The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health

Kabbalah and Psychology: Anxiety Relief – The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health – Part 31 – Submission, Separation and Sweetening in the Therapist

Until now, we have described the submission, separation and sweetening process undergone by the individual suffering from psychological disorder. His confidant, the mentor or therapist, must undergo his own version of the same threefold process, in order that his listening and advice be truly empathetic. We shall now describe this process.

The submission the confidant must evince is the full focusing of his attention and interest on the confider. This involves silencing the voices within his mind competing for his attention, and thus corresponds to the meaning of the first syllable of the word chashmal , silence.

Such focusing is possible only when motivated by true love based on the fundamental encounter between two Jewish souls that is occurring here. This love is what makes the difference between true interest on the part of the therapist and shallow curiosity.

It is only possible for the confidant to relate to the confider on the basis of true love when he bears no attitude of condescension towards him. His attitude must be that it is wholly unnatural and uncomfortable that he is playing the role of the therapist and the confider sitting opposite him is acting as the patient. Rather, it is just Divine providence that it happened that way, and the roles could just as easily have been reversed. After all, "The race is not won by the swift, nor the battle by the strong, nor is bread won by the wise, nor wealth by men of understanding, nor favor by men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all." (Ecclesiastes 9:11). In the words of our sages, the wheel of fortune spins in the world; he who is rich today may not be rich tomorrow, and he who is poor today may not be poor tomorrow. If this is true of physical wealth, it is certainly true of mental well-being and all the things that promote tranquility of the mind.

The separation the confidant must evince is the inner filtering process he must undergo when listening to his confider. He must sift through the different responses that occur to him, weeding out firstly those that originate in and express the yet – unrectified regions of his own psyche, and secondly those that do originate in a good place but are more relevant to himself than to his friend or patient. Once this is done, he must file away the rejected responses for his own later reflection and ensure that they do not color his attitude or responses during the therapy.

If he chooses to view these unwanted and irrelevant responses from a deeper perspective, the confidant will in fact realize that they are a blessing in disguise. Divine providence has sent the suffering person to him in order to indirectly make him aware of areas of his own psyche that require further treatment.

Our sages say "Who is wise? He who learns from all men." The Ba'al Shem Tov teaches that the inner meaning of this statement is that one should learn even from the behavior or attitude of a wicked person. The fact that Divine providence has arranged that such a person cross one's path is in order to show him that the same evil that he observes in the wicked person exists in some form in him. It may exist in him in a much more abstract or refined way, but since a person generally does not notice his own faults, the way G-d makes us aware of them is by showing them to us in other people. When the person rectifies the fault in himself, the Ba'al Shem Tov concludes, he purifies the person in whom he observed the fault, as well.

It is further taught in Hassidism that this is the proper way to fulfill the commandment to rebuke your fellow. (Leviticus 19:17). When one observes someone else sinning or evincing some shortcoming, he must first consider how he himself is guilty (in some form) of the same fault, correct it in himself, and only then proceed to diplomatically help the other person out of his situation. This methodology is of course relevant to the therapeutic process as well, as we have seen.

After the Hassidic Rebbe Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch was finished receiving individuals for private audience, he had to change his shirt because it was soaked with perspiration. When asked about this, he explained that when someone enters his study and asks for advice, he must divest himself of his own clothes and put on the clothes of that person in order to fully understand his problem, and then re-don his own clothes in order to view the problem objectively and offer advice from his own perspective. The effort expended doing this repeatedly is what causes him to sweat so profusely. Here we see that the mentor or therapist must move carefully and cautiously between full subjective identification with the world of the confider and maintaining himself in his own world, keeping the distance which affords him an objective perspective.

The sweetening stage of the confidant is the same as that of the confider. This is the dialogue in which they together find the proper solutions and the confidant offers the necessary support to transform the evil into good.


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