In all the recent turmoil around the government-sponsored judicial reforms, many other elements of the coalition agreements, some of which are already being realized, have temporarily vanished from the public consciousness. In the present article, I wish to discuss the commitment to amend the Law of Regulation of Health Professions, which was included in the coalition agreement between Netanyahu and the Charedi parties.
The commitment sparked much discussion and no little outrage. Not much, however, has been written on the matter, certainly not on the part of concerned Charedi individuals. This article means to remedy the situation somewhat.
In a nutshell, the amendment states that Israel will recognize “paramedical professional studies and non-academic applied behavior analysts […] as undergraduate studies.” In addition, graduates of non-academic art therapy study programs with an equal number of study and practical training hours as a bachelor’s degree may receive an art therapist certificate.
The proposal has raised an understandable controversy, which can be understood by simply replacing the words “paramedical” and “art therapy” with “medical professions.” According to Dr. Ilana Lach, chairman of the Israel Association for Creative Arts Therapies, “The plan is comparable to authorizing supporting medical staff to perform open heart surgery.” Professor Hod Orakibi from Israel’s Higher Council for Creative Arts Therapies agreed: “Certifying art therapists without a master’s degree would seriously harm the profession,” she wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, “opening the door to further damage other health professions.”
Conversely, the Charedi community has overall welcomed the proposal. Even before the amendment was approved, various courses were already being organized and accepting registrations. Interestingly, however, this impressive achievement on behalf of Charedi institutions and individuals has not appeared on the list of coalition achievements published in Charedi newspapers. This could be due to the fierce, frenzied war being fought against it, which casts some doubt on the viability of its implementation.
The complexity of Charedi girls studying in an academic setting is not a trivial matter. In addition, training therapists familiar with the Charedi language and sensitive to religious and communal nuances may be highly beneficial. Yet, the plan raises concerns that should not be taken lightly
At the outset, I want to emphasize that I see the trend itself as welcome and refreshing. The complexity of Charedi girls studying in an academic setting is not a trivial matter. In addition, training therapists familiar with the Charedi language and sensitive to religious and communal nuances may be highly beneficial. Yet, the plan raises concerns that should not be taken lightly.
Are Charedi seminaries – Charedi post-high school programs conducted in a Beis Yaakov setting – a suitable place in which to study professional therapy? Below, I will examine this question from two perspectives.
The first is the ability of seminaries to operate a professional system without regulation. The study of psychology requires supervision and review, a wide range of practical expertise, and personal guidance from a professional. Are Charedi seminaries capable of imposing all that is needed to operate such a system adequately?
The second is the substantive matter of studying psychology in seminaries. Is it correct and appropriate for young girls to study therapeutic professions as part of the seminary framework? Is the therapeutic approach and content discussed in the curriculum suitable for the atmosphere and educational setting of a Charedi seminary? The discussion centers on mental health approaches based on a distinct academic-secular doctrine. Can the profession be imported into the Charedi space and train extensive seminary courses predicated on its founding principles?
It is possible that the answer to these questions will eliminate the need for debate about the details of the proposals.
“I Play Guitar For Her”
Is the seminary system capable of offering training courses for therapists? Of course, seminary directors wish to expand available options for female students to earn a living and complete their studies within the Bais Yaakov framework. With much justification, community activists raise the specter of Charedi girls turning to the secular environment of academic institutions and devise ways to stem the tide. A basic solution is to expand the available options in the seminaries – and an important and currently unavailable option is therapy.
Despite this, we should not disregard the importance of regulatory standards when studying therapeutic professions. Regulation is as necessary as a standard for electrical devices in sensitive areas such as mental health care. It makes the enforcement of professional ethics possible, an essential aspect of the mental health care profession. The potential damage of negligence in this issue is incalculable. The public is often unqualified to distinguish between one therapist and another – a psychologist, a psychotherapist, and an alternative therapist – and will likely turn to whoever offers a lower price. It stands to pay the high mental price of failed treatment.
Are the seminaries capable of meeting professional requirements without taking shortcuts? The task may prove too challenging.
