It's not just that the victim didn't turn into a criminal; the former victim actually ended up becoming a good person.
Not a perfect person, but definitely a good person.
Nice. Moral. Compassionate.
The former victim became a decent spouse and parent.
Having said that, I do think that therapy with a goal-oriented emunadik therapist and a sincere and willing client can be very helpful (although the main work really needs to be done by the person him- or herself).
The problem is that many therapists (even frum ones) aren't necessarily emuna-oriented and many clients are not willing to do the real cheshbon hanefesh and middot work it takes to improve.
However, this idea that people cannot recover from traumatic experiences, that they cannot overcome their upbringing, without modern psychological theories and modern psychological treatment continues to be doggedly promoted, both in the secular world and the frum world.
This idea has become an absolute.
But I personally know or have read about people who overcame very difficult childhoods to become very decent people. Not perfect people, but certainly not dysfunctional people. Not even close.
And they did at least most of it without therapy.
Also, from the therapist's side of things...a person doesn't necessarily need a degree in psychology to help others.
Often, a caring friend with a strong sense of empathy, emotional intelligence, and emunah can do the job just as well if not better.
And what I discovered from reading Holocaust memoirs was that people were a lot more aware than we are given to believe.
And people were able to help each other.
A lot depended on how much the other cared about the person in trouble and whether they understood what that particular person needed.
Again, empathy & emotional intelligence played a huge role in helping the other.
(SPOILER ALERT: This post references the endings of several books you may or may not have read.)
Empathy & Validation as Natural Responses to Pain
First of all, the survivors grouped together and repeatedly told their stories.
And everyone listened to each other empathetically.
This repeated outpouring of experiences, including lots of tears and non-judgmental listening, continued until the survivors no longer needed to do this.
It was a kind of purging of pain.
Interestingly, people who suffered through a death camp did not scoff at the pain of survivors of convents or others who, though they also suffered, had it much easier than those in a death camp.
A Death Camp Survivor Comforts a Survivor of the Convent
All the girls there are trying to rebuild their shattered lives.
One day, one of the other girls notices that Chana looks sad.
Annette, the survivor of the death camps, comes over to Chana and smiles at her understandingly and asks, gently, "Are you still 'there' in your memories?"
When Chana answers in the affirmative, Annette reassures her, "Don't worry. It's impossible to erase everything all at once. Slowly you'll free yourself. I am the same way."
This is astonishing empathy from a girl who survived torture and starvation while Chana lived in the relative safety and nourishment of the convent. Yes, most of the nuns were abusive and the convent was terribly cold in the winter while the food only fulfilled their minimum caloric needs...but it was still a nice refuge compared to the horrors of Auschwitz.
Annette goes on to say, "I understand that you didn't have it easy either."
How can Annette even compare the two? How is Annette so empathetic toward Chana's trauma when Annette's trauma was so much worse? Annette is obviously a genuinely caring & understanding young woman.
Then Annette reminds Chana that Annette's "there" was much worse than Chana's "there" – but not to put down Chana or invalidate Chana's pain.
On the contrary, Annette seeks to encourage Chana that if Annette and the other camp survivors can rehabilitate themselves, then Chana can too.
Then Annette gives an inspiring speech about the will to survive and to rebuild the Jewish people.
"I know it is hard to continue, but one must," Annette concludes.
Chana feels invigorated by Annette while the reader feels awed.
How is Annette so empathetic and encouraging of a girl who hadn't suffered nearly as much as she did?
It certainly wasn't because of anyone psychological theories! After all, these girls never learned psychology; they were only teenagers by the end of the War.
Annette simply possessed a wise & discerning heart, a good heart (which Pirke Avot tells us is the most important thing to have).
Post-Trauma Depression & How Survivors Dealt with It
In A Daughter of Two Mothers, twentysomething Leichu finds herself depressed around a month after Liberation.
She feels confused by and terribly ashamed of her own crying because she realizes that, hidden in a cave amid a beautiful forest by a Roma (gypsy) couple who treated her as if she was their own cherished daughter, Leichu got off quite lucky in comparison to her fellow Jews.
And while they came close to starvation at one point, Leichu and the Roma couple managed to have proper heating and delicious nourishing food most of the time.
But after Liberation, Leichu is surrounded by survivors of the ghettos and death camps.
So she feels ashamed of her grief.
Silently, Leichu cries and sinks into lethargy.
At one point, Mathili (a friend from before the War & a survivor of Auschwitz) decides that Leichu has been depressed for long enough.
She shouts at Leichu with "terrible screams" designed to jumpstart Leichu from her bed.
Once Leichu is on her feet, Mathili then switches to a loving & earnest approach. She implores Leichu to stop her obsessive thoughts of "What if I'd done this or what if I'd done that?" regarding Leichu's murdered mother.
