Psycho-Therapist Donna Burstyn – An Interview

Her practice is in Beverly Hills. 310-859-9007, dbsmommy@aol.com.

Luke: "Donna, why did you become a therapist?"

Donna: "I was born to be a therapist. I was always a therapist. Even as a child, I was the one in the house who made peace. In school, I was the one kids went to to talk about their feelings. In high school, I was the one people went to if they thought they were pregnant or they were taking drugs… I was the sober ride. For some wonderful reason, I created a trusting environment for some people. I took that to mean that this is a calling."

Luke: "What do you love and what do you hate about your work?"

Donna: "I love making a difference. What’s really difficult is that it is not up to me. So sometimes I see people and I just have such a feeling about what they need to be doing to help themselves on their journey, but it doesn’t work as I would like it too. I am not in control of the therapeutic relationship. So sometimes when somebody goes down a journey that you know will be very painful for them, and they need to do it anyway. What’s real hard is the surrender on my part."

Luke: "When did you begin practice?"

Donna: "In 1991, after graduating from Antioch University.

"In 1978, I was part of the creation of a rape crisis help line. I did training for it and trained people for several years. I spent time in Israel working with under-privileged children in orphanages."

"The population I’m seeing hasn’t changed. In the 1970s, there wasn’t the internet. Today I see quite a few patients who are addicted to internet sex and how it has destroyed their marriages and destroyed their lives."

"Beverly Hills is a prime target for kids at risk who have a lot of money and feel this body dismorphic disorder that they’re not looking like the billboards. It’s happening as much with boys as girls."

Luke: "There are boys out there throwing up to look skinnier on a regular basis?"

Donna: "There are boys out there throwing up to look skinnier on a regular basis. About 70% are girls and about 30% are boys. And that number of boys is rising [proportionately]. At UCLA, their eating disorders clinic is filled to capacity. There’s a three month waiting list."

Luke: "What’s dismorphic mean?"

Donna: "It means they see their body as other than it is. Let’s say you ask somebody, ‘How big are your hips?’ They’ll stand in front of the mirror and close their eyes and hold out their hands. Then they’ll open their eyes and see their hips are way in there. But in their mind’s eye, their huge. They act in the world like they are this huge being.

"I see people who’ve had gastric bypass surgery. Let’s say they were 300 pounds. After seven months, they drop 70 pounds. After another seven months, they drop 50 more pounds. So they’re 150 pounds but they’re still carrying 300 pounds of pain.

"They haven’t gotten rid of what caused them to eat 300 pounds worth of food. They still walk around feeling huge. It takes about six years to feel yourself in a new body."

"If you flip through women’s magazines, every third article is a diet or a diet pill or it’s a diet enhancer. It’s hard to compete. Women start competing with each other instead of supporting each other."

Luke: "I bet that everyone who has a body image problem has a TV in their house while people who don’t have a TV, don’t have this problem."

Donna: "I’d think you’re right, but it’s not only television. There’s a woman I see who’s 5′11, blonde and beautiful, and she has a severe case of body dismorphia. She was pregnant last year. She watched her body expand. It was one of the most painful experiences. Now she’s starting to get back into her old body but her old body wasn’t good enough."

"Most cases of eating disorders start in the teens."

"I hope to be able to speak more at schools so I can tell people the signs and help them understand what they might miss if they didn’t know."

Luke: "How are your Orthodox patients different?"

Donna: "I see a lot of Orthodox patients who are newly married, a few months married, and they’re very disappointed because they didn’t know what to expect from each other. They don’t know how to do conflict resolution. They don’t know how to communicate with each other."

Luke: "How common are eating disorders in the Orthodox community?"

Donna: "Quite common. We like to keep it under wraps but it is no different. I’m going to be speaking at Shalhevet at the end of the month to the administration. There are several cases there where the other students told the administration that so-and-so’s eating disorder has kicked in again. They broke the code of silence to save a life. It happens to be two girls right now."

