A conversation with Debra Borden, novelist and ‘counselor-to-go’

A conversation with Debra Borden, novelist and ‘counselor-to-go’

Family and child therapist Debra Borden of Upper Saddle River took eight years off from her practice to write two novels for Random House: “Lucky Me” in 2005 and “A Little Bit Married” in 2007.

The following year, Borden, a licensed clinical social worker with a master’s degree from Fordham University, founded a Mahwah-based private practice, Counseling2Go, offering house calls (www.counseling2go.com). She recently discussed her unique business model – and her Jewish involvements – with The Jewish Standard.

Jewish Standard: Why start a mobile counseling service?

Debra Borden: I learned about in-home/in-community therapy from my work with Youth Success Network, a state agency through which I bring intensive therapy to [disadvantaged] families, in their homes, for eight to 12 weeks at a time. I didn’t understand why no one was doing this for people with insurance. In these difficult and complicated times, it’s amazing how many people, especially in Bergen County, want to take advantage of therapy but logistics keep them from it.

J.S.: Do you also meet clients outside their homes?

Debra Borden has created a mobile counseling service.

D.B.: Yes. I see one person on his lunch hour in a parking lot. I’ve met people at Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and park benches. I’ve gone walking together with clients. I recently started cooking with some of my clients and it’s an incredibly Zen-like, nurturing experience. Some of my adolescent clients don’t have a sense of mastery, and baking provides a satisfying finished product, even if you make a mistake.

J.S.: What kind of people tend to contact Counseling2Go?

D.B.: Often, it’s just a busy or discreet person who wants the convenience and privacy of getting therapy in his or her home or office. In New Jersey, adolescents age 14 and up can be seen without a parent present, so if you work all day but have teenagers for whom you’d really like to get help, they can be seen in the afternoon when they are at home but you are at work. And for family sessions, it’s so much easier to have everyone together at home instead of trying to schlep the whole crew to an office.

Many physicians ask for my cards, whether it’s for their post-partum patients who can hardly get in a shower with a newborn at home, let alone to a counselor, or for homebound patients with multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease [an inflammatory bowel disorder that affects Ashkenazi Jews four to five times more often than other population groups]. I’m very involved with Crohn’s because my brother has it, and I have ulcerative colitis. Because of what I’d been through, I knew with certain medical issues it can be difficult to get out of the house.

J.S.: Does your own Jewish background help in counseling other Jews, particularly those more traditionally observant?

D.B.: To a certain extent, people of all cultures want to see health professionals of their same or similar backgrounds. You don’t want someone who says, “You do what?” You want to be able to feel the person has a basic understanding of your lifestyle. Every new client will at some point ask me if I have children, if I’ve been divorced, if I have horrible in-laws. What they’re really saying is, “Are you going to be able to understand what I’m going through?”

But while it’s true that you can get into it more quickly if you already understand certain cultural nuances, a good therapist is trained to be sensitive and pick up on those cues. The essential piece is finding a good fit in personality and in strategies used to help you break the anxiety down into a couple of simple issues, things you can change and manage better.

J.S.: What is your family’s Jewish background?

D.B.: I grew up Reform in Great Neck, and my husband, Neal, grew up Orthodox in Monsey. We got married in the [Orthodox] Great Neck Synagogue, whose rabbi was kind enough to allow my rabbi to co-officiate. We kind of came together and raised our two kids Conservative. When we moved to Upper Saddle River in 1985, there wasn’t a big Jewish community and so we did Shabbat every Friday night and exposed the community’s children to it.

After nearly 30 years of marriage, and spending time with my husband’s family, I know so much about the Orthodox lifestyle. I haven’t lived it, but I know it. My husband goes to [Valley] Chabad, and Rabbi [Dov] Drizen and I have an e-mail relationship. He knows he can call on me to help the community in any way possible.

J.S.: Do you have other local Jewish affiliations?

D.B.: I am involved in the UJA [Federation of Northern New Jersey]. Last summer, I was asked to moderate a book club between Bergen County and Nahariya, its sister city through UJA Partnership 2000. The first meeting was successful; we discussed “A Pigeon and A Boy” by Meir Shalev by conference call with our Israeli participants. I had tracked down the translator and did an interview with him by e-mail. After [the] Madoff [financial scandal] happened, the project got derailed.

J.S.: Does your faith figure in your fiction?

D.B.: In “Lucky Me,” there’s a big seder scene, and that comes up no matter where I travel. In Montgomery, Ala., for example, I spoke at a library where the audience had never heard of a seder. They kept calling it “that dinner.”

J.S.: Speaking of dinner, are you a fan of ethnically Jewish foods?

D.B.: After acclimating to my husband’s family, I’m no longer horrified by the look and taste of cholent. Best of all, even if my husband’s family can’t eat it from my kitchen, I make a mean mandel bread.

read more: