Multicultural literature often states that psychotherapy is a product of White culture. This article differentiates between White culture and Jewish culture and demonstrates the extent of the influence of Jewish culture on the origin and development of psychotherapy. The first section compares White culture to Jewish culture in terms of compatibility with the values and orientation of psychotherapy. The second section first demonstrates that psychoanalysis not only developed within Jewish culture, but also that it shares many features with Jewish mysticism. Then psychoanalysis and Gestalt psychology are compared to American behavioral psychology to demonstrate the differences in their orientations. The third section documents the contributions of Jews to psychological theory and psychotherapy.More excerpts within:
[Langman, P.F. (1997). White culture, Jewish culture, and the origins of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, 34, 2, 207-218.]
Many writers in multiculturalism have stated that psychotherapy and counseling are products of White culture, and thus reflect White culture's values and patterns of expression and interaction. [. . .] This view is typically assumed, rather than documented, perhaps because it seems selfevident. At best, however, it is incomplete.
What is missing from this view is the role of Jews and Jewish culture in the history of psychotherapy. [. . .]
This lack of attention to Jews and Jewish culture may be due first of all to a lack of awareness regarding who is, or was, Jewish. Second, even if prominent figures are known to be or to have been Jewish, Jews may be considered White and thus to be products of White culture. From a cultural standpoint, however, this is inappropriate (Langman, 1995). As will become clear below, similarity of skin color does not equal similarity of cultures. [. . .]
Before proceeding with the first section it is necessary to define some terms. The three quotes in the first paragraph demonstrate that different writers use different terms to make a similar point. Ivey used the words "White" and "Eurocentric," Jackson used "Anglo-European," and Grieger and Ponterotto used "White," "European," and "Western." Similar references are sometimes made to White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) culture.
The lack of agreement in terminology raises the question of whom is being described. "White culture" is sometimes referred to as "Anglo," although Anglo means English, not White or European. Similarly, when people use WASP it is not always clear if they mean "White" or "European," or specifically White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, excluding the rest of Europe.
Katz (1985), for example, referred to White culture as Christian, but also referred to the Protestant work ethic, which would seem to exclude Catholics. Katz defined White culture as including (but not limited to) the British, Dutch, and German cultures. She also noted that the ideal of beauty in White culture involves blonde hair and blue eyes. Based on these references, it seems that White culture means central and northern Europe, and does not include Spain, Portugal, Italy, or Greece. Although the term White culture ignores regional, class, and ethnic differences, it will be used here as a problematic, but generic, label. This article focuses mainly on WASP culture, but includes references to other cultures from central and northern Europe. [. . .]
The book People in Pain (Zborowski, 1969) is a large-scale anthropological study that provides a fascinating view of people in different cultures and how they respond to physical pain. Although psychotherapy focuses more on psychological issues rather than physical pain, there are similarities in how people in each culture respond to both types of distress. This study provides a foundation for understanding cultural patterns that are relevant to the use of psychotherapy.
Among WASPs (called by Zborowski (1969) "Old Americans") there were a number of interesting patterns in their responses to pain. There was a general reluctance to speak of, or to express, pain because this was seen as useless. As one patient said, "I don't see why I should cry. It won't help any" (p. 50). They also valued selfreliance and did not want to look helpless or weak: "I never scream—I can take pain like a man" (p. 51). The one exception was that they would speak to physicians about their pain, because this could serve a useful function. When they did so, however, they tended to be highly objective, rational, and emotionally controlled in their description. Their preference was to hide pain, to be stoic, and to subdue it. As a result of this, they often avoided seeking medical attention until they were in a serious condition.
The description of White culture provided by Katz (1985) touched on similar themes. Katz described the "rugged individualist" as someone concerned with self-control, with an emphasis on objective and rational thinking, independence and autonomy, and controlled emotions.
McGill and Pearce, in the book Ethnicity and Family Therapy (1982), described the values and orientation of WASP culture. The authors focused on the concept of "hyperindividualism" which dominated the lives of people in WASP culture:
They tend to be good at self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and self-control and rather less good at maintaining mutually giving relationships, tolerating dependency, and integrating and expressing emotional experience. Keeping a stiff upper lip, muddling through, and taking it like a man, all reflect English values (p. 458).Moving beyond WASPs to other cultures included in the term "White," familiar themes appear. In Zborowski's (1969) study, people of Irish descent shared some characteristics with WASPs, but had some important differences. Like WASPs, the Irish emphasized stoicism, selfcontrol, and tried to hide their pain even from their family. [. . .]
Is this description of stoicism, rugged individualism, self-reliance, and avoidance of helpseeking compatible with the culture of psychotherapy? No. Despite Ivey's assertion that therapy is a White, male practice, the process of therapy actually seems to be the antithesis of traditional White male values and orientation. It asks males to give up their power, their self-reliance, their individualism, and their emotional restraint. Also, some therapies expect people to not be rational and objective, but to explore their irrational, subjective experience, whether that be conscious or unconscious. It has even been noted that for many WASPs going to therapy "means a loss of self-sufficiency, lower self-esteem, and heightened feelings of inadequacy" (McGill & Pearce, 1982, p. 471).