"Twelve step rooms are filled with Jews and Orthodox Jews."

Luke: "One of the things I love about Orthodox Judaism is that it is harder to be lonely in it than any other way of life of which I’m aware. The sense of community is so strong. What are the issues that come from this?"

Donna: "I like to use Orthodox Judaism as an example to my non-affiliated Jewish patients and non-Jewish patients of the importance of community. If you don’t show up, people wonder where you are and how you are. People care.

"It’s really easy in a big city to disappear.

"The drawback to community is that if you fall short, you fall short in front of everyone. And we do fall short. It’s a big challenge not to run. You know how difficult it is to stay put when an army of people seem to be against you. But that same army of people can endorse you."

"I lived on a kibbutz for many years. Everyone knows everything. Sometimes that’s a real pain."

Luke: "How important is it to lead an integrated life? Some people who find community smothering go off and leave it for a while to do their thing and then come back. Is that healthy?"

Donna: "I haven’t thought about that. It’s something I do. Sometimes we need to take space. I tend to find it in Montecito. If I’m lucky, Italy or a summer in Prague… There’s something about ‘Here nobody knows me’ that’s kinda cool. You can try on a new shaitel."

"I was voted most popular in high school. I didn’t belong to any one group. Everyone knew, she’s cool!

"I have a hard time when I’m judged for not being something enough. People say, ‘You’re Modern Orthodox? You don’t cover your hair? You wear pants? You eat vegetarian out? What is that? Yet you keep Shabbos and keep a kosher home?’"

Luke: "How has Orthodox Judaism affected your practice of psycho-therapy?"

Donna: "I’m never in the room alone."

Luke: "Your husband’s always there?"

Donna: "I don’t do any of this work without G-d’s help. There’s nothing I do or say that is not led by the Almighty. Before I go into a session, I always say a prayer, ‘Please G-d, let this person take away what they can. It’s in Your hands.’ I see myself as a vessel. We talk a lot about spirituality in my rooms. I’ve had non-Jewish patients say to me, ‘Donna, please pray to G-d for my health and recovery.’"

Luke: "I’m sure you have more non-Jewish patients who ask you to pray to G-d for their health and recovery than Jewish patients."

Donna: "You are right."

"I encourage people to develop a spiritual life."

Luke: "How has your practice of psycho-therapy affected your Orthodox Judaism?"

Donna: "I feel so frustrated sometimes as an Orthodox Jew when I hear other Orthodox Jews talk about certain behaviors they are engaging in that are so destructive to them and to the people in their lives. That breaks my heart."

"When they have been sentenced by a Beit Din to receive psycho-therapy. It hurts to listen to the pain people are in while they’re wearing a different uniform on the outside. I’m not as great a believer in the uniform people wear. There was a time when I really wanted to believe a rabbi was a person in good standing. I’ve seen many a rabbi in my office who suffer like the rest of us. Rebbitzen Weinberg from Baltimore told me a long time ago, ‘Wake up Donna! There is no difference in this community than any other. There are pedophiles in this community, sex addicts, drunks.’"

Luke: "Are Orthodox Jews more or less likely to get psycho-therapy?"

Donna: "The darker the yeshiva garb, the less likely. The more modern, the more likely.

"Last year Rabbi Kanefsky opened his shul to talking about pedophilia in yeshivot. There were rabbis from all different shuls who were invited to participate. It was very painful to hear from boys who’d been harassed and hurt by older boys and by teachers. Predators are often passed on to another yeshiva without getting them the help they need. The victim is left feeling alone. When they approach a rabbi, they’re often told it could not have happened."

"I think this conference was valuable. There hasn’t been one since then or I haven’t been invited to be a part of it."

"I believe in helping the victim and I believe in helping the predator."

Luke: "How has having kids affected you as a psycho-therapist?"

Donna: "I remember in graduate school there was a teacher who taught child development who had no children."

