Narrative Construction of Distress and Therapy: A Model Based on Work with Ultra-Orthodox Jews

Eliezer Witztum, Yehuda Goodman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Based on therapeutic work and research carried out in a psychiatric clinic in Israel that specializes in the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox community, we suggest a culturally adapted narrative paradigm for the understanding and treatment of mental disorders. We analyze five stories of illness to show how individual distress is constructed as a dramatic narrative inspired by shared cultural symbols and enacted in specific interpersonal and social contexts. The proposed model is grounded in mental illness narratives told by anti-heroes, the patients, who are trapped in relationships with non-human figures. The therapeutic interventions aim to help them find and exercise alternative plots that adhere to common cultural themes in their society, in which they become active agents. Culturesensitive ‘reading’ of such narrativization processes, combined with strategic psychological considerations, is important for successful therapeutic efforts in cross-cultural settings, and also aids in the creation of an empathic attitude and a therapeutic alliance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-436
Number of pages34
JournalTranscultural Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Israel
  • Ultra-Orthodox Jews
  • cross-cultural therapy
  • narrative construction of distress
  • narrative therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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