Religious Therapy

By Rabbi Dovid Markel

When people have emotional issues we hope and encourage them to seek emotional help through competent therapists that can help them work through their personal troubles.

One would hope that there would be a similar construct in the religious world where people would have a real place to turn to and deal with their religious crisis’ and trauma.

While rabbis and teachers are theoretically the proper medium, I think people fear speaking their hearts to them for fear of judgment and and that the rabbis will break their trust and they will be branded as religious pariahs if people would know their struggles and actual levels of religious commitment or lack thereof.

I think the lack of competent individuals to speak to, creates a reality where:

a) People live with cognitive dissonance being orthoprax, publicly religious but privately atheists or not fitting into the religious rubric they live in instead of working on resolving religious issues.

b) Instead of dealing with their issues in channels that are conducive to growth they instead only discuss their issues on anonymous groups of like minded people – other travelers that are likewise fed up or traumatized by halachic Judaism.

This often exacerbates problems rather than helping them as in an echo chamber of everyone screaming their pain, discontent and trauma it is unlikely that there will be any reconciliation or religious growth.

(That is similar to an extent (IMO) to people speaking with other emotionally distraught individuals to work out trauma instead of going to a therapist. While support groups are extremely important, I don’t think they can a) take the place of therapy and b) they need to support (try to work on being healthy) not commiserate in their sickness.)

I have a dream of creating or popularizing some type of religious-therapist. (Not a therapist who is religious, but therapy of religion – escpecially that it seems that religion has created so much personal trauma for too many people.)

The “therapists” would need to be competent, open-minded, knowledgeable individuals that can help people through their religious crisis’ in a non-judgemental environment. They would need to be people that understand religious diversity and crisis, and are open to more than one rubric of halachic Judaism. They would need to people with a mature perspective of religion and a healthy relationship with G-d and Judaism.

Such individuals can hopefully help people grow in their comfort of halachic life, help people deepen their spiritual relationship with G-d, and help people grow to find a paradigm of halachic Judaism that the person can be comfortable with and appreciate instead of living in an unhealthy emotional state of cognitive-dissonance and constant pain. (Perhaps the idea of the chassidic-mashpia in its ideal form.)

As the situation is now, it seems to me that there are too many people suffering alone with no real place to turn to for religious advice in a truly understanding environment….

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