And in a nutshell, this was the heter to glean stuff (particularly psychology & self-help) from the non-Jewish world.
Initially, it was a relief to hear it.
Because I was so far away in my mind (despite being technically observant) from comprehending (let alone internalizing) original sources of mussar, the above concept really appealed to me back then.
Gradually, though, I saw it wasn't really true.
Obviously, we're allowed to glean stuff from the non-Jewish world.
However, when it comes to ideas that affect our inner selves and our ability to do teshuvah, it's actually very hard to discard the chaff (of which there is an ENORMOUS amount in popular psychology) and leave only the legitimate kernels.
That's why I really relished Rav Itamar Schwartz's statement that you actually need to be a big talmid chacham to sift through the secular stuff in order to get to the genuinely helpful stuff.
Here are Rav Schwartz's exact words from Woman's World 018: Avoiding Non-Jewish Influence (please scroll halfway to the section called "Who can learn psychology?") – the boldfaced underlined emphasis is my addition:
A person who is a very big Talmid Chochom, who learned the entire Torah – who finished Shas (Talmud Bavli, as well as Talmud Yerushalmi) and has learned the works of the Gra and the Maharal – he already has his outlook from the Torah, so he can sift through the information and see which non-Jewish literature is kosher and which isn’t.
He is able to obtain permission to learn it, because he can know how to sift out what isn’t true.
Blind Spots are No Heter
It's true that people do that. It's a legitimate concern.
Yes, it's true that people can read Torah sources with their blind spots solidly in place, making it difficult for them to extract the lessons they truly need from it.
(Many people especially love distorting the Rambam's or Rav Moshe Feinstein's words & ideas to align with his or her goals & personal flaws.)
But there is also a matter of ratzon (desire, good will).
Without Ratzon, Nothing Helps (well, almost nothing, anyway...please see the next section for what can help when even the ratzon just isn't there)
It might take a while and you might experience lots of confusion at the beginning, but eventually, you'll get it. (Kol hahatchalot kashot – All beginnings are difficult.)
Throughout recent decades, we've seen that therapy often doesn't heal people.
Many people feel better with therapy, but they often don't behave better. And even the ones who technically behave better, they aren't actually so much better inside.
For example, I've met former alcoholics and others who've ceased obviously dysfunctional behaviors, but they still aren't emotionally healthy people. They still have a lot of narcissism, for one. Not everyone, of course.
I also know parents (or their abused children) who were physically abusive, yet when compelled by a therapist to stop, the parents simply became emotionally neglectful, sarcastic, mocking, or some other form of rejecting & abusive behavior that much harder to define & legislate.
And I knew one problematic young husband married to a verbally abusive young wife. When she really got going (and let me tell you, she did so with great relish), he would rap her on the mouth with his fingers.
Needless to say, this crossed the line into physical abuse.
(FYI, I knew them both, and I knew her well enough before she got married. They both had middot problems that needed serious attention. She might have been a bit worse than him, to be honest, but he also needed to whip himself into shape.)
So a frum therapist, the young husband's mother (who was a very frum lady), and the young wife's mother (who was also a very frum lady) sat him down and made it abundantly clear that he was never, ever, ever to raise his hand against his wife in any way whatsoever, and that doing so was completely forbidden.
And he never did it again.
Instead, he also unleashed a verbal diatribe whenever his wife unleashed hers.
As the young wife's mother lamented, "Now he's striking her with his voice instead of his fingers." (And yes, she admitted that her daughter was doing the same.)
This obviously did not solve the real problem for either one of them.
Now they both behaved in an EQUALLY appalling manner.
Neither spouse worked on the core middot that led to halachically forbidden behavior, in which all abuse is forbidden by halacha, whether it is physical, verbal, mental, or emotional.
Yet in the above example, everyone involved simply responded according to the values & methods of secular psychology.
No Ratzon? So Just Keep Pouring It On
Narcissism is actually encouraged by popular psychology (though they use appealing words to get around that fact, so it doesn't look like conventional narcissist personality disorder).
But even if you end up with a genuinely wise therapist, you may not get much out of it unless you have a sincere ratzon.
So an insincere messed-up person might as well read Mishlei/Proverbs or make a daily study of Duties of Heart's Shaar Habechinah.
It's sort of like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's parable of the sick prince who couldn't swallow, and therefore couldn't ingest any medicine to get better. So instead, a wise Sage advised the doctors to simply pour gallons of medicine over his mouth, with the understanding that at least a few drops would drip their way in, even as the vast majority of medicine would be lost.
Deal with Negative Feels via Mussar, Not Therapy
Ultimately, the scene was a hint from Hashem. It was a message that even if we take a lackadaisical attitude toward our own Olam Haba, we need to know that behaving beneath the Torah's standards hurts our fellow Jews.
We are literally all in the same boat; we are literally part of the same body.
This is great chizuk to keep on going even if we've given up on ourselves.
(Or even when we've convinced ourselves that something is okay "just this once...")
What therapist would've guided me toward the right kind of thinking?
True, a frum therapist here or there may have done so, but most would not.
How would secular methods have helped?
Secular methods would focus on me dealing with my anger toward the girl, on letting go or being more assertive, etc.
They (and therefore, I) would completely miss the very important mussar intended by Hashem.
(And no, I really haven't seen her since I got the message. Maybe she doesn't even really exist, and was just a pelephone-addicted golem created for mussar.)
What If You're Allergic to Conventional Psychiatry?
You can recommend strawberries as wonderful sources of vitamin C along with other benefits...but what if a person is allergic to strawberries?
Peanuts & fulim (fava beans) contain wonderful vitamins & minerals...but they are a death sentence to those allergic to their properties.
Likewise, in the Q&A If a person has problems with rage and he wants to calm down, should he take pills?, Rav Schwartz reveals that the conventional "prescription" method of treating the physical body for building one's spiritual state comes from people who aren't Jewish and it only works for people who aren't Jewish.
In another post (Protection from Illness of Erev Rav), Rav Schwartz quotes Chiddushei Chatam Sofer, Shabbat 86b:
The Chasam Sofer stated that we cannot bring any medical proof from a non-Jew’s body to how we heal a Jew’s body, because since a Jew has a higher soul than a non-Jew, the healing is not the same.
The Chasam Sofer revealed to us a very novel concept – not only is a Jew’s soul vastly different than a non-Jew’s soul, but even their physical bodies are different.
Physics applies to Jews (so don't drive too recklessly & don't do anything else dangerous), but "mazal" doesn't apply to Jews.
In certain extreme situations, it may be used by a Jew who has fallen very low that for the time being, his life right now resembles a level that is very close to a gentile’s way of living.”