Secular ‘Therapy’


In the beginning there was only one voice. The words He uttered were the commands for the creation and laws for all times. All of His living creations were created equal until He gave man two unique qualities: the ability to talk and to exercise free will. From that time on all descriptions by man and about man and his environment were rendered in biblical language. This was the dominate mode for well over a two thousand years. All knowledge and meaningful discussion were carried in this language. Terms like good, bad, rich, poor, sick, healthy, and all social and human acts were explained in religious terms. Priests, rabbis, sages, and the Prophets were the ministers of wisdom and assistance to the needy during times of distress. Their words not only described reality but helped create it. Prayer, words of comfort or warning had meaning.

Words, we learn from this beginning, are the building block of the world. This understanding of the centrality and power of words forms the starting point for our construction of an alternative explanation of what is referred to ‘therapy’. Words are real. They have power to hurt or heal. Words are like trains: when you use one of them they take you where they go. When you get on the wrong train all the subsequent stations are not the ones you seek. Words as technique and words as goals are one. We suggest that by the careful selection of particular words we can directly and quickly influence people and be faithful to Torah principals.

Only a few hundred years ago there was a major shift in the language, understanding and explanation of people and the world around them. The new idiom was the meant to reflect a ‘new reality’ - - the language of objectivity and a new ‘truth’. This language was mathematics and the new priests and ambassadors were scientists and later therapists. Two ideas grew out of this revolutionary approach to life both of which are still with us today - particularly in the field of psychology and the helping professions. They are:

  • The separation of mind and body: Renee Descartes (1596-1650), French Philosopher and Mathematician asserted that anything belonging to the body is not found in the mind/soul and anything found in the mind/soul is not found in the body. This stands in direct opposition to the religious idea of the inseparability of man into concrete ‘parts’. It was one said, ‘the only thing that matters is matter.’
  • Cause and Effect: Isaac Newton (1642-1727) English Mathematician and Philosopher explicated a rule of behavior that still dictates our understanding of all types of human endeavor. Simply put: like causes generate the like outcomes. The formula reads thus: All A’s (event) cause B’s (results). This is mechanics at its best. While relatively accurate for the physical sciences ( but becoming less so each day as we learn more about complexity ) it is both morally repugnant and empirically unfounded when applied to people and their free will.
  • Out of these two ideas and words grew a new ‘science of people’ - that tried to ape the rules and language of the physical sciences. These ideas also greatly influenced ongoing social processes. To no small extent these two formulations of people allowed for the rise of the industrial society, schools, standardized testing, prisons, etc.. All these institutions deal with large populations and require both control and coordination of the masses at particular times and spaces. Stereotyped skills are essential. A “science of people” is a prerequisite for mass activities.

    This science of people formed the underpinnings for two new professions: psychoanalysis and psychiatry/psychology. These professions rested directly on Descartes and Newton. They offered knowledge rather then wisdom and therapists rather then religious figures as their answers to mans pain and dilemmas. There is growing aware from most sectors of society that the results are a mixed. There can be no doubt that the science of people has indeed made progress and contributed to the general well being of people. This evaluation of any contribution must also be understood within the context of a religious perspective. The first is that any scientific knowledge of man is, by definition, only partial. Therefore the measurements used by the scientific approach will not answer our significant questions. The second is that what may appear to be ‘progress’ by the scientific approach may not be evaluated that way from the religious perspective.

    To overcome this discrepancy of goals and possibility of means between the professional approach and the religious perceptive religious people entered into the professions of psychology. It was no longer left to non-religious to help. We, the religious would help themselves. Something very interesting took place during professional training. The ethics and norms of the professional predominated over ‘personal’ values and belief systems. The professional schools succeeded in inducting the religious learners into thinking like a secular professional in their vocabulary.

    This was done under the rubric of professional work being “non-judgmental”. There are many difficulties with this concept. The first general problem being that this concept presents a major paradox. To attempt to be non-judgment is in of itself taking a judgmental stand - not to judge. Professional therapists are trained not to let their personal value system influence their work with the client. We were taught that ‘only scientific’ principals should guide our work - - namely Descartes and Newton and a long list of secular therapists. These principals were ‘good’ for the client, while our personal principals were ‘negative’ at worst and ‘intrusive and controlling’ at best. In short the ‘science of people’ was better then anything else.

    What happened is that the religious students wanted to be good professionals. What grew out of this dilemma was the separation between personal and professional values. At the office I am professional and at home I am religious. In our desire to give the ‘very best’ to our clients we really abandoned the best we had to offer.

    There is a growing acknowledgment in the professional literature and in conferences - - and signs of acceptance in the field - - that all models of therapy are highly judgmental and are inextricably entwined with personal, political and well as philosophical principles. Therefore the choice of any model is first and foremost a value laden decision on the personal level. This was denied for years under the rubric of "non-judgmental attitudes". I believe that once a therapist selects a model, his subsequent therapeutic activities are determined primarily if not exclusively by this model irrespective of the therapists personal or religious values. Otherwise why choice a therapeutic model at all?

    It follows then that a religious therapist might actually be using a therapy which is incompatible in part or in totality with his professed religious values. This awareness that we can no longer claim that our professional activities are scientifically determined and therefore are value-free is relatively recent. It is obvious that many of us, however, are still influenced by this fallacy. In short, therapies must be first examined by all of us to whether they are compatible with our values and the values of our clients. It is unfortunately necessary to note, however that we are often not aware of our values.

    Please send us your comments to TorahPsychology@shemayisrael.co.il