Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Counseling and Human Development

Degree Program

Counseling and Personnel Services, PhD

Committee Chair

Leach, Mark

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Owen, Jesse

Committee Member

Owen, Jesse

Committee Member

Possel, Patrick

Committee Member

Shuck, Brad


Jews--United States--Identity; Jews--Mental health--United States; Jewish way of life


Contemporary American Jews individually define their own Jewish identity developed through both religious and cultural foundations (Cohen & Eisen, 2000), yet there is limited empirical research on the experience of Jewish identity and its impact on mental and spiritual well-being. Beyond denominational affiliation, each Jewish individual builds a Jewish identity based on personally desired levels of participation in one’s Jewish community (Ideal Jewish Identity) as well as perceived expectations and obligations of a Jewish life (Ought Jewish Identity), although the internalized desires and expectations may not be fulfilled. Building upon the foundation established by Rogers (1954) and Higgins (1986), the perception of not being a “good enough Jew” can be conceptualized as self-discrepancies in one’s Jewish identity and may result in negative psychological and spiritual consequences. A large sample (N = 829) of Americans self-identifying as Jewish participated in an online survey which included completion of the American Jewish Identity Scale (Friedlander et al., 2010) from two different perspectives to calculate discrepancies. Results showed that Jews identified both Ideal and Ought Jewish self-discrepancies, religious Ideal and cultural Ought discrepancies demonstrated small positive effects on the presence of anxiety and depressive symptoms, and religious discrepancies positively impacted religious well-being. The perception of failing to meet the idiosyncratically defined desires and expectations of one’s Jewish identity, particularly concerning level of involvement in one’s cultural community, appears to reduce mental well-being while also stimulating motivation to increase religious participation. Exploration of Jewish identity, whether within empirical studies or affirmative therapy for Jewish individuals, would benefit from expanding the scope of understanding beyond denominational affiliation to include self-discrepancies in one’s religious and cultural identities.