The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health

Kabbalah and Psychology: Anxiety Relief – The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health – Part 8 – The Chassidic Therapist

In order to deal with the confider's most intimate, secret shortcomings, the confidant must at this stage identify deeply with the confider and his situation. How can he hope to do this?

The Chassidic therapist is one who himself has conscientiously and earnestly endeavored to study, internalize and actualize the teachings of Chassidut in his daily life. By persistently refining his own character, and especially by practicing and acquiring the attribute of humility and self-abnegation through ongoing self-examination, the chasid acquires the ability to understand and assist his comrade with his own psychological problems. The teachings of Chassidut impart an acute understanding and sensitivity to human psychology to those who study them devotedly and follow their advice.

One of the traps faced by someone who has dedicated himself to the spiritual life is that of false modesty. At first blush, it would seem that a truly humble person would shun the role of a spiritual confidant. After all, isn't it presumptuous for someone to assume that he has absorbed and internalized the teachings of Chassidut enough to be able to direct and guide someone else who has not as yet reached his level of self-refinement? Shouldn't the spiritually oriented person be afraid of the inevitable feelings of self-satisfaction that come with successfully solving another person's problems?

The truth, of course, is the exact opposite the truly humble person will humble himself before the truth, and will therefore be as aware of his own experience, gifts and talents as he will be of his shortcomings and the long road still ahead of him. Moreover, he will give no thought to his own interests and the spiritual dangers that helping another person entail. When called upon, he will assume the role of counselor or wise elder with grace and conviction, and not evade his responsibility for reasons of false modesty.

In any case, the assured resolution of the confider's problems can never be ascribed solely to the sensitivity and good advice of the confidant. This is because the confider himself plays an active role in the discussion of his problems and the efforts to sort them out. In effect, then, the Divine soul of both confider and confidant join together in the struggle to dissolve the evil within the confider. The odds are weighted in favor of good, so evil effectively has no chance.

Chassidic doctrine is so confident of man's ability to uproot the evil within him (again, providing the prerequisite conditions have been met) and attaches such great importance to this endeavor that it considers it the central challenge of the true educator/counselor. Since man is born a wild donkey, (Job 11:12), equipped from birth with predominantly animalistic drives and tendencies, weeding them out is considered the first goal the sincere and dedicated educator/counselor should set for himself. Furthermore, he is warned that his responsibility in this regard is grave indeed, for if he does not succeed he will assuredly make matters worse.

The Biblical role model every Chassidic therapist or educator should set for himself is, again, Joseph. As the archetypal dreamer and dream interpreter of the Torah, Joseph embodies the quality of being able to reorder the chaotic meanderings of the unrectified imagination or subconscious into meaningful messages that serve as keys to the hidden recesses of the heart and mind.

According to our tradition, the reason Joseph, more than any other Biblical figure, was able to do this is because he successfully wrestled with sexual temptation. Once he rose to a position of power in Egypt, a land infamous for its sexual licentiousness and depravity, it would have been the simplest and most natural thing for him to indulge in any of a plethora of sexual enticements. Yet, we are told that even when he was propositioned by a woman of aristocratic charm and allure, he resisted her overtures and jealously guarded his sexual purity. For this reason, tradition has given Joseph the appellate "the righteous."

As is well known, modern psychology has correctly verified that most mental psychoses/neuroses/disorders/syndromes are connected with sexual problems. Husband and wife exist before conception and birth as part of one, undifferentiated spiritual essence, which is separated at conception into its male and female components. Man is therefore born with a natural urge to find his lost soul mate, and the frustrations and diversions he experiences along the road to this goal give rise to much of the subconscious confusion that undermines his psychological well-being throughout life.

It was thus by virtue of his unsullied and uncompromised sexuality that Joseph was able to so successfully help others sort out their complex psychological disorders.

Previously we identified Joseph as the good thought that enables a person to perform the second phase of psychological therapy, ignoring his anxiety. Here we are identifying him with his more important role, that of the skilled confidant of the third phase, articulating anxiety.

As such, Joseph is the archetypal rebbe or spiritual mentor of the Torah. All true shepherds of the Jewish flock and sincere mentors, educators, and confidants throughout history have drawn their inspiration from him.


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