Mathili then gives Leichu a beautiful speech of loving mussar, strengthening Leichu's emuna and reminding Leichu that "even though we don't understand, even though it is very, very hard for us – it was all done for our good somehow."
This is amazing emuna coming from a young woman who lost so much.
But from what I've read, it wasn't uncommon for fellow Holocaust survivors to allow each other that time to grieve and be depressed, then spur each other out of depression before losing themselves completely.
Again, the empathy, the understanding that grief & crying is acceptable & appropriate, but that at some point, one needs to be spurred out of it – where was it coming from?
There were no therapists around.
And while psychological theories proliferated in the early 20th Century, these young people would not have encountered the theories prior to the War, both because of their youth and their inaccessibility.
Because of their good sense and their caring hearts, they were able to do instinctively what psychologists claim is impossible without their theories.
Maybe It's Not Lack of Therapy That's The Problem, But Too Much Shallow Culture?
Because in Eretz Yisrael, they were allowed to talk about their experiences.
In America, they were expected to repress them.
And sometimes the obtuseness survivors faced just made you go "Huh?"
For example, I remember reading one memoir in which the teenage survivor who ended up with relatives in the US was expected to go to sock hops and wear lipstick in order to forget her torture in Auschwitz. Her American family could not understand why she could not put the horrors behind her and immerse herself in the non-Jewish teeny-bopper lifestyle of the 1950s.
In Leah Kaufman's Live! Remember! Tell the World!, Leah survives the brutal Transnistria death march and is one of 3 survivors of Pechora, one of the most horrific death camps in Transnistria.
By age 10, Leah had seen her entire family die one by one, along with other truly horrific incidents. She needed to survive on her own in a cruel & genocidal world.
And with Hashem's Help, she did.
In 1947, Canada offered to accept over a thousand child survivors (on the condition that the Canadian Jewish Congress took full responsibility for their support) and Leah was one of them.
Though the director of the Jewish Immigrant Aide Society pondered how to greet the traumatized children in the most healing way possible, including preparing the aides with "social work techniques" designed with the traumatized children's needs in mind, Leah remembers the techniques and approaches as "empty, cold, and inappropriate."
The social workers also tried to get the children to open up about their experiences, but the children did not want to. (They did this upon the children's arrival, while the children were still en route to being settled, which is sort of strange, if you think about it.)
Leah was placed with a caring, yet secular, Jewish family who felt that speaking Yiddish at home was all they needed to preserve their Jewish continuity.
Immediately after they welcomed 15-year-old Leah into their family (perhaps they'd been advised to do so by well-meaning professionals), they asked Leah about her original family and what had happened to them.
Yet when Leah told them, this new family did not know how to respond to such horror.
They looked away silently before finally saying, "Maidele, du bist a groise fantazie – Little girl, you have a big imagination."
This unexpected response threw Leah into shock and made her determined to never speak of her past again. And she didn't until circumstances opened up that convinced her to speak out.
Nonetheless, the family continued to lavish material nurturing on Leah and even called her their "teire tochter – dear daughter."
Leah appreciated their dedication to her, even as she realized their limitations in giving her what she really needed emotionally.
In viewing the less healing response in North America, it's logical to assume that culture played a part. Even when psychology was considered and applied, it wasn't necessarily helpful (as in Leah's case).
Again, to facilitate healing, traumatized people really need to be dealt with via sincere warmth, acceptance, understanding of their individual needs, and emotional intelligence. As we see in the above examples, a teenage survivor of trauma herself could possess these traits while a trained professional could lack these traits.
(By the way, Leah is a truly remarkable & inspiring Jew. It is unfathomable that she came out of such horror and brutality with a personality so full of love, compassion, and emuna. In fact, I'm pretty sure I met her at one point, before I knew who she was, and found her to be a very warm, sweet, and sensitive person. You can see more about Leah in Choose Life: A Documentary about Leah Kaufman, but please be forewarned that some of the images included are extremely disturbing.)
A Heimish Chassidish Heart
She really spoke to my heart and I was both shocked and touched that she knew exactly what to say to me.
We came from such different backgrounds and there was no way she ever encountered therapy techniques.
We didn't even know each other so well.
How did she know that not only would it be good to call me, but also to know what to say?
When I asked her this later, she said that she simply sat down and thought about me, and what I must be feeling. After contemplating this for a while, she pondered what I might want.
Then she called me and said all that she said.
I was floored that someone would think about me like that when they already had a full life, and it taught me the real secret to reaching people in a healing manner: thinking about THEM – what's good for them, what's REALLY good for them, what THEY need, and so on.
I know I don't always succeed in doing this, but I think it's the correct goal.
And in the above examples, I think that's the difference in response.
