Psychotherapy with the Amish

Photo from Wikipedia. Click for sourceNPR has a fascinating segment on psychotherapist Jim Cates, who works with Amish youth who are experiencing the turbulent time of ‘Rumspringa‘ – a period when they get to experience non-Amish life so they can decide whether they want to commit to their parents’ culture and traditions.

The Amish are a community based around Anabaptist Christianity who, to varying degrees, refuse modern technology and the common social practices of North America.

However, during the time of Rumspringa, the youth are free to wear modern clothes, use technology, and may experiment with drink, drugs and sex – on the basis that the Amish want their youth to freely enter their tradition having had the opportunity to experience the alternative.

For some young people, this causes some difficulties, not least with some who encounter difficulties with drink, drugs or emotional adjustment and Jim Cates is a psychotherapist who helps the young people work through the issues.

He describes how he needs to take a radically different approach when conducting psychotherapy with Amish youth, owing to the markedly different way of thinking, particularly about the role of the individual in society.

Cates notes that while traditional American culture is individualist, Amish culture is strongly collectivist, to the point where talking about yourself is seen as prideful and individual work without the involvement of the family is at best uncomfortable and at worst inconceivable.

In the NPR piece, Cates gives some fascinating insights into his take on Amish psychology and discusses the innovative approach he needs when working with the culture.

It’s one of the most interesting and surprising radio pieces I’ve heard in a while, and is by the excellent Alix Spiegel, who also produced the gripping 81 words.

Link to NPR ‘One Man Tackles Psychotherapy For The Amish’.

3 thoughts on “Psychotherapy with the Amish”

  1. It might be available cocktail party small-talk info, or maybe not, but as a native german speaker I just wanted to share the humble knowledge that the german term “rumspringen” means “jumping around”, in a literal sense, and – if I may trust my seasoned aunt – also in a figurative meaning, referring to ‘indecent’ behaviour with a frequent sexual connotation. A “Rumspringer” would be a person doing so, and, althought this is a term uncommon in contemporary german, this might point to the term’s very origin, having the Amish history in mind (and Pennsylvania German/Dutch), who more or less just missed the Mayflower.
    Interesting article and somewhat compelling concept for an anabaptist community altogether… 🙂

  2. Just a quick comment to say, This is Chris Weber, I was one of the other voices on that report, anyone interested in our work can check out the program at the Amish Youth Vision Project: I could editorialize at length about “That movie” filmed in and around Topeka some years ago, but I would just encourage people to look behind and beyond the sensationalism of the film before making judgment.

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