And, as described in past posts, there are good reasons for that.
As Rav Itamar Schwartz notes, any psychology NOT derived from Torah sources only addresses:
- the surface of the soul
- only the nefesh habehameit of either the Jewish or non-Jewish soul
- not the Jewish soul according to its true needs
But sometimes, therapy really does help.
So to be fair, I want to speak about that today and WHY it helped in this particular case.
What Was Wrong in the First Place (A Big Mess)
The children enjoyed a genuinely loving & dedicated mother who brimmed with energy & drive.
However, the father was extremely abusive in every way, and the parents divorced when she was one.
Initially, the father was allowed contact with the children, but he's mamash dangerous, so age 5 was the last time she saw him (and she's lucky that during that visit, he didn't to her what he did to the oldest sibling, which is what terminated his rights).
She grew up in a charedi community, but her immediate neighborhood ended up being a lot more "open" than typical charedi standards.
For example, there was a lot of boy-girl hanging-out-together, which started out innocently enough at a young age, but never established halachic boundaries once everyone got older.
(Meaning, all the buddy-buddy feelings and relationships felt so good and so familial, they never stopped hanging out together...with the resultant pritzus and off-the-derech behavior any thinking Torah-aware person could foresee from this.)
At her charedi girls school, she learned what a bat Yisrael should be, but she didn't experience those standards in her home or street environment.
Only maybe one friend really dressed tsniusly, not all the mothers even did, and everyone on her block had smartphones & Internet when it was still considered both unacceptable and unusual in the rest of the charedi community.
In an effort to make life more pleasant for the children, the mother installed a LCD screen to the kitchen, where she rewarded her children with Disney movies for finishing their homework and chores. (This, and not even frum children's movies.)
At one point, I saw her on an occasion for which nearly everyone dresses to impress.
Not in a superficial way, but because most understand the importance of a good, solid first impression for this kind of occasion.
Yet this girl showed up looking not only immodest, but slovenly.
That struck me as particularly strange because even the girls disillusioned with tsniyus tend to maintain perfect standards of hygiene and well-coiffed neatness.
Yet this girl looked like she hadn't even brushed her hair and her eyeliner smudged in pouches beneath her eyes...in addition to her immodest clothes and her shirt looking like she hadn't even bothered to straighten it after she put it on.
Another time, a friend needed to encourage this girl to brush her teeth at the beginning of each day, and not just before bedtime.
Some people insist on this extreme come-as-you-are appearance (or, as in her case, come-as-are-after-you-just—woke-up-after-a-late-night-without-having-washed-your-face) as a way of testing others, to see if they'll be liked for who they "really" are.
But the truth is, a slovenly & immodest appearance with bad breath is not who any bat Yisrael REALLY is.
And it's okay for others to find you not-so-appealing in that state.
Having said all that, it's important to know the girl always spoke nicely and quietly to people, even during her most stressful moments at work with the most difficult customers.
Also, she was very into davening 3 times a day (even on a non-shomer-negiah date with a boy, she insisted on breaking for Maariv, encouraging him to do so too), and including Slichot during Elul.
So there was some very real potential here.
How Therapy Helped the Girl Change for the Better
She contacted a frum female therapist who specialized in teenage girls and just laid out on the table her whole life history and current challenges.
And she made terrific progress within only a few months!
The girl stopped flirting with boys and, in fact, stopped talking to them at all, except for business-only brief exchanges at work.
Certainly, there was no touching.
And while the frum therapist did not succeed in getting the girl to switch from a smartphone to an Internet-free cell phone, the girl left the chat sites and social media, only staying on those directly associated with her employment.
Furthermore, the girl previously responded flirtatiously to messages from strange boys.
But now, any attempt by a strange boy to contact her for anything other than business was met with a short yet scathing response—and always halted that attempt while preventing others.
Also, she looked for support from peers to improve her modesty. (She only found 2 or 3 in her immediate environment.)
"Let's wear longer skirts even if the others will make fun of us," she and her best friend encouraged each other.
