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Jews make the best therapy patients, study finds

Cultural factors produce more openness to treatment of mental health problems

Freud's couch, in the Freud Museum, London. (photo credit: CC-BY Konstantin Binder/Wikimedia)
Freud's couch, in the Freud Museum, London. (photo credit: CC-BY Konstantin Binder/Wikimedia)

Jews: They make great therapists in the movies, not to mention in real life. (Woody Allen, of course, is also a fan.)

With that in mind, it’s natural to imagine that Jews also make good patients — a theory that is now being corroborated by a new scientific study.

According to the latest issue of the Journal of Religion and Health, Jews show themselves to be significantly more open-minded than other groups about the benefits of therapy. “Jews had greater confidence in a therapist’s ability to help, were more tolerant of stigma, and more open to sharing their feelings and concerns,” reports the study, led by Columbia University professor Elizabeth Midlarsky.

The article, quoted in Pacific Standard magazine, reached its conclusions after polling 307 elderly New Yorkers battling mental-health issues, roughly a quarter of whom were Jewish. The researchers attributed the findings partly to cultural differences, writing that the Jewish community “places a positive value on help-seeking behavior,” and “encourages introspection and self-knowledge.” That attitude differs with that of Christian whites, who are more likely to emulate “the ‘rugged individualist’ who is self-reliant, independent, autonomous and reluctant to appear helpless.”

Black Americans, it turns out, are among the most resistant to therapy, a finding that reflects earlier research.

The connection between Jews and psychology stretches back far beyond Freud, in the view of some scholars. In its write-up of the new research, Pacific Standard helpfully points out one recent book that identifies parallels between therapy and the study of the Talmud.

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