First, there’s the content issue. Therapy includes a range of content that seminaries are careful to deny existence. Will they allow all that female students have been protected from for the first fourteen years of their studies through the front door of the fifteenth year? Just as it is impossible to teach medicine without teaching anatomy, it is impossible to teach psychology without acknowledging Freudian models and dealing with issues of abuse in all their gory detail. Even if seminaries entertain introducing such content into their curriculum, one can only imagine the reaction of the modesty watch – namely, righteous parents – who expect the seminaries to provide a safe environment for their pious daughters. In the same sense, validating difficult and problematic emotions such as jealousy, hatred, revenge, and harmful fantasies that are often repressed will not pass in forgiving silence.
So how will these courses be taught? Will the seminaries withstand the pressure, adhere to accepted standards, or look for loopholes? Undoubtedly, they will be forced to cut multiple pages out of formal textbooks.
If a therapist reacts with shock and indignation when her young Charedi patient recounts experiences with her boyfriend or when a Chasidic patient describes her strictly regulated marital life, treatment will end even before it even starts.
Institutions might seek to offer practical tools without expounding on the theories behind them. It goes without saying that tools are necessary, but understanding the theory is crucial for developing broad thinking and understanding the mechanisms of our mental and emotional function. In addition to this, a therapist is often forced to deal with situations or cases that do not align with his scale of values. Therapeutic work requires unconditional acceptance. However, this acceptance cannot be expected from sheltered Bais Yakov girls. Even if they mean to treat Charedi patients alone, Charedi society is anything but monolithic and does not form one homogenous group. If a therapist reacts with shock and indignation when her young Charedi patient recounts experiences with her boyfriend or when a Chasidic patient describes her strictly regulated marital life, treatment will end even before it even starts.
Art therapy is not an art class. Parents sometimes take advantage of government health insurance subsidies to enroll a child in a “private art class” (as an art therapist, I have encountered many such cases) – but this, of course, is not what art therapy is. If the relevant child really needs therapeutic intervention, sending him to an art therapist who does not know how to recognize signs of distress or harm may amount to much more serious damage.
A friend, a psychotherapist who also provides professional guidance, told me about a relative who studied in one of the Charedi-adapted institutions. She consulted about a nine-year-old girl who wet herself. The guidance counselor attempted to speak with her about the clinical significance of bedwetting, but the therapist tried to change the subject because “it isn’t modest.” “So what do you do with the girl at your meetings?” asked the guide. “I play guitar for her,” came back the answer.
A Lack of Horizons for Development
One more important point that must be added to all these issues is using professional language. In studies under professional supervision, internationally accepted terminology is employed. As a result, learning becomes more meaningful and allows for further development. A therapeutic approach that uses, for example, terms from game theory will create a barrier for the learner in the future. Even if it currently provides him with the tools he needs, it will be hard for him to make future progress that requires additional fields of knowledge.
In the therapeutic professions, learning, and specialization are largely acquired through experience and close guidance rather than textbooks. Because this specialized field relies on knowledge that is constantly developing internationally, it requires professional supervision. It is a constantly evolving language, and you need to be a part of it to make progress. Several people I know studied at one of the existing training institutes and tried to continue their professional training in another framework but quickly abandoned the course in despair. They could not overcome the language barrier. In the case of the current proposal, the barrier would include another layer in that the certificate received will not be acceptable in most workplaces.
“It pains me that girls are going to invest in a profession that if they wish to advance in, they will have to pay again for a recognized professional path, or remain for the rest of their professional lives in frustrating mediocrity.”
This means that students will enter the labor market with a certificate that does not allow for career development. On the part of the patients, Charedi society will receive a therapeutic response at a shallow level. The therapists themselves will experience frustration at their inability to develop. The differences in wages between professional therapists and seminary graduates will reflect this as a matter of course. “I was there,” a colleague and friend told me. “It pains me that girls are going to invest in a profession that if they wish to advance in, they will have to pay again for a recognized professional path, or remain for the rest of their professional lives in frustrating mediocrity.”
