provides it. Says Rabbi Howard, “Just because a person is a member of the clergy or a social worker does not necessarily mean that their skill set involves the deeper understanding of the psycho/spiritual components that make up an individual’s response to loss.”

Too often the grieving person is provided with well-meaning but essentially useless, even counter-productive, platitudes. The family member may be told such things as, “Getting over your loss just takes time…”  In trying to counsel a rather distraught and emotional surviving spouse, one young social worker suggested he get a jig saw puzzle to help deal with his grief. Clearly, that was hardly a useful suggestion.

Much is involved in assessing an individual’s need and then providing this service to a grieving family member. Experienced counselors such as Rabbi Howard and specially-trained, qualified JHCLA chaplains explain that there are actually many factors that go in to determining the best plan of care for an individual suffering a loss. Certain factors may lead to complex bereavement which requires a different approach to care.

For example, pre-existing psychiatric or psychological problems, drug or alcohol abuse, multiple previous deaths and traumatic/ violent deaths alter the path of healing.

Knowing how much time after the loss should pass before the bereavement counseling can commence is also part of assessment.  Notes Rabbi Howard, “Bereavement studies indicate that the state of mind of the individual coping immediately with a close personal loss requires comforting rather than processing.

As a result, bereavement care may best begin only once a certain level of stability takes place. Then the patient can begin to process both common and complex loss issues. This may come as much as two or three months after the loss.  That said, Rabbi Howard is quick to point out that she regularly interacts with the individual immediately after a loss, particularly if there is a danger of something as serious as self-harm.

Not widely recognized, but of importance, is the need to provide bereavement care to children and young adults who have lost a parent or sibling. It is such a relatively specialized service that Rabbi Howard will often refer patients in need to organizations such as  Our House and others that specialize in child or adolescent care (

The death of a parent, sibling or someone close can be devastating for children and teens of all ages, says Our House. “Children experience a range of intense emotions including sadness, anger, fear and guilt. They often feel isolated and unable to talk about the death with peers who have not had a similar experience. They also may be reluctant to share their grief with surviving family members for fear of upsetting them. Too often, children end up grieving alone.,” says Our House.

From her years of providing bereavement care, Rabbi Howards readily admits that “The experience of losing a loved one, expected or otherwise, shakes us to our core. But in that undoing,” she says,” lies the seeds of what our new self, without that person, will become.  With the spiritual companionship that is available for this journey with a bereavement counselor, this process can be eased and become a journey of insight and renewed appreciation of life.”.

For more information or to make an appointment for bereavement care services with JHCLA, please call 310-277-1550 or contact



A Chaplains’Story: The Magic of Music and Memory

-Die Yiddishe Mamas im Altersheim

“I don’t like to talk about my age….” These were the first words my hospice patient, Alice [this and the following names are not the patient’s real names] said when we met for the first time, which happened to be on her 90th birthday. That was the most information I ever got from her; as the months progressed, it was unusual for her to say much of anything except smile, grimace and nod or shake her head. Her hearing was fortunately, still intact, so the only way we could communicate was through music and Yiddish songs, in particular. When I would start singing “Tumbalalaika” or “My Yiddishe Mame”, the glazed look in her eyes would suddenly sparkle once again and the Alice of long ago would emerge as she moved her lips with mine.

With “Phyllis”, it was a similar experience. Confined to her bed, with labored breathing, her isolation from the world as she once knew it, was leading her to greater depression and anxiety. In my role as hospice chaplain, I had the privilege of spending time with Phyllis, and listening to the passionate stories of dancing to Big Band music with her beloved husband of nearly 70 years.  But now, it was the rhythmic, lyrical verses of Yiddish and Hebrew melodies that seemed to bring her to life once again.

In the small, private senior facility “Libby” lived in, I would always find her propped up in her wheelchair in front of the TV watching action B-movies [which according to the staff, were her favorite movies]. After a series of strokes, Libby was no longer able to walk or speak;  but when we held hands and I sang a rhythmic Hava Nagila with her, her eyes lit up, she would open her mouth and  make incoherent but joyful sounds as we swayed together.

Did I mention that I have sung with a number of klezmer ensembles over the years and performed with the NYC Yiddish Theater? (Folksbine Theater] While I originally trained as a classical opera singer, one of my greatest passions is Yiddish – the language and the music. And some of the most magical moments have been when I encounter people for whom the language and music evoke tender recollections of their childhood.

During my years living in Hannover, Germany [1979-1991] first as a music student, and then free-lance singer/actress, I often volunteered at the Jüdisches Altersheim.  Perhaps because I was a child of older parents [Heb: bat z’kenim]who fled their respective countries [Germany & Lithuania] in 1939,I have always been drawn to the older generation. I longed to hear their stories, sing with them, keep them company and serve them their evening Kamillen Tee und Toast.  I even spent time visiting with the father of a internationally known pianist… he always seemed so lonely…But when I sang songs in Yiddish, they would sing along…some would cry, as the melodies awakened pleasant as well as painful memories. It may have been their only therapy…

Now, living in Los Angeles, in addition to serving a synagogue congregation as a cantor, I also work part-time as a hospice chaplain, sometimes driving an hour each way to see a hospice patient. Traffic is notoriously dense and erratic, especially during rush hour and there are days when I question, should I really be doing this? But then, after arriving, when I find myself face to face in a sacred encounter with a lonely, isolated human being, who has been sinking deeper and deeper into the recesses of her past, as I sing a familiar Yiddish or Hebrew melody, both of our spirits are restored as the music awakens a spark of life that lay dormant in her soul.

Cantor Jennifer Bern-Vogel

Essay written for GLOSSEN – a peer reviewed, bi-lingual scholarly journal on literature, art, and culture in the German speaking countries after 1945 and has been published since 1997, ed. Prof. Dr. Frederick Lubich – August 2019

Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care

Patient care is more than just healing — it’s building a connection that encompasses mind, body and soul. If you could stand in someone else’s shoes . . . hear what they hear. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Would you treat them differently?

CEO Toby Cosgrove, MD, shared this video, titled “Empathy,” with the Cleveland Clinic staff …


Mother/Daughter Bereavement Group

Jewish Healing and Hospice Center of Los Angeles is beginning a bereavement group designed especially for daughters who have lost mothers in the last 3 to 8 months. In our experience, the mother daughter bond is a unique and powerful one who’s loss is experienced differently from other relationships.
Sessions will be held Tuesday’s from 11:00-12:30. Please contact our office at (310) 277-1550 for location, details and to sign up. All groups are led by Rabbi Carla Howard.

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