It is necessary to preface the stages of submission and separation before attempting to proceed to the final stage, sweetening.
The very act of discussing problems with a second party and making a joint effort to solve them are positive and necessary therapeutic techniques sanctioned by the Torah. But this phase of sweetening must be preceded by that of separation.
Secular psychology does not see any redeeming value in ignoring problems. In its eyes, this is repression, willful refusal to allow subconscious thoughts to surface into the conscious mind where they may be treated. When these thoughts, impulses, and urges are repressed, they will only fester within the subconscious, eventually to resurface in a much more detrimental form. Secular psychology thus encourages a person to deal with his psychological problems as soon as he becomes aware of them.
In truth, secular psychology has developed a submission-separation-sweetening progression all its own. To be sure, this threefold progression differs fundamentally from the threefold progression implicit in the teachings of Kabbalah and Hassidism, since secular psychology cannot factor the existence of G-d or the Divine soul into the equation of mental health. Still, its many successes (partial though they may be) indicate that there are certain points of truth in its basic grasp of human psychology. This applies to the topology of the psyche, the animal soul, which modern psychology describes quite fully, as well as to its approaches to therapy in general.
Secular psychology s submission phase is the extensive preoccupation of the therapist and the therapy with the question of limits and boundaries. In the course of his therapy, the patient is required to give due attention to the contract between himself and the therapist, to what is permitted and what is forbidden both inside the therapist s office and outside it. Accepting the limitations of these rules of the game is a form of submission, a humbling of the patient's otherwise unrestrained desire to express and achieve his aspirations in any way possible.
The separation stage comes to play in one of the crucial parts of the dialogue between the therapist and the patient, in which the distinction is drawn between those facets of the patient's psyche which are intrinsic to him and those which originate outside of him. Very often in the course of such a discussion, the patient comes to realize that the evil elements which he had considered part and parcel of his personality are in fact external baggage which has been grafted onto him and which he need not continue to carry. Here the separation is made between the patient's true inner self and the outer, nonessential crust that encompasses him.
The sweetening phase of secular psychological therapy is described graphically in the more recent psychological theories, according to which the therapist often plays the role of a mother reflecting her child's good points back to him. This serves to heal the ailing psyche of the patient as these good points expand in his consciousness.
Secular psychology even gives its own warning against premature sweetening, particularly in the context of its discussion of the importance of timing on the part of the therapist. He is advised not to raise difficult problems before the time is ripe for dealing with them. Bad timing in this regard is likely to lead to a negative therapeutic reaction, which will only impair the therapeutic process and possibly damage the patient.
All this serves to illustrate the fact that even though there often appears to be an external resemblance between Jewish and secular psychology, there remains an essential difference. Secular psychology is limited by the boundaries of the patient's animal soul and the human intellect of the therapist, while Jewish therapeutic practices derive their efficacy from the revelation of the infinite powers of the Divine soul and its connection to its Source, as well as the deep belief of the therapist-mentor in its existence and potency.
Separation through Torah
Be all this as it may, secular psychology generally seeks to skip what it considers to be the detrimental stage of separation and ignoring anxiety. This is a classic example of what Hassidic doctrine identifies as the common human weakness of seeking to begin directly with the process of sweetening without undergoing the prerequisite stages of submission and separation.
The separation stage is where the uniquely Jewish element in the process of interpreting life comes into play: that of the Torah. The word Torah in Hebrew means instruction ; the Torah is the Divine instruction for all time throughout the ages, which enables one to distinguish between the sacred and the profane and between the impure and the pure. In the separation stage, the person defines for himself what is to be considered permitted and what is to be considered forbidden. His purpose in so doing is to move entirely into the realm of the permitted and forswear the forbidden altogether, in thought, speech, and action. When an evil thought occurs to him (and this includes any thought that divert his attention from his relationship with G-d) his immediate reaction will then be to ignore this thought.
Only after having established the boundaries between good and evil and having become practiced in the art of ignoring evil is it possible to proceed to the next stage, that of sweetening. Only then can the person begin to examine, identify, and expose the hidden recesses of the subconscious mind, in order to transform this dark, unholy realm into light. This is the mystical meaning of the verse describing the creation of light and darkness: (Genesis 1:5) "And G-d called the light day and the darkness He called night". He gave each its own defined place "and there was evening and there was morning, one day." Only then could all be sweetened and become part of the unity of creation.