Moreover, the low remuneration that therapists receive in Israel’s Kupat Holim system via the Complementary Insurance Program (the SHABAN) makes it impossible to provide close training as required by professional ethics or to purchase professional liability insurance. Who will pay the price? As always, those at the bottom of the social barrel. Those who can afford it, including politicians actively promoting the law, will pay for boutique treatment. Those without the means will have to settle for the fringes of public medicine, whose standards will be significantly lowered.
Moreover, if it turns out that the law promotes unprofessional service, the public will vote with their feet. The hope for a profitable job in a field appropriate for a Charedi woman and mother – art therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and so on – will not be realized. Parents will pay high tuition (since these are demanding studies), but their daughters will leave with a certificate recognized only in a narrow market.
As long as the bill does not require the closure of the Council for Higher Education (the MALAG), people will resort to training programs granting official certificates that open doors. If the law is passed, new tracks will be opened, but their success will ultimately depend on their quality. Therapy majors in seminaries will struggle to compete with studies in professional frameworks due to the limitations imposed by such programs.
Introducing Psychology to the Young
How competent are the seminary girls at studying psychology? A therapeutic profession requires emotional maturity and mental stability. Studying in a serious framework requires introspection, an internship in a potentially challenging work environment, emotional openness, and dealing with difficult psychological issues that may surface during the course of study. Promoting such course materials to young seminary girls is a mistake for which we might pay a heavy price.
A therapeutic profession, as a rule, is not suitable for 18-year-old girls who are still children themselves. In contrast, girls in academia start their studies far later and after exposure to the relevant kind of content at an earlier age. Even so, some institutions restrict the minimum admission age to twenty-six or seven to ensure maturity and the ability to handle complex cases. If this vocation is brought into Charedi seminaries, the quality of its content will decline to match the maturity level of the students, thus lowering its professional standard.
For instance, every therapist studying for a recognized degree must undergo a therapeutic process himself. This experience of sitting on a psychologist’s couch is critical. It is not easy to be in this position of opening up to a stranger. Knowing what a patient is expected to do when he and entrusts his soul is equally critical and inherent to therapeutic training. Is a seminary girl ready to go through this experience, which includes emotional exposure she is not used to (and with an academically trained therapist)? I should note that this is not a requirement of the Council for Higher Education (MALAG). Yet, the various institutions require it because it is essential to building the trainee’s therapeutic identity. Does the seminary have the ability to encourage, let alone require, this informal training of its students?
Suppose we have somehow overcome the censorship problem; can demure Bais Yakov girls, who are traditionally exposed to sexual content for the first time only right before their wedding in conversation with their madricha, cope with the heavy mental impact of dealing with the subject?
As mentioned, therapeutic theories that underpin the profession require a familiarity with the anatomy of the mind. A discussion about less accepted elements for a Chareid school is inevitable. Suppose we have somehow overcome the censorship problem; can demure Bais Yakov girls, who are traditionally exposed to sexual content for the first time only right before their wedding in conversation with their madricha, cope with the heavy mental impact of dealing with the subject? Can they be trained to recognize cases of abuse and trauma without causing them secondary trauma? Often, even experienced, mature, and knowledgeable therapists experience difficulty in dealing with the emotional effects of the issues they are exposed to. Are we willing to bear responsibility for the mental damage that such exposure may inflict on young girls? And is it possible to teach therapy without delving into pathologies? How do you deal with the intensity of personality disorder clusters? If you want to expose sheltered and protected young girls to the darkest aspects of human nature, you can just as quickly send them to vocational training at Israel’s prison service.
The Elephant on the Couch: Between Duty and Individual
In the lines above, I referenced practical aspects of introducing psychology studies into Charedi seminaries. Yet, at the heart of the matter stands a complex issue that few wish to discuss directly, and many are unaware of. On a range of platforms, rabbis, lecturers, and therapists often warn observant Jews to avoid consultation with psychologists since “Western psychology is not adapted to the Jewish soul” or because psychology itself is heresy. While it is quite possible to spend eight years in academic training without seeing a single quote from Spinoza, there remains more than a grain of truth to this warning.