"Having an eternal responsibility is a valuable lesson in life. I’ve learned a lot about teamwork by having children. It’s the greatest opportunity to watch growth and have an impact on a life. Having four daughters is the gift I’ve always wanted."

We talk about online sex.

Donna: "I’ve had Orthodox men say they only read the written material and don’t look at the visual material because that would be forbidden. We all make our halacha where it fits us."

"Online sex drives many men to not be with their wives. They’ve already taken care of their own needs. Wives feel that they can not compare to the fantasies of these stories or the pictures. The men are spending a lot of money on these online sites, robbing family bank accounts. The alienation that gets created is really prohibitive and painful. Women start to doubt their ability to capture their man’s heart. It’s a wedge in a family."

Luke: "Have you ever had a female patient who was hurting the family bank account because she was buying pornography on the internet?"

Donna: "Not yet."

Our conversation wanders.

Donna: "And the massage parlors and how people choose to have Clintonesque sex just to not call it sex and to still come home.

"The people who are in my room are getting well. It’s the people who aren’t getting therapy that concern me."

"Many of those who come to see me for help were caught by their congregation and their computer confiscated. Or teachers at schools shared certain information or their hard drive was checked out and teachers have been asked to leave schools and get help. Those people end up working on the problem. Usually if someone has a big sexual investment online, they often have other addictions as well. It becomes a package deal. We might be dealing with over-eating, drinking, gambling."

Luke: "I heard one psychiatrist say that when a couple uses that material [porn] to strength the relationship, it’s harmless, but when it damages the relationship, it’s harmful. What do you think?"

Donna: "I only see the harmful, but that might only be the Orthodox in me speaking. I don’t like the idea of anybody else entering the bedroom. That completely takes away the holiness. I would not look at another man and I would want my husband to not look at another woman. It’s pretty final in my mind that that does not work, but I do have couples come to me. They both watch pornography and they both enjoy it and it enhances their sex life. If someone asks my opinion, I think it ruins the relationship."

Luke: "I can only imagine the horror of an Orthodox wife from a sheltered background walking into a room and finding her husband pleasuring himself to something online. Do you work with these wives?"

Donna: "I do. I usually do it as part of couples’ therapy… I’ll meet with the man alone and with the woman alone for a session or two. Some women, unfortunately, are not shocked. They feel like at least he’s getting it somewhere. No wonder it hasn’t been me. Oh, this makes sense now.

"There’s a couple I’m working with now who had a pretty similar example to what you said. What she said to him when she found him, ‘Oh, my poor husband. His neshama. He must be hurting so bad.’ It was such a different reaction from, ‘Betrayal! How dare you?’"

We talk about couples who no longer have sex.

Donna: "We talk about how to enliven your sex life and keep it fresh. After people have had children and they’re tired and they work, there’s not enough play time. We talk about taking a weekend, a night in a hotel, we talk about doing things so that you remember you are adults, it’s not just parent time, it’s adult time, which can be sexual time or sensual time. A lot of couples stop touching each other. Instead of rolling into each other, they roll away."

"I’ve had a lot of success in people re-uniting. It starts very gently. I start people off with sensory exercises, not sensual exercises. It takes the pressure away."

Luke: "What can you do with the narcissist?"

Donna: "Compliment them!"

We laugh.

Donna: "I feel so grateful to have you come to my office."

"Narcissism is apparent pretty quick. I think about the narcissistic wound that created that. And that’s where I pour all the love — into the original wound. It took someone vulnerable and hurt to rise up and put on their armor and charge forward in the world with the entitlement they never had. I go to the creation of the loss but very slowly, always keeping in mind that there was an injury that created this. That there’s a huge wound that created someone who feels better than anyone else and can do anything to anyone else and be above the rules, above the law, above mankind.

