The above is not a quote by Ronald Pies, author of The Judaic Foundations of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Rabbinical and Talmudic Underpinnings of CBT and REBT. Rather, it is by well-known journalist, Sharon Begley, as she concluded her recent Newsweek article, “Why Almost Everything You Hear About Medicine Is Wrong.” She focuses on the work of Dr John P. A. Ioannidis, who questions the very framework of medical investigation. Recent examples of questionable findings include hormone replacement therapy, prostate-specific antigen testing for prostate cancer, and even antidepressant medication for mild to moderate depression.
Pies must have known the flawed nature of scientific studies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been extensively tested, and the author’s timely new book creatively places CBT in the context of time-tested religious wisdom. By doing so, Pies even goes beyond this important psychiatric confirmation to expand the implications to morality, ethics, and character.
Of course, the title itself would imply its relevance. It should be of interest to any clinician practicing today’s most popular form of psychotherapy. Even here, the potential interest is broader. Rather than focus on Aaron Beck’s legacy (as so many other writers do), Pies concentrates on the relatively neglected work of Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. It may also be of interest to psychoanalytic therapists, given that Freud was known to have studied and incorporated other Jewish teachings, especially on mysticism, into his theories.
The upshot for consumers: medical wisdom that has stood the test of time—and large, randomized, controlled trials—is more likely to be right than the latest news flash about a single food or drug. —S. Begley1
From the religious side, pastoral counselors of almost any religious denomination may find the underlying principles of CBT to be applicable. Although his main focus is Judaic foundations, Pies also touches on Christian, Islamic, Hindu, and Zen Buddhist beliefs. He quotes the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: “For the forest to be green, each tree must be green.” In other words, society won’t change for the better unless we as individuals change our self-defeating habits. As Pies himself concludes, both rabbinical Judaism and CBT share “the conviction that human beings can exercise their reason in the service of self-improvement, self-control, and self-discipline.”
For CBT to work, there needs to be a positive therapeutic alliance in which the clinician conveys empathy, warmth, and a positive regard toward the patient. It would have been helpful if Pies had added this information to this relatively brief book. Along with a faith in shared positive expectations and beliefs, this relationship will contribute to a baseline placebo benefit.
There is no evidence that the founders of CBT used rabbinical and Talmudic insights to develop their treatments, but the overlap is striking. See if you can tell if the following quote comes from religious wisdom or a CBT therapist: “To defeat depression, you must introduce a fresh perspective to your thinking. You must begin to replace troubling, destructive thoughts with positive, constructive ones.” To this, we say, “Amen.”