Charedi education is predicated on compliance as a core value. Among the building blocks of Charedi seminary education are simple faith, unquestioning obedience to Torah leaders, and shunning even the slightest deviation from the path of tradition. In Charedi education, free choice is understood very differently from Sartre’s “duty to choose.” Sartre obliges the individual to make a personal decision about the nature of one’s essence at every juncture. Free choice in the Charedi space is a choice that transcends the self and its needs, unequivocally endorsing the opinions of the rabbinic leadership without leaving room for individual thought.
In this sense, psychological discourse is the antithesis of Torah education. We have made the ego the focal point of our well-being. Books meander into the emotional complexity of their protagonists. Entire volumes of thought and theory deal with the exact definition of the “I” as distinct from society or the other
The problem of Western psychology is not only in its forgiving treatment of the most debased designs of the human soul or in the legitimacy it gives to wishes for revenge and perverted fantasies. Nor is it the heretical ideas it may contain. The biggest player in the psychological arena is the ego, the “I.” Modern psychology encourages processes of separation and individuation and follows a person throughout his life as he attempts to achieve these vital capabilities. This is maturity by its theoretical definition, which allows one to conduct himself in the world productively and appropriately. Because of this, the focus is on the self in all its complexity. Every hidden desire, every strange whim of the soul, every grandiose dream, and every shameful petty need is legitimized. All are parts of the same unqualified self.
Psychoanalysis claims a functional status as a tool, a means of enabling people to improve their mental state and live a life of harmony and well-being. However, there is a philosophy behind it that does not align with Charedi seminary education. The 20th century, according to Foucault’s criticism, was the birth of the “subject,” the self that does not depend on others for its definition and does not need to justify its existence through fulfilling a role or contributing to society. In this sense, psychological discourse is the antithesis of Torah education. We have made the ego the focal point of our well-being. Books meander into the emotional complexity of their protagonists. Entire volumes of thought and theory deal with the exact definition of the “I” as distinct from society or the other.
The act of self-expression becomes more compelling and important than the content expressed. The theme of self is overused in songs (I searched for myself, I found myself, I said to myself, I answered myself), and feelings take precedence over actions. There is no doubt that this humanistic social trend has become very enticing, replacing the previous century’s mechanistic motion with one that resonates with the soul. However, it is also responsible for the postmodern character of the Western world, replete with its many ills. And we are about to open the doors to all of this.
Behind the fear of academia is an even greater fear of the Western spirit, which is an inseparable part of the profession. The almost obsessive preoccupation with what I think, how I feel, how much I want, what I need, and why and how all this will supply me with self-fulfillment produces people whose autonomy is a crucial component of their identity. The freedom to think, choose, and decide for themselves becomes a wonderful and magical amusement park. Academic studies, even those properly supervised and strictly adherent to the halachic strictures, have the ability to shape our consciousness profoundly. The legitimacy to choose independently, to let the self, the individual, the person decide his own path, is an integral part of this one-way intellectual journey.
This is true in general undergraduate studies, which require involvement, being opinionated, and thinking independently. It is even more apparent in psychology studies, which focus on the self and not the hierarchical religious system. For example, will we encourage a teenager to complain about his or her parents? Respecting parents is an absolute value; it is the image of the relationship between man and his Creator. In many therapeutic conversations, the relationship with the father or mother comes up quite openly, validating the most problematic kinds of feelings. And what about questions of faith? As a result of the legitimacy of putting doubts on the table, not a few patients decided to leave the Torah way, much to the chagrin of the Charedi therapist himself.
In modern psychology, questions are not value-based, and dilemmas are not moral. The conflict is portrayed as the individual pitted against society, personal desire versus normality, or social acceptability. The value of delayed gratification is equal in this respect to the value of altruism. Both are products of a dialectic between the self and society and sometimes between authentic expression and the inauthentic self. A person’s altruism may even be viewed by psychology as a mask, a pathetic attempt to gain approval for an act that extends beyond their physical limitations. However, rebelling against conventions and breaking social and even moral codes will often be perceived as an expression of authenticity, of courageously following the dictates of the heart.
The drafters of the amendment to the law wish to promote the recognition of seminary studies precisely for this reason. There is no lack today of Charedi art therapists. Out of 7,000 art therapists in Israel, there are some 1,500 female Charedi art therapists with degrees or certificates. The balance is tilted firmly in favor of the Charedi sector. Rather than a lack of therapists, the deeper issue at hand is the potential of academic studies to influence the mind. Those supporting the amendment believe that this problem can be overcome by means of appropriate censorship or adaptation to traditional family values. However, I fear that this is a move that will not succeed. Placing a kippah and Tzitzis on academic content will not help in this case. These are different languages, and it is not enough to adapt the materials or use alternative source texts. The language of the self is not a religious language. It is freed from inhibitions, hierarchies, and obligations; it creates a constant conflict between the individual and the social and community orders.
This raises the question of whether we can import a collection of terms, mindsets, and thought patterns without paying excessive import taxes. Will we create with our own hands a cognitive dissonance that will make the modest accomplishment of this or that parliamentary measure meaningless?
Our lives have been enriched in many ways by therapy. Unfortunately, there are cases where it is impossible to be satisfied with the standard religious self-improvement routine or with expressions of encouragement and faith. There are times when trying to cope by using positive mantras only encourages obsessive thinking. Other times, a person might collapse under the mental load to the point of developing pathological disorders. One may succeed in keeping his head above water, but it costs him so much effort that he has no energy left for anything else. If we did not recognize therapeutic methods as beneficial, we would not wish to bring them into our homes. It must be recognized, however, that the positive impact that therapy brings is not without its costs. The secular language of treatment is inseparable from the profession, and its introduction into Charedi seminaries under any possible arrangement may cause irreversible educational damage.
In today’s world, every God-fearing man or woman who studies a therapeutic profession knows they are entering a field of knowledge based on secular principles (even if the management of the study framework is Charedi). As they tackle the challenge, they rely on the support of their families, seek counsel from rabbis along the way (even during the actual therapy career), and exercise their own judgment constantly. Many rabbis and Chassidic Rebbes allow married women to attend a supervised Charedi professional setting. This is either due to the need for therapists that necessitates sending women to the front lines or because the questioner has enough life experience to allow her to handle the complexity of value tension. It is, therefore, necessary to create Charedi study frameworks for mature women that will ensure a high professional standard together with close religious supervision. A young girl who wants to study the profession will likely have to wait.
In the end, it will be the public itself who will pay the price for lowering the professional bar – both consumers, who will be inundated with untrained therapists, as well as parents and students, who will spend significant amounts of money on certifications that have little practical value
In the current situation, these studies carry a price. Many will refrain from enrolling in vocational schools because they are too immature to deal with the content or due to family values. The public should not pay this price. We should not be lowering the profession’s requirements and make it equivalent to botanical studies to make it accessible to everyone. A woman who belongs to a community in which the choice of professional studies will not be permitted is no different from someone who wears a cap on her wig because of prevalent customs in her community or who doesn’t have an email address for reasons of principle. She pays these prices willingly, and she deserves our full respect and admiration. There is no young Charedi woman who has not hit a glass ceiling in employment. Medicine, orthodontics, espionage, and piloting are still not approved for us, and a Charedi female astronaut will probably never be launched into space.
Our Charedi representatives cannot base their position on political considerations alone under the pressure of the community. It is essential to act with a sense of responsibility and forward-looking thinking on this issue. The move may open the door to values that are antithetical to the purity of Charedi education and cause professional chaos that will set us back decades. In the end, it will be the public itself who will pay the price for lowering the professional bar – both consumers, who will be inundated with untrained therapists, as well as parents and students, who will spend significant amounts of money on certifications that have little practical value. We need to carefully consider these weighty decisions; otherwise, we too might become victims of the system and find ourselves in the not-too-distant future wondering, to borrow from postmodern terminology, what we have done to ourselves.
Photo by Lauren Mancke on Unsplash