When Therapy Conflicts With Parental Respect

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The following question was posed to us: Psychologists sometimes believe that a patient’s symptoms – depression, anger, poor functioning etc. – are a result of his parent’s destructive behavior toward him. Can we encourage a patient to express his resentment to the offending parent in a controlled, appropriate manner? The goals of these interventions are to help the patient reduce his symptoms and the suppressed hatred toward the parent. This can help improve the relationship, even though, on an immediate basis, the negative feelings are legitimized and brought to the fore.

We cannot relate to every pertinent factor or give full guidelines but will use halachic sources and logic to make certain recommendations. A psychologist must be careful (as always) and should consult a well-versed rabbi in some cases. We relate to cases of normal parents with shortcomings, not criminals or sadists.

In addition to doing positive things for a parent (kavod), one is to revere him (or her) by avoiding even things that would be appropriate toward others (mora). The gemara (Kiddushin 32a) says that a son should not disgrace his father even when the latter throws much money into the sea. The gemara seems to assume that according to the opinion that honoring parents is to be done with the parent’s money (as we pasken), silence is required only when the father throws his own money. Yet, the Rambam (Mamrim 6:7), extends it to a case in which the father discarded the son’s money. The Beit Yosef (Yoreh Deah 240) explains that while a son does not have to spend to honor his parent, he must give up all his money before disgracing him. The Ri (cited by the Tur, CM 240) says that a son does not have to let his father cause him financial damage. The Ramah (ibid.) says he can stop him before damage is done, even if the father is embarrassed; after the damage is done; he cannot scold the father – but he can sue. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 240:8) accepts the Rambam’s application of mora to the son’s significant loss. The Rama rules like the opinions that a son can protect his rights. It is not clear how far one is expected to go to avoid the theoretical possibility of suing a parent and whether the Rambam could agree to such a possibility (see Birkei Yosef ad loc. and K’tav Sofer, YD 108). The machloket between the Shulchan Aruch and Rama seems to impact on our case – a child standing up for his psychological rights (which can be no less important than monetary rights), at the expense of upsetting a parent.

Another pertinent discussion is tochacha (rebuke)of a parent for his actions? The gemara (Kiddushin 32a) says that a son who sees his father violating the Torah should only hint to him that it is wrong. Yet, certain laws of tochacha are learned from Yonatan’s rebuke of Shaul (see Arachin 16b). Apparently, while being as soft as possible, a child does rebuke a parent under certain circumstances. Does tochacha extend to the parent’s sins against his child? The pshat of the pasuk of tochacha (Vayikra 19:17- see Sefer Hachinuch 439) is that if one wrongs you, you should air your grievance rather than harbor hatred, and the Rambam (De’ot 6:6) paskens this application. However, the extent to which one can upset such an offender is limited (ibid. 8) and it is laudable to let the matter go if the victim can remove the enmity by himself (ibid. 9). It makes sense that when the offender is a parent, if the victim/child is permitted to say anything, it should be under great need and then with “kid gloves.” On the other hand, while disgracing parents is particularly severe (Devarim 27:16; Shulchan Aruch, YD 241:6), harboring hate them for them is also severe (Aruch Hashulchan, YD 240:8; see Chashukei Chemed, Sanhedrin 84b). Thus, if needed to fix a greatly strained relationship, it would seem that one can raise certain criticisms carefully.

To summarize, a psychologist can contemplate encouraging a patient (at the least, for Ashkenazim) to appropriately air grievances to his parent.


The gemara (Kiddushin 31b) tells of Rav Assi’s mother who deteriorated to the point that she viewed her son romantically. Rav Assi left her to sever the relationship. The Rambam (Mamrim 6:10) rules that while one should try to tend to a parent whose mind has deteriorated, if their behavior is bad enough, he leaves the parent and instructs others to tend to him. The Ra’avad argues because he does not see an alternative to the child’s care. The Kesef Mishneh rejects the Ra’avad’s question because the Rambam is clearly based on the story of Rav Assi.

The Ra’avad seems to understand that the idea that the son leaves is permission because the task is not doable, and so he argues with the Rambam, saying there is no better alternative. The Radvaz (ad loc.) and Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 240:32) explain that the child specifically could not be the caregiver. Others can deal more forcefully (which may be necessary) in a manner that a child is forbidden to do. Thus, the child will get someone else to do what he is not allowed to despite the parent’s need for such treatment. We see, then, that even when a parent needs non-respectful behavior, the child should find someone else to do it. Therefore, in our case, it is best (if it does not undermine the therapeutic process) for someone other than the child (e.g., the psychologist) to raise the grievances with the parent. Then the parent can approach the child and they can focus on ways to improve things.

Another halachic advantage of the psychologist broaching the topic is that it gives the parent an opportunity to be mochel (waive) his honor before discussion with the child ensues. The gemara (Kiddushin 32a) says that a father’s relinquishing of rights to kavod is effective. Some say (Raavad, cited by Rivash 220, Beit Yosef, YD 334) that he can only waive his rights to honor but not to allow being disgraced. Some equate a parent allowing disgrace to a parent allowing being hit (Turei Even, Megilla 28a) and some distinguish between them (Pri Yitzchak 54). In any case, some level of negative interaction must be permitted based on the following story (Kiddushin 32a). A rabbi did something upsetting to his son to test his reaction. The gemara asks that he was (possibly) causing his son to violate honoring his father and answers that the father waived his honor (see Birkei Yosef, YD 240:14).

When the psychologist prepares his patient for a conversation with the parent, he will teach him to raise the issues in a way that heals, not creates feuds. I imagine he will say things like “I know you love me, but when you act in a certain way, it hurts me.” While not pleasant to hear, it is likely not considered the type of disgraceful behavior for which mechilla does not work.

In summary, a child should be encouraged to complain to his parent about their parenting only when truly necessary for the patient’s mental health and/or the parent/child relationship. Even then, it is better for the psychologist to relay some of the harsher criticism instead of the child. The parent’s willful participation in the process, which hopefully will not be overly disgraceful, is helpful not only psychologically but also halachically.

About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

The latest weekly digest is also available by clicking here.

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter