Psychotherapy and Judaism: Conflicts and Solutions (Hebrew)

Baila Sosevsky

From the very beginning of the development of psychology as a discipline there has been a tense dialogue between psychology and religion, the reason being the significant overlap in interests. They each take positions on understanding human nature but arrive at seemingly different conclusions. As opposed to the exact sciences, which were accepted by Halakha, psychology was perceived as contradicting the foundations of religion, posing a threat to religion and even aspiring to replace it. The overlap between the two invites dialogue and provides opportunity for confronting the challenges they present one another.

There are various approaches to the relationship between psychology and religion: On the one extreme we find the positions of Freud and psychodynamic theorists who for many years viewed religion as a pathology demanding treatment. On the other extreme we find religious authorities who for many years delegitamized the right of psychology to express an opinion as to human nature and provide an alternative to religion in the process of change and growth.

With time positions softened and a genuine dialogue began between the two disciplines. Simultaneously Orthodox Jews started to practice therapy and the once theoretical dialogue developed practical applications.

This paper attempts to define the conflicts, which concern Orthodox therapists and some of the various solutions they have arrived at.

The first chapter discusses conflict on the practical-Halakhic level. Therapy arouses many Halakhic questions specific to psychotherapy. It seems that the antagonism between the two disciplines resulted in a lack of systematic responsa on therapeutic issues. This section presents problematic issues and questions common amongst therapists. Described are the challenges therapists encounter in the search for rabbinic guidance sensitive to psychological issues. Described in addition is an attempt to enhance cooperation between therapists and rabbis. The purpose of this initiative is to deepen the rabbis' awareness and sensitivity to therapeutic perspectives and to encourage psychologically attuned Halakhic rulings.

The second chapter discusses conflicts on the theoretical-philosophical realm. Issues of interest to both disciplines are discussed. Examples of points of conflict which concern Orthodox therapists are free will vs. determinism, neutrality vs. religious subjectivity, God's place in the world, spirituality, ethnocentrism vs. Theo- centrism etc. Possible resolutions to these conflicts are classified into three models:

  1. the separation model (Split)

  2. the integration model

  3. the reconstruction model

The separation model refers to therapists who live their lives according to religious values and work according to strictly professional values.

The integration model combines various approaches to synthesizing religion and psychology. Described are attempts at reframing psychological concepts, backing up psychological concepts and theories with Torah ideas and sources and the attempt to draw parallels between various psychological schools of thought and religious movements.

The reconstruction model refers to new theories and approaches developed by therapists who reject the above models in favor of new theories which are Judaically inspired.

A short critique follows the discussion of each model.

The last chapter deals with the some possible ramifications for the field of education. The need for a deep exploration and study of the psychological insights of Torah and the development of psychologically in-tune Torah curricula is suggested. Such study can move the religious community a step further toward establishing an authentic, broad religious psychological theory which can hopefully replace secular psychology.


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