When the Holocaust survivors were with people who fearlessly focused on their needs regardless of personal comfort, they received a genuinely helpful response.
When faced with people who cared, but could not step outside of themselves completely and could not let go of their own emotional comfort level, the survivors received a stunted response.
Dealing Properly with Unique Trauma
Sometimes, they were handled wisely and sometimes not.
Leichu emphasizes that when her mother poured out her heart to Rivka Klar over the years, Rivka never told her not to cry. She accepted the tears and the pain, which is exactly what Leichu's mother needed & gave her comfort.
In another scene, Leichu confides in the Roma laundress (who later saves Leichu from the Nazis) that Leichu is actually adopted and expresses her anguish over this discovery.
The Roma woman simply hugs and rocks Leichu back and forth until Leichu calms down. Then the woman says some supportive and insightful words, which give Leichu a lot of comfort & encouragement.
Leichu is able to recover from her shock and go on with her life.
Later, when Leichu is with her real mother and struggling to adjust to the world of poverty with a loving widowed birth mother versus Leichu's previous world in an adoptive family with a upper-class mother and father in a life of luxury, Leichu again turns to the Roma laundress who grants Leichu more insight into her situation, then wisely says:
"You must accept this duality: that you enjoy your present life, yet miss your past life at one and the same time. That's the way it should be, that's exactly how you should feel, and you may well feel that way for a long time." (page 267)
This validation and insight was exactly what Leichu needed to hear, and it enabled her to go forward. (It is also obviously wise & true.)
Throughout the book, Leichu encounters different people throughout her struggles. Some respond unhelpfully. But it was amazing how many people did respond in a way that was validating, empathetic, and offered solutions & hands-on assistance that were genuinely helpful.
How did they manage this when they couldn't have possibly read any book on trauma or psychology, or have any experience with what Leichu was going through, whether it was dealing with her surprise discovery of her adoption or recovering from the Holocaust?
Again, I think the people who fearlessly and sincerely focused on what Leichu's real needs were managed to respond in a way that was genuinely helpful.
"Has Something Terrible Happened to You?"
She becomes depressed and disconnects from her friends, her beloved nanny, and her schoolwork.
Eventually, her adoptive mother (who doesn't know that Leichu now knows the truth) takes her to the doctor.
After not finding anything physically wrong with Leichu, the doctor waits until the adoptive mother leaves the room to discuss tests with a nurse. He then sits down with Leichu and looks her in the eye.
"What is bothering you, Leichu?" he says. "Has something terrible happened to you?"
It's clear he's asking whether she has been abused in some way.
She tries to brush off the question, but the doctor refuses to be dismissed.
Not wanting to tell him about the traumatic discovery of her adoption, she simply says she discovered that "the world is full of thorns and thistles, and if there are flowers, they are hidden and surrounded by lots of thorns."
The doctor validates her perception of the world, then offers her thoughtful advice on how to navigate her way through "the garden of life without getting pricked too much."
The doctor's words sit well with Leichu and she throws herself into following his advice, which truly benefits her.
This was the 1930s in Budapest. Psychology was already established, though not nearly as developed as it is today. It makes sense that the doctor might have learned whatever psychology was available at that time.
However, modern psychology will tell you that prior to the, say, 1970s-80s, no one knew about abuse, so no one ever considered that possibility or talked about it, etc.
This also never made sense to me because of course people knew these things happened. Maybe they didn't think these things were common, but they certainly knew.
And clearly the doctor was aware of the possibility, as he clearly shows by his questioning.
He was also sensitive enough to realize that if Leichu hadn't confided in her adoptive mother about it, then Leichu would not reveal it in front of her, which is why the doctor waited until the woman left the room before sensitively confronting Leichu.
Now, how the doctor would handle the scenario had actual abuse been committed?
I have no idea.
But clearly, he was aware of the possibility and prepared to deal with it, and seemed genuinely concerned about it.
Tachlis: What is the Goal?
Like I said, I think they can be helpful (although personal observation tells me that many are not as helpful as touted).
This post is more against the widely promoted idea that we were all helplessly dysfunctional until modern psychology came along to save us, and that therapy is the only solution for healing emotional pain.
And this is more in favor of the idea that normal caring people who possess emotional intelligence can be just as helpful, if not more so.
(In fact, you see that modern Western society is more dysfunctional now – with all the psychological theories and therapy available – than it used to be.)
And I think there is so much in modern psychology that is actually harmful. While I see people successfully dealing with 1 or 2 issues in therapy, they overall don't become better or nicer people (even though they often feel better).
I think that genuine compassion and caring, combined with emotional intelligence and rooted in emunah can take a person much farther in both helping others & helping oneself.
And I think it's those qualities we should be focusing on.