(Note: Needless to say, real friends don't make fun of friends who decide to dress according to the fundamentals of halacha.)
In addition to the improvement in tsniyus (which could still use some improvement, but definitely shows stunning progress so far, baruch Hashem), she now looks well-kempt and clean.
She also kept up her great davening habits. And her sweet way of dealing with people became even sweeter.
For example, she previously sometimes made inappropriate or immature comments in her sweet, quiet voice. Accompanying these comments would be an oh-so innocent "Aren't I cute?" or "I don't really know what I'm saying" facial expression.
It seemed her way of not needing to take responsibility for what she said because she didn't mean it like that or didn't realize was she was saying—at least, that was the impression she gave.
Some of these comments bordered on chutzpah & caused discomfort with figuring out how to respond. It was downright embarrassing in a public situation.
And she totally stopped this.
And THAT change signals a change from emotional immaturity to emotional maturity.
When Therapy Doesn't Work
Certainly in the non-Jewish world, most (maybe all?) people I know who went through therapy ended up more selfish, more set in their ways, more assertive about making sure THEIR needs were met at the expense of others, and so on.
And to prove that I ain't just whistling Dixie, here's a new study showing how "mindfulness" (all the rage in therapeutic circles now) makes people in independent cultures (i.e. North America & Europe) MORE selfish:
Mindfulness meditation can reduce guilt, leading to unintended negative social consequences, study finds -- ScienceDaily
Or there's this:
When Therapy Does More Harm Than Good (Article) | Therapist Aid
Even newly adopted positive behavior revealed a downside, like when their refusal to get angry (a good thing) came with an attitude of apathy, sullenness, and passive-aggression.
In fact, their newfound insistence of making sure they get what they want and that others treat them (regardless of how offensive or wrong they are, or how innocent the intentions of the others are) how they want often leads to automatic defensiveness and bristling hostility toward others for not kowtowing or reading their mind quickly enough.
Also, within the frum community, some of the people I make sure to either avoid completely (without being mean) or to keep interactions as brief and superficial as possible (while remaining pleasant for the duration) are people who went through therapy.
One such person even told me how much more emotionally mature she was now because of her therapist.
Maybe it's true. Maybe, as immature as she is now, she was even worse before.
However, while I don't hate her (she endures some very sympathetic challenges, both from her childhood and in her marriage), I can't stand talking to her for more than a minute because she often plays subtle mind games, which I find completely disorienting. I usually come away from an interaction with her feeling like I've said or done something wrong, no matter what I say, because even if you empathize with her, she immediately does an about-face, and argues with you.
But if you don't empathize with her, she either get offended or acts like she is too deep & sensitive to be understood properly.
And that's AFTER her months-long stint in therapy with a frum therapist.
So that's why I'm not into therapy as the cure-all it's reputed to be.
But in the above example of the girl who made such a turnaround between the ages of 18 and 19...why did that work?
Why Therapy Worked with This Girl
But I do know this:
- Ratzon (desire, motivation)
In her heart of hearts, she WANTED to change & was ready to DO what it takes to change.
She looked at the decisions her mother had made, decisions her older sister had made, and the problems in her own life, and decided a course-correction must occur.
And she was willing to do the work necessary to achieve that course-correction.
The power of a person's own ratzon cannot be underestimated.
The best therapist cannot change a person in ways the person lacks ratzon to change.
Even tzaddikim do not manage this.
For example, the great and holy Chafetz Chaim spoke with a Jew about closing his factory on Shabbos.
How much would you pay now for such a conversation with the Chafetz Chaim?
Yet the man did not change.
The Chafetz Chaim, with all his holiness and siyata d'Shmaya, could not convince the man to even make this ONE change.
Not just keeping Shabbat in full, but simply taking ONE step: to close the factory one day a week.
You can imagine the Chafetz Chaim prayed for this to work and spoke to the man in the best way possible.
Tremendous rabbanim like Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, Rav Aryeh Levine, Rav Shmuel Salant, Rav Meir Shapiro—all of whom proved a tremendous positive impact on the world—still did not merit influencing everyone they met.
