Sunday, December 27, 2015

Torah and Psychology: Fundamental Issues by Dr. Baruch Shulem

This is a response to the recent post about Torah and Psychology.  It is very concise but covers most of the issues raised. Read it slowly and carefully.


I. Partial list of potential relationships between Torah and psychology/psychiatry.
1. Torah and/or  Psychology i.e. a relationship between equals – compare and contrast these separate entities
2. Torah versus Psychology  i.e. a relationship based on adversity or competition (between equals)
3. Torah analyzes Psychology i.e. Torah as the superior entity determines the value of all things in our world – including psychology.
4.  Psychology of Torah i.e. Psychology analyzes Torah from a superior position- found often in academic frameworks
5. Using psychology to ‘prove Torah as relevant or ‘true’ i.e. psychology being the gold standard and paradoxically superior.
6. Psychology as religion the standard to define goals, means and standards of ‘good living’ and ‘health’.

II. Different types of therapist

 I have encountered all of these relationships in my many years of working and teaching mental health professionals. I went through some of them myself before finding a home. I have categorized my colleagues and students into three very different groups:
1.     Secular therapists - #6 His or her training determines what language and techniques can and should be used. Religious issues are ‘just content’.
2.     A therapist who is religious - #1 His or her primary identification is with ‘psyc theory and interventions’. Psyc will determine health and goals. Religion is a person value not to be allowed to contaminate therapy.
3.     A religious therapist -#3 -  I use Torah language and goals supplementing my Torah work with people using secular instruments for measuring outcome and on occasion some medication.


III. Two Basic Tenents of all modern Psychotherapy.

All of modern psychotherapy is predicated on two basic tenets: the use of talking to develop a ‘clients’ ability to productively decide and carry out his goals in life. All of the divergent theories and systems of psychotherapy have seemingly contradictory vocabularies:   Gestalt – emotional expression
                   Cognitive – thoughts and ideas patterns of decision making
                   Psychodynamic – early childhood memories and emotions
                   Jungian – dreams and symbolism
                   Family therapy – structure, boundaries, relationships
                   Solution oriented – identifying strengths planning future activities
This all too short summary does not do justice to the depth and vastness of these theories and descriptions of the helping processes.  It does though show that there is no one acceptable theory is recognized or ‘proven’ to be effective or efficient. All are based on human dreams, ideas, theories, or attractive nonsense. 

All of these, and many more other therapies, have two things in common: a central tool is ‘talking or speech’. The second common element is the goal to influence who I am talking with – to help him ‘get better, healthier, happier, more in control of his or her life.’
            Talking and helping the person to ultimately be more in control of some part of his or her life.
            Thousands of pages, books, and training seminars.  Each approach claims to be the ‘one’ way to help.

IV. My personal Torah based approach
            The Torah approach I use is based on 16 words:

Genesis II, 7
Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.[1]

We were given two gifts: the power of speech and freedom to choose. I work only with these two gifts.
            The non-Jews were on to something when the developed “psychology”. Like many things from Torah they didn’t understand the depth – they got only the outer covering, they were moving in the right direction, but stopped too soon . 
We have the whole ‘thing’ – Adam body and soul
I believe the ongoing discussion of about ‘psychology’: “Kosher or not” is at best misplaced.

These two gifts are enough to carry out a fully effective and efficient helping process plus they come from a trusted source.

Baruch Shulem



 [1] ספר בראשית פרק ב     (ז) וַיִּיצֶר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו  נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה

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