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Lashon Hara to a psychiatrist?


Rabbi David Sperling

Cheshvan 6, 5772
My sister is studying to become a psychiatrist and we were talking about her future profession and the question came up if it is Lashon Hara to tell a psychiatrist about the abusive behavior of relatives which of course will cast this relative in a negative way. My thought is that if they don’t mention the name of the person it might be okay but I’m no posek! There are quite a few Orthodox psychiatrist, Rabbi Twersky probably being the most famous. How would they handle this? Thank you!
Shalom, You are correct to be concerned with the laws of Lashon HaRah when talking about relatives, and it is gratifying to see that these laws are a practical part of your (and your sister's) daily lives - may this be a merit to help all Am Yisrael strengthen ourselves in our speech. In answer to your question, there is a halachic concept in the laws of Lashon HaRah called "to'elet", meaning for a beneficial purpose. When there is a good need to say a certain thing, even though it may be Lashon HaRah in normal circumstances, it is permitted because of the overriding need. For example, if someone asks you about the character of a person you know well because they are considering marrying them, and you know that the person in question has serious flaws (e.g. they rob banks in their spare time after rioting at English football matches), you not only are allowed to share this information, you are obligated to. Of course this law, like all others, has many technical limits and rules, but this is the general idea. Based on this, someone seeing a psychiatrist has a real need to reveal any abusive behavior they have suffered, and their thoughts and feelings. This is totally permitted, as it is for the benefit of their healing. Even if they need to, they may mention the person involved ("my brother used to make fun of me when I was little"). The psychiatrist though, while allowed to listen, is limited as to what they may do with what they hear. Obviously they are not allowed to spread this information (even apart from the professional ethics involved). They also should realize that they are hearing only one side of the story, and not be quick to be judgmental. But this will not affect her work, as what is of concern to the psychiatrist is what the patient believes and feels - quite separate from judging the parties involved. (If there are grounds for suspecting that the authorities need to be informed of serious abusive behaviour, the phychiatrist must also do so). May I suggest that your sister set some time aside in her studies to learn the many Jewish aspects of her work - not only the laws of Lashon HaRah, but also the Torah understanding of the workings of the soul and how to heal it. There are great works in this area (you mentioned Rabbi Twersky - and that is a good place to start). Blessings - D. Sperling
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