Interview with Roni Berger – Professor at Adelphi University | Psychotherapy & Trauma in Cross-Cultral Contexts

About Roni Berger, Ph.D., LCSW: Roni Berger was born and raised in Israel where she earned her BSW, MSW and PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and her diploma in psychotherapy from Tel Aviv University Medical School. She is a licensed clinical social worker in New York, as well as a certified family therapist in both Jerusalem and New York. Prior to immigrating to the United States 25 years ago, she worked in several clinical, educational, supervisory and administrative positions in diverse health and social service agencies. Since 1993, Berger has been teaching at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, where she currently has the rank of full professor. She has worked as a consultant; authored, co-authored and edited 10 books; and been published in a wide range of journals. Berger’s specialties and areas of interest include psychotherapy, trauma, post-traumatic growth, immigration, stepfamilies, youth in residential treatment, and the facilitation of parents groups. Roni Berger was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] You earned your Bachelor of Social Work, your Master of Social Work and your doctorate all in Israel, but you currently teach at Adelphi University in New York. Are there significant differences in social work education and practice in Israel versus the United States?

[Roni Berger, Ph.D., LCSW] The structure of higher education in the United States and in Israel is quite different. The main difference is that students choose their professional or scholarly direction at the start of their education. Thus, most professional schools grant bachelor’s degrees rather than master’s-level degrees. Therefore the BSW is the qualifying degree and people with a BSW can be certified social workers. The MSW may include some material that is taught in a U.S. doctoral program. For example, a considerable part of my MSW courses focused on advanced research methods as well as advanced practice knowledge. According to the European educational tradition, the PhD is primarily independent learning rather than the fully-structured program we know in the United States.

Those who plan to study abroad must be aware that they may encounter numerous bureaucratic challenge if they want to practice in the United States, as the process of “translating” and recognizing a foreign degree is challenging. Although individuals may have learned similar content, it may not be recognized in the United States. For example, I came to the United States with rich practice experience and served in supervisory positions; however, in my effort to gain recognition of my credentials to become a certified (or in today’s land licensed) social worker in New York, I was required to present evidence that I completed a large amount of supervised work after earning my MSW.

The problem is that in many cases those with an MSW are the supervisors in other countries and therefore, their experience may not fit the U.S. criteria that are tailored to the U.S. educational system. In my case, what saved me was the fact that I had a diploma in psychotherapy, which included a lot of documented specialized. It was eventually recognized as equivalent to meeting the required standards, though objectively, it exceeded what a graduate with an MSW in the United States has. I believe that the procedures for transferring credentials earned abroad can benefit from a review and potentially revision without compromising professional standards.

In terms of practice, a lot is similar between social work practice in the United States and Israel. For example, in addition to the obvious, such as major differences in cultural norms between the two countries and the need to know the language, one must be informed and aware of differences in cultural norms within the very diverse Israeli society including Orthodox, religious and secular Jews, Muslim and Christian, Arabs, Druze and Bedouins to mention just a few. This affects all aspects of assessment and service provision and requires quite intense training in culturally competent and culturally sensitive practice.

The structure of service is also quite different. For example, in Israel probation services are part of the welfare rather than the judicial system, and probation officers must be social workers. Because Israel has a national medical insurance system, all are covered and the number of uninsured people is very small. Israel is affected by numerous stressors including living under a constant existential security threat, numerous immigrants from diverse cultures, and the shadow of the Holocaust (including second- and third-generation survivors). This creates a significant number of people whose lives are affected by trauma directly or vicariously.

[] Besides studying social work, you also studied psychotherapy. What is the relationship between psychotherapy and social work? Should social workers be pursuing more in-depth psychotherapy education?

[Roni Berger, Ph.D., LCSW] Some social workers who practice in the field of mental health may wish to be able to provide psychotherapeutic services. In many agencies, social workers with the appropriate training are providers of such services. In the United States, the preference is that social workers who want to provide psychotherapy carry a clinical license (LCSW). This is also reflected in reimbursement policies of health insurance companies. It may be beneficial for social workers to consider pursuing education in psychotherapy via institutes and continuing education programs if they are interested in providing mental health services, especially in private practice.

[] The School of Social Work at Adelphi University (AUSSW) seeks to prepare its students to make a difference at health and human service agencies throughout the New York metropolitan area. What are the particular social work challenges facing New York? How does the university prepare its students to meet those challenges?

[Roni Berger, Ph.D., LCSW] Social work challenges in the New York metropolitan area are shaped by its location and diverse nature. The area includes urban, suburban and rural areas, each of which presents unique challenges and typical problems. Some critical issues are the aging of the population, providing services to a large number of immigrants, youth in distress who run away to the area from other parts of the country, and the diversity in terms of racial, ethnic, religious and socio-economic background. Consequently, to provide effective services, social workers need to be trained in providing culturally competent services as well as trauma-informed services.

AUSSW provides both an explicit and implicit curriculum that equips students with the relevant knowledge and skills to address these challenges. This is done by means of a rich explicit curriculum in five sequences. In addition, students take three electives from a rich menu of possible options and are offered the opportunity for specialization in fields such as mental health, substance abuse, and trauma in context; health across the life span; children and families; or human services management and organizational leadership.

[] One of your research interests is trauma in cross-cultural contexts. How does your interest and research in the subject manifest in the courses you instruct at Adelphi? What should your students expect from your classes?

[Roni Berger, Ph.D., LCSW] I developed and have been teaching two courses relevant to this question. First, a course on stress, trauma, crisis and post-traumatic growth that I developed focuses on understanding micro and macro dimensions of stress, crisis, trauma and coping, as well as the short- and long-term consequences for diverse client systems along the life cycle in diverse socio-cultural contexts.

In addition, a couple of years ago, I developed and led a study abroad course on trauma and growth in the multicultural context of Israel. This intensive course offer students a rare opportunity for learning and experiencing firsthand the unique characteristics, effects, challenges and intervention strategies applicable in a society residing at the intersection of ongoing exposure to highly stressful and potentially traumatizing events and multiculturalism — all within the context of breathtaking natural beauty and the ancient historical sites of Israel.

Detailed information about and discussion of the courses can be found at:

  • Berger, R. & Paul. M. S. (2015). Teaching cultural aspects of trauma practice in a study abroad immersion course: Challenges and Strategies. International Social Work. DOI: 10.1177/0020872815611198
  • Paul, M. S. & Berger, R. (2015). Eleven days in Israel: A unique and innovative experience in teaching trauma practice. Reflections, 20(2), 63-71.

[] You teach both MSW and doctoral students at Adelphi. Besides their degree of social work education and experience, are there any characteristics that divide your MSW students from your doctoral students? Should more social workers be pursuing their doctorates?

[Roni Berger, Ph.D., LCSW] One leading principle in the field of social work is that one should become a lifelong learner. In my opinion, the major difference between master’s- and doctorate-level education is that the former teaches students how to effectively and critically employ available knowledge in providing services to client systems of all sizes; whereas the latter trains them in generating new knowledge to further develop the available professional body of knowledge. Those who are interested in becoming social work educators, researchers or high-level administrators should pursue doctoral studies, whereas those who are interested in providing highly competent services may prefer to pursue “horizontal” further education such as in an institute to gain experience serving population groups, working with clients with specific problems, or learning about particular intervention modalities and approaches.

Thank you Roni Berger for your time and insight into social work!

Last updated: April 2020