From the Anash.org Inbox: As a parent of young children, I am always on the lookout for how to improve my parenting. But the recent obsession with therapy and secular methods has become overrated and oftentimes destructive.
By Rochel B.
Recently, an article was published on Anash.org by R’ Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin about the importance of taking guidance for life exclusively from Torah.
Following its spirit, I would like to bring attention to two practical issues facing even “Chassidish” Lubavitch today:
As a parent of young children, I am always on the lookout for how to improve my parenting. So when a Chassidish acquaintance excitedly wrote on a group about a WhatsApp support group for parents using the “Nurtured Heart Approach,” I curiously clicked on the invite.
Before I had a chance to open it, I was greeted with a warning that nothing connected to religion could be discussed. This was clearly not a Jewish group that had adopted some techniques from a method that worked for them, but rather a secular group where nothing pertaining to Hashem could be mentioned. How had my acquaintance become so desensitized as to take this course for her children’s chinuch?
If the reason she chose that was because there was nothing available for chassidishe parents, it isn’t so. There are thankfully quality courses based on Chassidishe values, which I found much more relevant and practical.
I am not saying that there aren’t any other methods that work. But we are selling ourselves and our children short if we educate them with secular methods. We will be raising nice people, but we won’t be reaching their neshama. You can train a horse to run, but you can’t teach him to play chess. The Jewish ‘nefesh habehamis’ is a different animal, never mind the ‘nefesh ha’elokis.’
Therapy has become a big word nowadays. People everywhere are looking for therapists to deal with traumatic experiences, marriage problems, self-image problems, anxiety, OCD, life guidance, and on and on.
Of course, someone who was affected so strongly by an experience that they can’t function to execute decisions may need special treatment to help their mind work. But a regular person with normal hardships should not need to go to therapy to deal with it. For that, we have, as the Rebbe would always say, “Toras Chaim,” a Torah of life.
I would like to share with you my own experience:
At some point, a medication I was taking was causing depression. I was feeling low, and feeling even lower that I had to step back from my happy, active life.
I visited a therapist, but I did not find it empowering. I found my mashpia a lot more sympathetic and uplifting. She spoke about nisyonos, sharing some of her own experiences, instead of the clinical approach of the therapist.
My next therapist experience was when I did some research and found out that psychological tools could help my condition so I wouldn’t need medication. I went to a frum Lubavitch therapist, who assured me that I could use their tools to avoid anything unwanted and go off my medicine. I diligently used the tools I was taught, until I started noticing symptoms that things weren’t right.
When I messaged my therapist about it, his response was, “We’ll talk about it at the next session…” Well, there was no next session since I had to be hospitalized. My poor husband called the therapist to find out what I had last discussed before being hospitalized. As he was about to hang up, he was told he would be billed for the call…
When I was BH released from the hospital, I was resolute to grow. I would serve Hashem with Simcha, and consciously smile and express gratitude, even if there were tears in my eyes. Things quickly began to change for the better, and I was back to giving to others sooner than I had ever dreamed.
I am so grateful to Hashem for changing my situation, and I realize how much I had grown. I felt empowered and saw the changes in myself and my life. By contrast, those I know that are in therapy are not above their challenges; they are wallowing in them.
At one point when I was down, a doctor asked me how I spend my time. When I listed a few communal activities I did, the doctor commented, just make sure you have enough “ME time.” Unsure of what he meant, I asked, “What would you advise I do during ME time?” His response was that I should play games on my phone…
This epitomizes to me the secular approach: Focus on yourself. Don’t do too much for others. If you do something for others, make sure to refocus on yourself at regular intervals.
This seems to me like plain stupidity. If I need to take a step back, I will certainly do so, but my intention in stepping back is IN ORDER to come back to serving Hashem and others with better energy. I won’t waste time on games which won’t help me. I’ll take a nap or something beneficial for my health.
It’s a Hashem-centered approach vs. a selfish approach. Honestly, my limited communal activities were a lifeline, which allowed me to forget about myself and experience the privilege to do for others, using the talents Hashem gifted me with. Afterward, I would come back home fulfilled, feeling the afterglow for some time.
A final thought:
One advantage that therapists offer over Rabbanim and Mashpiim is the time they give to their clients weekly. The reason is simple: They are paid for their time. Rabbanim and Mashpiim have other occupations, and simply cannot afford to give up that much time. Of course, this is a significant advantage, since people gain from the personal attention, weekly check-ins, as well as discussing whatever obstacles arose that week.
We could easily correct this advantage with the following:
If you’re looking for an occasional mashpia session, where the mashpia hears you out and gives you guidance to take home and implement, you can find mashpiim who will gladly give their time to you here and there.
But if you’re looking for the more immersive “therapy” feel, why don’t you book sessions with a mashpia and pay for them, so they can drop a different paying project, and give you that time? You could have the benefits of “therapy” with Torah wisdom. It’s a win-win.
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NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Anash.org.