Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rabbis requesting psychiatric drugs for students II

As a result of the Haaretz report two week ago   ("Rabbi's Little Helper," April 6 ) - about the conferral of psychiatric medication at the request of rabbis and Orthodox activists, for purposes described as "spiritual" rather than medical - a number of persons turned to Haaretz with their personal stories. 

The Gur Hasid trembled in pain as he spoke about a family gathering held at Purim. One daughter in the extended family, a married woman with children, attended the big holiday meal after a long period in which she had remained secluded in her home. "We were shocked," the man recalled. "At the beginning, we could barely identify her. This is a woman who has always been blessed with a lively, expressive personality, but now it looks like pills have finished her off. We met an apathetic woman who has a solemn, stony face; a woman who has had the life sucked out of her."

The ultra-Orthodox man says the woman's husband belongs to a well-connected family in the Gur community, and so the man's family attached "responsibility" for the situation in the house to the woman, and demanded she receive medication. "She was told that the Gur Rebbe wants her to take medication, and that the pills would restore order to her home. Nobody knows whether the rebbe really said that, but this is what persuaded her." 

The Hasid from Bnei Brak presented his story as part of a trend of Orthodox referrals to private psychiatric clinics as a result of internal communal issues - typically family cases. Such referrals often override the patients' own desires; usually, he patient does not really understand the nature of the treatment. Psychiatrists and psychologists also approached the newspaper, and reported cases of unethical uses of medication.[...]


  1. Based on a friend's recommendation, I read the critically acclaimed (and very popular) Young Adults fantasy novel "The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman a few years ago. I thought that its central premise of a dominant religious hierarchy (a thinly-disguised Catholic church, but really a stand-in for any religious orthodoxy) pursuing the attainment of spiritual perfection for its adherents through experimentation with technological means of severing the connection between man and his animating inner soul was a laughably infantile critique of organized religion. These articles, which read like Pullman's book playing out in real life, make me very nervous.

  2. Recipients and PublicityApril 23, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    It is well known that Charedi rabbanim despise the field of knowledge of psychology and psychiatry. They often explicitly condemn both the study of psychology/psychiatry and the practice of it. But they nevertheless at the very same time very cynically and almost diabolically take advantage of the reality that the psychotropic medications that psychiatrists use to cure patients or alleviate their suffering can and are used to "control" wayward or ill members.

    It is as if the rabbanim, while hating and preaching against the "evils" of psychology/psychiatry, disembody one of the most important tools (medicines) available to mental health professionals and abrogate it for themselves to wield as nothing less than a weapon in the service of social control.

    Think of the absurdity of all this. Would a rov even dare pick up a scalpel to do surgery on a someone who needed it? Or would they prescribe chemotherapy for someone with cancer? Never in a million years. They would advise to do everything under the guidance of the "most qualified" doctors tops in their fields. But when it comes to psychiatric medications, far too many rabbonim become "mevinim" and have no qualms about pushing dangerous drugs that they know nothing about, just that they act like "magic" on people, as if they were drug pushers manipulating victims.

    This is but yet another sign of how unbridled Charedism resembles totalitarianism in its quest to use the mental health field as the old-time Soviets used "psychiatric wards" to control or imprison dissidents who acted differently to what the elite desired, rather than letting qualified doctors treat the genuinely sick mentally ill patients that are brought to them without either governmental or rabbinic interference.

  3. As a mental health professional who works with the Haredi community, I would love to hear your thoughts on this. On one hand, it's incredibly disturbing, but on the other hand, the story fits so closely to secular caricatures of religious communities that I can't shake the feeling that it's a case of Haredi-baiting by Haaretz.

    I mean, is this something more than schools being overzealous in prescribing medication to control "misbehaving" students (e.g. ADHD drugs in American classrooms) or the wealthy elite using their connections to access prescription psychiatric drugs for abuse (rich housewives strung out on valium and zoloft is so common as to be a caricature in its own right)?

    1. no the article is accurate. I know of a case where a psychologist concluded that the marriage was destroying the wife and recommended divorce. Husband rebbe ordered the therapist to get the wife on a regimen of medication until the kids were married off. When the therapist refused he was blacklisted for future referrals from that rebbe.
      Dr.Bonet was mentioned in the article and was very open about what is going on. He is not religious - but he has a very popular with the chareidi world.
      BTW it is not just the chareidi world - I have similar issue when parents bring in a child that they want to function a certain way or there is pressure put on me by a spouse who wants me to accept her view of the problem or a rebbe or rosh yeshiva who feels that they have the right to determine goals for therapy.

  4. Recipients and PublicityApril 24, 2012 at 6:54 AM

    "Tzurah this something more than schools being overzealous in prescribing medication to control "misbehaving" students (e.g. ADHD drugs in American classrooms) or the wealthy elite using their connections to access prescription psychiatric drugs for abuse (rich housewives strung out on valium and zoloft is so common as to be a caricature in its own right)?"

    RaP: It is VERY surprising that you say this because you commit a basic error of logic and argumentation by CONFUSING THE CATEGORIES and by being guided by a RELATIVE MORALITY to defend the indefensible.

    First of all, Charedi rabbonim are NOT and cannot be like secular schools that prescribe Ritalin. In any case, all such schools have mental health professionals on staff and teachers refer children/students to qualified and licensed psychologists or social workers or psychiatrists who are not under the thumb of the teachers and educators, who are then the ones who make autonomous decisions about treatment plans and what to prescribe. Unlike those rabbonim who are inserting themselves into the actual decision-making process and acting as the "cheering squads" and "team owners" attempting to exercise total control over the lives of those troubled people under them. Again, think of a situation where someone comes down with cancer. No rov would dream of getting involved in the chemotherapy and surgery that could come, unlike with mental health where they often feel like "free agents" to prescribe and push their own "medical" solutions.

    Secondly, comparing spoiled housewives or mixed-up people (and by the way, it can happen to be in the frum world and it does) to the role of rabbonim getting involved in going beyond giving eitzos (guidance) and crossing red lines by recommending that this or that medication or psychological treatment be applied to people in their communities is a VERY dangerous precedent that could and does encourage abuse of power over people. A Chasidic Rebbe or Rov or a Litvish or Charedi leader should not be anywhere near making decisions about what medications to give or not give especially in a field as complicated as mental health issues, because there is a dangerous line that's crossed between just helping people and mind control that inevitably furthers the aims of the leader, unlike ditzy housewives and reckless party-goers who are using drugs in a wild "recreational" and irresponsible way to get on cheap thrills, highs and escapism.

  5. I read a quote from one of the Ger chassidim in one of these articles, to the effect that everyone in the community is expected to only have marital relations once a month. Many of the prescriptions are apparently meant to reduce sex drive.

    This seems to illustrate very well the principle that a chumra should be an individual matter, and not something required uniformly of everyone in the community. The normal halacha, I believe, is for couples to have marital relations at least once a week (and that's for Torah scholars), and up to every day (for those who enjoy the pleasures of life, as the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch puts it). Requiring a whole community to go far beyond the halacha is bound to create problems.

    There is also the larger problem of conformity. Not sure what can be done about that, aside from dropping the insistence on community-wide chumras. But reforming or abolishing or allowing alternatives to the shidduch system, which reportedly makes families obsessed with being exactly like everyone else and never showing any signs of any problems or nonconformity, may help.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.