I am wondering if you can help with the following question that I frequently wonder about. Why is there more of a need for therapists today than a generation or two ago? Somehow we managed fine in the past. I am not, chas v'shalom, against therapists, especially those who follow Da'as Torah. I am just seeking to understand.
Very intriguing question, one that deserves serious coverage. For the purposes of this column, I’d like to discuss two contributing factors to this increase in therapy: sociological changes and temperamental changes.
From a sociological perspective, we are simultaneously living in both wonderful and challenging times. Yeshivos are overflowing, our communities are rapidly growing, and affluence abounds. Yet, we experience no shortage of difficulties with parnossa, shalom bayis, divorce, shidduchim, kids at risk/ OTD, addictions, infidelity, all sorts of abuse, and loads of stress. The following three realities are unique to our times and likely play a role in these difficulties.
A) Our standard of living is much higher. Although this has resulted from our greater affluence, it has caused undue stress on the vast majority. Expectations related to making balebatish simchas, seminary costs, homes, cars, etc. take their toll on the average family. B) Technological innovations have created unprecedented opportunities for parnossa and Kiruv, but have also posed new and frightening challenges. The worst of what the broader culture has to offer and that which we have placed great effort to shield our communities from, easily enter our homes. C) We are boruch hashem blessed with large families, contributing to the rapid growth that our Kehillos have experienced. Yet, at the same time, the emotional and financial demands of raising so many children can be challenging.
The second factor relates to temperamental changes experienced by our generation. As a member of this generation and no exception to much of this, my comments should be taken as that of a social observer and not a critic. Unlike the recent past, we are less willing to tolerate imperfection and discomfort. For example, for millennia we survived and thrived without air conditioning, and now we cannot imagine living without it. We need cleaning help, we need summer homes, we need car(s) and can't make do without them. This phenomenon is also reflected in the Chinuch practices recommended by Gedolei Yisroel. For example, Rav Wolbe (among others) writes that hitting children should not be practiced today because children are less able to tolerate it.
Our challenges with tolerating discomfort and imperfection may underlie our greater need for therapy. While in the past people may have tolerated imperfect spouses, 45 minute Krias shmas, and anxious children, we expect more and tolerate less today. People thus seek therapy to learn the tools to accept that which cannot be changed and the ability to change that which can.
Perhaps the abundance of therapists is the refuah kodem limakah--a refuah that is uniquely necessary for our times!
This article originally appeared in the Yated Neeman.