"They never come into therapy for them. They come into therapy because they want to talk about somebody who did them wrong. Their wife is an SOB and can I fix her? It’s always about the other. If I work gently enough, they’ll start to warm up to me. First they’ll ask for my credentials and how long have I been working here. They like that I work in Beverly Hills."

Luke: "What kind of person wants to be a on a reality show? A narcissist?"

Donna: "Not necessarily. There are personality types called histrionic. People who like to be seen. The narcissist might not be on television because if the narcissist fouled up, it would be too public and too painful.

"Some people are just happy go lucky. They don’t care that much."

"People who like to display themselves tend to be the ones to get the most public attention. They do things to get attention."

Luke: "Are there any typical problems that a famous person?"

Donna: "I have worked with many a famous person. The biggest consequence of fame is not knowing how to work in reality, especially when the fame dies down. People haven’t shopped for themselves, haven’t cooked for themselves, haven’t cleaned up themselves. I’ve had accountants send me checks. The client never asked how much the session cost.

"Sometimes they didn’t get signed for another season or they didn’t get that record deal and reality hits and they don’t know what to do.

"They don’t know who their friends are. Am I likable? I’ve been treating people horribly. They’re often dropped so fast. They’re only as good as their last performance. Their whole sense of self is contained in what they do."

"I worked with a supermodel for a year. In one of our first sessions, she said, ‘I’m just a hanger for beautiful clothes.’ There was nothing inside. She was an ugly duckling as a child. She grew into a swan. Members of her family were highly competitive with one another. For the last ten years, she’s been hitting runways all over the world. She has no relationship with anyone. She trusts no one."

Luke: "Why would you expect that women would support each other?"

Donna: "Because of our nature. Our natural state is to be supportive. I have a support group that runs every Wednesday night. It’s an eight-week commitment. Almost all the women there I’ve never had supportive women in their life. They never had a good relationship with their mom or sisters. Everyone was a rival. Their female bosses feel they need to be stronger, bigger, ballsier than men. The femininity is gone. Many women in our society are not working together. They’re working in opposition."

"We have nine regular attendants. In the group dynamic, people are turning into the sisters of, the mothers of, the friend who betrayed them… People take on different personalities. As people get closer, they get more afraid. They’re also trying on new things they never thought they’d dare for.

"It’s the most fun. Definitely my calling. I have this dream I will be running many women’s seminars. Doing healing workshops for women. Finding our inner voice, our strengths and overcoming addiction."

"For many years, I’ve worked with people with chronic illness. I have suffered with fibromyalgia since I was 20. I see people who have it worse than I do. I’m looking to create a support group for women with chronic disabilities."

Luke: "Can sexual predators be helped?"

Donna: "Some say no. If you’re talking about a classic child abuser, studies say no. It might be behavior modification or it might be that we need to inform everyone they know that they are a predator.

"But there are other types of predators. Juveniles who are acting out and seeking attention and can be helped. As we were talking about in the yeshiva section, feeling very sexual and sublimating their feelings and acting them out on somebody they feel won’t tell."

Luke: "If you met someone who was 40 years old and never married, and they seemed normal and they have a job, what things would come to mind?"

Donna: "Last week, I was at a Shabbat lunch. A gentleman said he was walking in my direction. I asked him to walk with me. Instead of saying, ‘I’d be delighted to,’ he said, ‘If you really want me to, I wouldn’t mind.’

"He was a forty-something never married. It was obvious. When people come into my room, the first thing I assess is how do they respond to me. Can they look me in the eye? How do they feel about themselves? Are they awkward? Do they over-magnify things? Where do they choose to sit in the room? What does the body language tell me? Somebody might say they want to be close, but their body language tells me otherwise. People can learn to change their body language. They can learn to change their words."

Luke: Can fear of intimacy, fear of rejection, fear of commitment, etc be overcome?

Donna: "Many can. When we become more intimate in the room, more vulnerable, they recognize they can be vulnerable. The majority of my practice is adult singles who’ve never been married between 35 and 45 yo. People who’ve been married before tend to marry again, much more quickly than those who’ve never married."

