Mental Health, Psychotherapy and Judaism

Article excerpt

Mental Health, Psychotherapy and Judaism Seymour Hoffman, 2011, Golden Sky Books, 127 pages. $15:45

This slim volume is a potpourri of articles, on the interface of psychotherapy and Judaism. Nine of the ten articles were penned by the author and the last article is a reprint of an article that previously appeared in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry. The articles range from heavy, scholarly to light and entertaining. The book is the fourth (and the first in English) of a series sponsored by Nefesh Israel, "an organization of observant clinicians which recognizes the advantages of pulling together with men of the spirit, pooling resources and giving scope for members of both fields to cooperate, enrich each other, even while recognizing the differences in their orientation, purpose and methods." The book is dedicated to Dr. Judith Guedalia, the cofounder and co-chairperson of the organization that was founded over a decade ago.

The topics considered in this book are varied and relate to theoretical as well as practical issues. Thus for example, one can find in this book reports of effective therapeutic treatments involving rabbis and psychologists, markedly differing opinions of various rabbinic authorities regarding psychotherapy, detailed rich clinical case material illustrating treatment issues that have relevance in terms of Jewish law, treatment dilemmas arising from conflicts between Jewish law and aspects of psychotherapy as generally practiced, a report of the functioning of the first mental health clinic under haredi auspices, as well as entertaining and illuminating anecdotes of the strategic interventions of prominent rabbis, ancient and modern, in their attempts to aid people suffering from emotional and psychological stress and conflicts, and in effecting change in people. The article by Greenberg and Shefler is of special interest as it clearly depicts the psychological insights and sophistication of two highly revered haredi rabbis' insights into the psychopathology and treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder of the religious type.

In reference to the latter points mentioned, the reader can begin to feel confused on the position of the author regarding the rabbis role in the therapeutic enterprise. Should the rabbi always or sometimes take on the role of primary therapist? Readers may infer from some of the articles that the author may be endorsing rabbis taking on the role of primary therapists while in other articles, the author criticizes rabbis who refuse to refer patients to mental health professionals and see themselves as the best and most effective healers.

My impression is that the author does endorse the therapeutic involvement of rabbis who are sufficiently sophisticated, sensitive and knowledgeable of dynamics, psychopathology and psychotherapy, and who are able to differentiate between cases that require the intervention of a professional mental health practitioner and cases that can benefit from their counseling. …