Recently, while riding the bus I eavesdropped on a conversation between a young religious woman around my age and a woman who appeared to be an old teacher of hers from seminary. The two women, whom I gathered had not seen each other in a few years were busy catching up, and the teacher asked her old student what she was up to. When the student replied that she was in college studying psychology the teacher responded, "Oh, very nice. I have been thinking about going to college to study psychology, I think that it would help me understand my students better."
She continued, "I think that psychology has a lot to offer. Of course, anything that contradicts the torah you just have to throw out the window."
While I find this teacher's desire to improve her ability to connect with her students admirable there are two things that puzzle me.
First, her statement regarding things that she might learn that will "contradict the torah." Perhaps I haven't been looking hard enough, but no psychological theory that I have seen has contradicted the torah, and actually, I cannot fathom how it could pose such a stira.
Now, if she would have phrased her statement differently, like say, "Anything that might be improper for a bas yisroel to read I will have to avoid", I might have understood-- especially considering her desire for insight as opposed to making mental health a career. Freud himself, notwithstanding his genius, was a fairly serious menuval, so I can certainly fathom and identify with such a concern.
What really bothered me was the anticipation. This woman, who most assuredly had never given more than a glance at any of the field's literature, had already concluded that there were large chunks of it that were incompatible with yiddeshkeit.
What bothers me further still is the field's reputation as being somewhat kephiradic and in opposition to rabbinic Judaism-- as if therapists have the desire to undermine rabbanim, and change the values of the religious community. Some of the blame falls on us, as I do believe that there is an element of mental health professionals who believe that rabbanim should stay away from any type of therapy. An older woman with whom I worked last year, and who believed that the only part of the therapy process in which rabbanim should take part is the referral, comes to mind. However, in my, admittedly limited, experience these people are the minority.
I was recently asked by a young lawyer if I was worried about some of the halachically problematic situations that would arise for me in the future. When I asked for an example he responded, "I don't know, lets say someone comes in and says that he has homosexual feelings, and that he doesn't know what to do." I told him that I am not sure why that would be problematic-- that is where the work begins.
It occurred to me that I should have replied with the classic technique of responding to a question with a question. In this case how he intends to deal with his firm's not so subtle encouragement of over billing. I would assume that such a case is halachically stickier, and one that definitely occurs more often.
The point is that sure, there is always a complex interplay for the frum therapist regarding the sometimes conflicting values of the two worlds that he or she is a part. Nevertheless, this should not pasul the profession. On the contrary I believe if utilized correctly this conflict can enhance the self tremendously. Moreover, I would fiercely contend that other professions that are more business oriented pose greater halachic dilemmas for a frum Jew.
The second thing that bothered me was the fact that if she would find something that would contradict the torah she would have to "throw it out the window."
Using the assumption that nothing in psychology refutes the basic tenants of the torah, let's assume that what she meant is that anything that might stray at all from what chazal said (again, I am unsure of what that might be, but let's assume it exists) is to be immediately discarded.
I certainly understand that we must be wary when it comes to divrei chazal, but the attitude of throwing out as opposed to dealing with just bothers me. You can read any of the many things written regarding the whole Slifkin affair, as I have no desire to rehash this topic. Just wanted to mention it.
Again, from the little I have come across, psychological research confirms the teachings of our sages far more often than it attacks them. And although the tide has begun to turn within the orthodox world regarding the field of mental health, I still perceive more than a little bit of misgiving. The bottom line is that the orthodox community needs the mental health profession, whether or not it wishes to concede as much.