How many times did anti-Torah politicians meet (and even debate) with Rav Sonnenfeld or the Chazon Ish and remained untouched by the experience?
So that's a huge point: The girl was READY to change. She really wanted it.
And the fact she's willing to go against peer pressure (including the personal standards of her mother and sister at home) shows how much she wanted this change.
And it says something wonderful about her that she did it despite the currents coursing against her.
- Correct Moral Guidance according to Halacha
This is where the therapist comes in.
Now, I do not know what techniques this therapist used. Maybe they're gleaned from the non-Jewish world (as most therapy techniques are).
However, the therapist knew the morally correct direction:
- Don't get bogged down in the external reasons for the problems; move forward.
Yes, the girl's father was much more dysfunctional than even other extremely dysfunctional fathers.
And yes, her surrounding environment was not the most conducive.
People need to engage in "turn from evil and do good" no matter what their issues are.
Yes, the therapist needed to understand the girl's background. She also needed to allow the girl to pour out her heart. The therapist needed to listen to that outpouring with empathy and validation.
But along with that, the therapist needed to help the girl make some very real (and hard) changes.
And she did.
- Emotional maturity (this includes speaking to others in a way that does not discomfit or embarrass them; you look to see how YOU can make them feel BETTER, not worse)
- Tsniyus in both behavior & dress (Therapy that makes a person feel free to indulge their halachically forbidden tendencies is NOT therapeutic for the human soul).
- Self-respect (Goes hand-in-hand with the above. No more slovenly dress, unwashed face, unbrushed hair, or halitosis.)
The therapist kept in mind the girl's Olam Haba and ultimate soul needs, not just feel-good Olam Hazeh stuff.
A secular or even modern Orthodox therapist would not encourage a girl to be FULLY shomer negiah; the therapist would just make sure her young frum client was only doing what she wanted to do, regardless of halacha.
And please notice how the therapist helped the girl set up truly healthy boundaries:
Rather than becoming ruder and more stubborn with others, the girl became more tactful and reassuring...HOWEVER, with boys? She put on the brakes full-stop.
So she acted rude & assertive to put off predatory boys while being more sensitive toward everyone else.
And THIS is the correct way to behave. THESE are truly healthy boundaries.
Truly good therapy should make a person MORE MORAL & KINDER, not less.
A Few Final Words on Torah & Psychological Treatment
She still has her lifetime of inner work ahead of her just like the rest of us.
But the amount of spiritual & emotional progress she achieved in such a short amount of time is stunning and a real inspiration.
And she's not someone you meet and think, "If this is what you're like AFTER therapy, then just how bad were you BEFORE?"
Everyone who knows her considers her a nice person with good middot.
So a sense of fairness compelled me to write about when therapy DOES work after all I wrote against it.
(Having said all that, I will continue to write against much of secular psychology because aspects of it are indeed problematic and make people worse—even when they FEEL better—like with the whole mindfulness method, which eliminated healthy guilt & regret in so many people, making them FEEL better while BEHAVING WORSE).
Big rabbanim like Rav Avigdor Miller & Rav Itamar Schwartz did not hold by secular psychology (including secular-based psychology utilized by frum psychologists), but both believed that guidance based on authentic Torah ideas were helpful.
Please see here:
Plus here too:
The words here are not meant to attack the entire world of therapy, but it certainly concerns most of the therapy going on today.
There are of course individual Jews who practice therapy that is line with the holy Torah, and they do not use any of the non-Jewish ideas.
But they are only individuals.
Intrigued by that revelation, I read the first 4 volumes and came away stunned by the realization that you could base an entire treatment method of Strive for Truth only!
Of course, you'd need to be upfront about your lack of degree and also charge less (because by utilizing only Rav Dessler's mussar material, your clients are not paying for your massive college loan debts).
Yes, I'd read a volume of Strive for Truth years ago and liked it, but for some reason, re-reading that volume (plus additional volumes) more recently affected me more powerfully & deeply.
Anyway, I wanted to be fair & tell this story of how Torah-oriented psychological treatment can work.
And there you have it.