"I also believe in bibliotherapy so I’ll refer people to certain books and to journal what you’re feeling."

From the March 7, 2003 issue of the Jewish Journal:

While it is hard to cull out how many cyberaddicts are Jews, mental health professionals agree that there is no reason to believe the proportion is any different among the Jewish population than the general population.

“The Web site has become the opiate of the 21st century. It’s a wonderful way to stay in your secret world, your fantasy world,” said Donna Burstyn, a psychotherapist who has many Orthodox clients.

Donna says:

My main goal with clients is to foster a safe and nurturing environment so they may explore the fullest range of joy and healing. Many of us were raised by parents that were emotionally unavailable.I know that we internalize this information and create our own dysfunctional relationships with spouses, business partners and children & continue these unhealthy patterns. The information one learns about personal patterns and relationship is a valuable tool. From there we can make new choices. I work very compatably with 12-Step Programs and have been doing so for FIFTEEN YEARS.

In the beginning it is all about creating a comfortable place for people to be themselves. People that walk into a therapy office are very courageous to begin with and I tend to let things unfold rather than have my own agenda for them to step into.

Many clients of mine suffer from depression and anxiety. As an attempt to touch more people, I MAKE HOUSE SESSIONS when necessary (a rare find these days but much needed when working with clients in pain).

Here’s some information on Donna from the Psychology Today website:

GENERAL

  • Gender: Female
  • Years in Practice: 10 Years
  • Avg Cost (per session): $80-$89
  • Sliding Scale: Yes
  • Accepts Credit Cards: No
  • Accepted Insurance Plans:
    • Aetna
    • BlueCross and/or BlueShield
    • Oxford
    • United
  • Please ask about your health
    insurance coverage when you
    arrange your first visit.
CLIENT FOCUS
  •  
  • Ethnicity: Any
  • Gender: All
  • Religious Orientation: Any
  • Gay/Lesbian Expertise: Yes
  • Alternative Languages: Hebrew
  • Age: Adolescents, Adults, Children, Elders
QUALIFICATIONS
  • Graduate School: Antioch University
  • Year Graduated: 1991
  • License No. and State: MFC 32445 California

SPECIALTIES:

  • Chronic Pain or Illness
  • Relationship Issues
  • Life Coaching
  • Depression
  • Anxiety or Fears
  • Addictions or Substance Abuse
  • Child or Adolescent Issues
  • Divorce
  • Domestic Abuse or Violence
  • Eating Disorders
  • Gay Lesbian Issues
  • Loss or Grief
  • Parenting
  • Sex Therapy
  • Spirituality
  • Impulse Control Disorders
  • Thinking Disorders
  • CHRONIC PAIN AND CONDITIONS
TREATMENT PREFERENCES
  • Orientation:
    Family/Marital Therapy
    Psychodynamic
    TRANSPERSONAL/SPIRITUAL
    LIFE COACHING
  • Modality:
  • Couples
  • Family
  • Individuals
EASY ACCESS

Donna Burstyn also hosts the following groups:

Looking for Him: Finding You : A Woman’s Grp
9615 Brighton Way, Ste. 412, Beverly Hills, California
Every Wednesday at 8:15pm – 9:30pm
$30-$39 per session

This woman’s group focuses on self-esteem, body image, relationship patterns and personal growth in a safe and confidential small group atmosphere. women in transition are particularly supported by such a group.

Chronic pain & Illness: I WILL SURVIVE
9615 Brighton Way, Suite 412, Beverly Hills, California
Every Sunday, Monday at 9:15am – 10:30am
$30-$39 per session

For adults suffering with chronic conditions such as M.S., fibro-myalgia., chrones disease., chronic migraines, pain due to surgeries, etc. We work on relaxation techniques, sharing strength, experience, referrals and empathy in a loving, safe environment.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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