Mental Health Minute - Rogers vs. Freud

The two seminal psychologists of the 20th century had such a different take on what a human being is. The century began with Freud who characterized human beings as primarily driven by a deep inner drive towards aggression and sexuality. These are selfish drives that need to be constrained to function in society. The culture imposes a super ego to ensure that the drives are kept in check. In contrast, the middle of the century was defined largely by Carl Rogers who spoke against this perspective. He said that people are concerned that, ‘if an individual were to be what he truly is, he would be releasing the beast in himself. I feel somewhat amused by this…”. His view is that humans are good and need to express all their feelings for what they are and in doing so would find a proper balance. So who is correct? The answer is of course both.

Human beings are a composite being that has both a selfish drive that is physical in nature and a spiritual drive that is giving in nature. This is hinted at when the Torah describes the creation of man as a process of creation from dirt, the physical, and then a spiritual breath from the divine which is our drive towards the spiritual. The job, then, is not to inhibit the physical drive out of existence for that is impossible and we don’t believe that anything created by G-d is inherently bad. Rather, one can learn to channel the selfish (read: physical) drive in such a way that it is still ensconced within a context of spirituality. For example, the drive for an appetite can be elevated by sharing a meal that is within the context of a mitzvah. In fact the Talmud in Pesachim 49a says that a Torah scholar should only eat when it is part of a seudas mitzvah.

In fact, the whole of Torah is a guide book on how to create harmony between these parts with the understanding that this achieves internal harmony and robust mental health. There are many hints to this in the Torah, but one of them is in the way that the Torah describes Torah as healing pill. The Talmud says in Kiddushin 30b that the Torah is like a pill of life. And it compares it to a bandage over a wound. As long as the bandage is over the wound protecting it, you can eat what you want and enjoy hot or cold baths. The idea is that Torah gives channels to the Freudian part of our self to express itself in a purposeful way. That allows the Rogerian part of our self that wants to self-actualize to do so. Not surprisingly, a robust mental health follows.