(VIDEO) New Program at Yeshiva U Trains Rabbis How to Counsel with Help from Professional Actors

(Vos Iz Neias) New York - A new program at Yeshiva University is bringing practical experience into the classroom and insuring a rabbi's first counseling experience isn't high stakes with the help of actors.

"The actors let the students have an experience that is almost impossible to get on an internship. All of our students serve in congregations but it is so hard to give them real life counseling situations," said Yeshiva University professor Rabbi Marc Penner.

The students take turns talking with the actors, trying to figure out the root of the issue and how they can help. The rest of the class then discusses the mock-counseling session -- a technique often used in medical schools.

"They really need to have mental health skills. And we are giving them the skills to lead. In many ways rabbis are really the front line. They really get the people before they get to the psychologists," Penner said.

Students say that the professional actors bring a level of reality to the situation that helps them feel prepared.

"I think it is very useful because they can act out the part of the people with these issues. Previously, we tried to do this with people in our class, and we do that some of the time as well, and I just think that the actors are so much more effective," said Yeshiva University student Avi Narrow-Tilonsky.

"Because of this program, because of the actors that we bring in, they are really able to simulate what would happen in their office," Penner said. "And what happens is, they make a lot of mistakes. And the great thing is, they make them in the classroom rather than in an office and that is what makes this training so important."

The program has been so successful this year that Yeshiva plans to continue, and expand, its work with the actors. Both the students and teachers say that other theological seminaries, regardless of religion, may want to take note.

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