Friday, February 25, 2011

personality testing and healing

I was asked to comment on the personality typing system known as Enneagrams (ENN) if I considered it to be kosher or whether it is a form of Kosem (divination) which the Torah prohibits. Let me preface my remarks by stating that tools such as Enneagrams, the MMPI-2, the Myers Briggs, David Keirsey's "Please Understand Me II--Temperament, Character Intelligence" Janet Hagberg's "Real Power-stages of personal power in organizations," other psychological personality tests, and even Miriam Adahan's EMETT, all give us insights into who we are, what our tendencies are, and offer suggestions enabling us to empower ourselves based upon their conclusions. Nonetheless, Though quite logical and sophisticated, as a physician, I have chosen a non-traditional path which entails taking a completely different approach: one of hitbatlut and hitkashrut--connecting with my patient without any preconceptions, and completely objectively enabling them to discover their individual uniqueness and bring themselves into balance. The essential problem that I have with these, yes, brilliant analytical tools is that they really take away part of the patient's free choice. If one is "pegged" as a certain personality type, that image (which comes from the root imagination!) will limit what that person can become. Rav Yitzchak Meir Morganstern of Jerusalem constantly emphasizes that one should NEVER view himself as incapable of reaching a certain level of kedusha (holiness), and I believe that the same holds true in areas of character and knowledge as well. I constantly tell my patients that we are only limited by our fears and our imaginations. It is interesting that I have treated a number of patients who have suffered from cancer, and they all have two common denominators: 1. tremendous fears (of the unknown, of pain and of death) and 2. the need to be in control. Those who can let go of their fears and the need to be in control are the ones who are able to turn things around. This is, from my perspective, why I cannot use ENN, though, as I will reiterate in a moment, I see no halachic problem with it. The gemara says, "haba le'taher, mesayim oto" (someone who wants to purify himself is helped from Above).

Look at, I am not a healer, Ha-Shem is the Healer, the Doctor. What I AM is a messenger, a mailman, a detective, a translator and a tourguide. My goal is to help my patients put order into the chaos which has engendered the illness that they suffer from. And by listening to the body and soul with an openness, amazing things come out. (Yet this is not new age hocus-pocus and this is not phychological game playing--rather his is treating the WHOLE person). When one gives oneself over to Ha-Shem, one is able to escape from a room without doors and windows, the prison that one's life is bound in. But that takes letting go and trusting. And, unfortunately many people can't do it. It seems to me that tools like ENN, force the direction in which the person should proceed, and block the process of going backwards to release traumatic life experiences which have artificially imposed themselves on the person, affecting their emotions, their habits, their character traits, their thinking, and their health. Take a look at my website: There I speak about the process, the 10 principles of traditional jewish medicine that I use in my practice.

Now, that being said, it is clear to me (although, as I mentioned, I am neither a Rabbi nor a scholar, I am simply a physician) that ENN does not present any halachic legal problems, AS LONG AS one doesn't use it as an exclusive means of prognostication or predicting the future. If it is used as a healing tool, then hinei ma tov u'manayim, well and good, it can help both doctor and patient understand how and why the patient acts in a certain manner. My problem, though, is that this is a form of reductionism, meaning it looks to simplify that which is complex, and generalize that which is specific. I think that the wonder and the greatness of the human being is our uniqueness. Our sages teach us concerning education and parenting: Chanoch hana'ar al pi darco--that each child should be taught according to his or her uniqueness, not because they are a specific personality type. In my opinion, this can only limit their potential. Unfortunately, in education today, teachers look for the easy way out, looking for the common denominator of their students. If a child does not "fit" into the vision of the school, the parents are often given 2 choices: either change schools, or medicate the child. But this is not the way of Torah, whose ways are ways of pleasantness. I view medicine the same way. The way I take may be longer, but the results can be amazingly satisfying if the patient is prepared to invest the time and take the path.

So are these approaches kosher? I think so. Would I use them or recommend them? No!