Recognizing the disparity between the orientation of White culture and that of therapy makes sense of the common stigma associated with seeking psychotherapy. This is seen in the difficulty many people from White cultures have in entering treatment. This difficulty has been reported among WASP (McGill & Pearce, 1982), German (Winawer-Steiner & Wetzel, 1982), and Polish (Mondykowski, 1982) clients. Therapy is often seen as foreign to their culture, and people are often suspicious of those who practice it and/ or fearful about becoming involved in it. Thus, it does not seem accurate to say that therapy reflects White culture. In fact, people from both White and minority cultures are often wary of therapy.
Zborowski's (1969) study of how Jews respond to pain illustrates major differences between Jewish culture and White culture. Rather than being stoic and viewing emotional expression as useless, Jews tended to be highly communicative and saw value in expressing their emotions. In contrast to "taking it like a man" and finding honor in denying their pain, the expressiveness of Jewish patients seems almost theatrical. One patient reported, "I rolled on the floor from this wall to that wall—chewing the carpet. For eight months!" (1969, p. 99). Another stated, "I bang my head against the wall, I've shoved my face into boiling water . . . trying all sorts of things that might give me relief" (p. 99). Regarding the value of expressiveness, a patient said, "I let out the emotion. Because I knew it's best to let it out than to keep it within yourself. Cry it out and be better off" (p. 102). Another one reported that he cried when in pain: "It's the only thing I can do—the only outlet I've got" (p. 102). Another function of expressiveness was that it connected the patients to other people. Rather than suffering alone and in silence, Jewish suffering was communicated to the entire family who became involved in assisting the patient. Thus, the expression of pain served the dual purposes of release and social connectedness. [. . .]
Jews differ from many cultural groups in that they place less value on self-reliance and are less suspicious of taking their problems to professionals. Herz and Rosen (1982) note that Jews tend to rely on experts, and when there is an emotional problem, they seek an expert on emotional problems. Data collected decades ago found that Jews were more favorably inclined toward psychotherapy and more likely to utilize it than were Protestants and Catholics (Srole et al., 1962). [. . .]
Comparing this description to the descriptions of White culture, it is clear that Jewish culture is more compatible with psychotherapy than is White culture. Jewish culture not only values discussion of difficulties, insight, articulateness, and emotional expression, but also values psychotherapy as a practice. Whereas many characteristics of White culture appear to be in opposition to psychotherapy, Jewish culture fits closely to the culture of psychotherapy. [. . .]
It is no coincidence that psychotherapy is compatible with Jewish culture. A look at the history of psychotherapy indicates the extent of influence from Jewish cultural milieus. [. . .]
Freud's Jewishness has often been minimized or dismissed as irrelevant, but it was a central part of his identity (Bakan, 1958; Bergmann, 1982; Diller, 1991;Gresser, 1994; Klein, 1981;Rainey, 1975). According to Freud, his father came from a Hasidic background, which means his father was totally immersed in Jewish life, Judaism, and Jewish mysticism. Freud's mother also came from a traditionally religious Jewish family. Although Freud did not have the same upbringing as his parents because his family left Jewish Orthodoxy and assimilated to some extent, he was influenced by their culture. In 1909, for example, Freud wrote to Jung of "the specifically Jewish character of my mysticism" (McGuire, 1974, p. 220).
Psychoanalysis was not only begun by Freud, who was Jewish, but nearly all the early members of the movement were Jewish, including Sandor Ferenczi, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, Otto Rank, and Hans Sachs. Klein (1981) wrote of
the remarkable predominance of Jews in the psychoanalytic circle. From its beginning in 1902 to 1906, all 17 members were Jewish. The full significance of this number lies again in the way they viewed themselves, for the analysts were aware of their Jewishness and frequently maintained a sense of Jewish purpose and solidarity (p. vii).Later Jewish figures in psychoanalysis include Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, Erich Fromm, Otto Rank, Bruno Bettelheim, Theodore Reik, Wilhelm Reich, A. A. Brill, Helene Deutsch, Melanie Klein, and Anna Freud. To the extent that psychoanalysis influenced psychotherapy, it is inaccurate to attribute the origin and cultural milieu of therapy to White, WASP, Anglo, or European culture. It was specifically a development of assimilated European Jewish culture.
An indication of the difference in culture between Jews and the majority European culture can be seen in the reception given to Freud's work. Freud's ideas were dismissed and ridiculed by the non-Jewish majority as being anything from absurd to vulgar. They were especially criticized for their focus on sexuality. When Freud gave lectures to B'nai Brith (a Jewish organization), however, he was welcomed enthusiastically long before he had achieved any fame or recogni- tion for his work. In other words, among Jews his ideas found a receptive audience; among non- Jews, his ideas were subjected to hostility and rejection. [. . .]
In summary, all the writers cited here who attribute psychotherapy solely to White culture make the same two mistakes. First, they do not distinguish Jewish culture from White culture and the particular influences of each. Second, they do not demonstrate how a culture that emphasizes selfreliance, hyperindividualism, controlled emotions, denial of pain, and avoidance of helpseeking produced the culture of psychotherapy which values self-disclosure, discussion of personal difficulties, emotional expression, and the use of outside experts for personal problems. The missing piece in this equation is the role of Jewish culture in the evolution of psychotherapy.