Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Iyar 5761 - April 25, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Armed With Diplomas or Defenseless?

by Chaim Walder

In the following article we will discuss a very important problem: how to treat sensitive educational, social, family and psychological problems in the chareidi community.

There are very few chareidi psychologists and those few certainly can't meet the large demand that has arisen as a result of the expansion of the community and the increase in the number of problems.

In every social circle, there are people who understand the human soul. The chareidi community is no different. There are chareidi therapists and advisors dealing with emotional and psychological problems, many of whom are among the best psychologists.

The chareidi community derives a great deal of benefit from these therapists. They have eliminated the need to approach secular psychologists who come from different cultures and have different beliefs (and at times, no beliefs at all). Since therapists treat the human soul, they have a tremendous influence on their patients' thoughts and beliefs. Due to the mounting awareness of the availability of psychological therapy for sensitive emotional problems, many have placed the field of psychology on a pedestal. As a result, chareidi therapists are afraid to treat complex problems. They ask themselves, "Who has authorized me to do so?" And if they don't ask themselves that question, others ask it. Therefore, in respect to certain problems, they prefer to tell people: "Go to a psychologist; I can't handle this particular problem."

The result of this attitude is that chareidi therapists feel inferior to professional psychologists, since psychology -- and those in need of the services of psychologists -- have transformed them into authorities whose places may not be usurped, whose authority may not be disputed.

Pit an opinion of an uncertified chareidi therapist against that of a certified psychologist. Does the former have a chance?

Why not? Because psychologists have diplomas. The diploma "affirms" that they know their stuff. If you think that a certified psychologist has made a mistake, that is merely because you haven't taken a good look at his diploma, which says that so-and-so studied here and there, and was certified by so-and-so. So whatever you say, you're wrong!

But the chareidi therapist isn't armed with a diploma. He is defenseless. All he can point to are his successes and failures. That's it. People come to him because of his successes, and he can be attacked and made into mincemeat for his failures. Unlike the certified psychologist, he isn't armed with diplomas. Attacks on him don't stop when they reach the armored glass of the diploma. They rebound to the one who has made them. The chareidi therapist can only wave his successes (and these, too, he cannot reveal). He has no other proof of his capability, and he is always ridden by doubts about whether he is permitted to handle certain problems.

To be truly candid, we should ask ourselves how we can really trust someone to treat something as sensitive as the human soul with a Torah, not a professional, education. What criteria can spur us to seek the help of someone who isn't armed with a diploma?

We don't intend to criticize psychologists. The phrase "armed with a diploma" casts no aspersions on their professional ability but rather, frustration over the fact that chareidi therapists can't wave around something to prove their ability.

What makes a person a psychologist? Is it his study of certain material, or is it his innate ability to probe and understand the human soul? This question is also relevant with respect to artists and composers. Can a person lacking a sense of music become a great musician by studying all his life? That's highly improbable. Can a person who never studied music become a great musician? He surely can.

Ask the psychologists themselves, and they will admit that there are good psychologists and bad ones. The latter might have gotten top grades in college, but doesn't have what it takes. He doesn't induce his patients to open up to him and let him penetrate their souls. Even when he does, he can't put his finger on the source of the pain or the roots of the problem, and doesn't know how to prescribe normative behavioral patterns to deal with them.

Formal learning gives the "psychologist from birth" tools with which to work, like the artist's brush and the musician's up-to-date organ. But what really counts is the psychologist's personality and his innate ability to understand the human soul.

The question, "Where's the proof?" still remains. Sometimes, certain people think that they understand and are capable of treating various types of problems. But can a person be objective about himself? If so, why are others obligated to think like him?

The lack of proof makes chareidi therapists defenseless. They are open to criticism and lack the ability to stand up for themselves with the public and between themselves. Many are exposed to criticism of their colleagues, and sometimes they somewhat deserve it, because they themselves criticize other therapists. This lowers the worth of all of them in the eyes of the public, decreasing the level of trust in them.

We have a suggestion for certified psychologists: Just as a rav undergoes training and smicha before he assumes a position, those who treat psychological problems should be required to present endorsements and recommendations given by prominent figures in the chareidi community. These figures should be known as experts in chinuch and in the treatment of emotional and mental problems. They must testify to the abilities and experience of those who claim that they can handle such problems.

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