Dear Rabbi J.
A friend forwarded me your last article (True Communication: The Secret of Anochi). Very powerful piece. As a therapist I was very intrigued by your description of true communication, how a soul reaches into another soul. I see that as the key to all healing. I was wondering whether you have ever developed any more specific therapeutic guidelines based on Torah thought, in the spirit of soul communication.
Blessings to you and your wonderful work,
Thank you for your very kind words, and I bless you in return for success in healing many souls. Here is an excerpt from a paper that I once wrote titled The Basic Principles of Therapy, from a Torah perspective. Please see this as a draft. And I welcome your feedback and comments.
THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF THERAPY
(from a Torah perspective)
- Problems are never what they seem to be. Aggravation and upsetness is never for the reasons people say or even think.
- Inter-personal difficulties originate in intra-personal ones.
- The root of all conflicts is the dichotomy between body and soul.
- The subjective self is unable to totally rise above itself to discover the true root of his/her issues. One needs an objective and intelligent observer to help him examine himself (the necessary criteria for an observer, see below #10).
- Every human being was created independent; a self contained entity with a unique role. In the image of G-d who is one and indivisible.
- Every person’s soul remains pure and intact. And good. Abuse and harm – all forms of distortion – can only occur in the channels that connect the soul to conscious or sub-conscious experience. The difference between people is not in their having a soul but in their awareness of it.
- Every one has the capacity to access their unscarred soul. Every one must assume responsibilty for themselves (rather than blame another for their problems). The help they need is only in accepting that responsibility and unraveling the distortions and resulting confusion, and charting a course toward positive growth.
- The teacher and helper’s (therapist’s) role is just that: helping the individual achieve clarity, accept responsibility and learn the proper method to access their soul. Like a gardener, who tears out the weeds allowing the flowers to emerge.
- Two major obstacles in this process are: a) Denial. The inability to recognize the existence of a problem, which of course compounds the problem many times over and has a snowball effect of adding on layer after layer of new distortions and complications. Half the cure is awareness of the illness. b) Confusion caused by the mix of healthy and unhealthy behavior mechanisms. This makes it extremely difficult to distinguish between the two, which in turn adds to the denial process.
- The basic necessary requirements of a good teacher and therapist:
a) Care and sensitivity. b) Empathy. c) Wisdom. d) Knowledge and experience, competence and skill, in the study of human nature. e) Trusting. f) Humility. g) Absolute respect for human dignity and independence; that every person has to assume personal responsibility for his behavior. In Jewish terms: Complete faith in G-d and the divine soul in each person created in G-d’s own image. h) Total conviction that all human experiences are part of a process of growth. i) Flexibility and imagination. Appreciating and respecting the differences between people and thus not fit them in to any mold (while not compromising #h). j) Recognition of one’s own limitations and subjectivity. k) Methodology and technique. l) Acceptance without question of all the above requirements.
The process of therapy generally breaks down into the following steps:
- Establishing trust and opening a channel of communication.
- Hearing the problems and helping define them from the student or client’s perspective.
- Guiding the client to slowly redefine the problems from a more honest and objective perspective. Including an examination of the client’s responses and blind-spots.
- Establishing that the client is responsible for himself [if he is not, than he needs another form of help]. Defining what that responsibility entails.
- Specifying and defining unequivocally the roles of therapist and client. Making it absolutely clear that the therapist is trained only to help the client help himself. The therapist provides care and support, but is not a crutch and does not initiate the cry and need for help. It is not a personal, reciprocical relationship. These points have to be emphasized time and again, as deemed necessary.
- Recognizing if this particular therpaist-client dynamic is not going to work. This can be for a variety of reasons, including sometimes the humble recognition on the part of the therapist that the best therapist can only help one who is willing to help himself, which often needs the client to have hit rock-bottom and desparately seek help. No therapist can replace that cry for help.
- Developing a process of movement and growth with the intended goal to rise up above yourself and relate to a higher reality. This must be done in a step by step basis, timed at the pace of the client, enabling him to internalize it.
- Defining the objective in simple terms. Consistently reviewing the goal and illustrating how all the many elaborate steps in reaching the goal are but a means to that higher end. Establishing this is crucial in the process, firstly because it gives the client (and the therapist) a sense of direction and keeps him from wandering off due to different distractions. Second, it treats the client with respect, knowing that he is being guided to help himself, and empowers the client with the feeling of control over his own life.
- Persistence and tenacity, never losing sight of the initial goal.
- Consistency in the devotion and care for the client.
- Assurance and reassurance of progress. Acknowledging the potential and, indeed, need for setbacks; but recognizing that the primary goal is not how quick and how far one reaches, but steady movement rather than inertia. Emphasizing that any movement, frontwards or backwards, any sensation, pain or pleasure, anger or joy, is better than lethargy and numbness.
- Frequent review (with an objective party) of the therapist’s decision-making process. With special emphasis on the therapist’s attitudes and feelings.
- Recognizing when to let go. When to allow the client to walk (or fly) on his own, even at the expense of falling. Only then can he truly learn to walk on his own. Actually this should be rephrased: During the entire therapeutic process the client should be walking (and falling) on his own with gentle guidance from the therapist. The therapist must recognize if the client is becoming to dependent on the therapist and then help him become self-dependent.
Pitfalls to be wary of from the client’s side:
1. An overly manipulative client who wants to engage the therapist in battle or enjoys mind-games.
Solution: If the therapist is unable to make any progress due to the client’s attitude – confront (sometimes gently) the client. Establish the reasons for his attitude and if it can be overcome. If not – make it clear to the client why the therapy cannot continue under such circumstances.
2. Overdependence on the therapist. This is a particularly sticky problem because: a) the client needs to trust the therapist and often has trust issues with a pattern of no one to depend on in life, b) of the frequent need for “transference.”
Solution: Absolute faith and respect of an individual’s personal space and responsibility, recognizing that no one (even with the greatest effort) can ever enter into the “alone” space (the most intimate space) of another individual. That is how G-d created humans. In the words of Hillel: “Im ayn Ani Le Mi Le,” “If I am not for myself who will be for me.” The trained and G-d- fearing therapist knows that “Im ani l’atzmi moh ani,” “If I am for myself what am I,” doesn’t compromise the “I”, but only comes to teach us that with the help of another one can learn to enhance and access their own “I”.
Only with absolute acceptance of G-d can a human therapist learn to rise above himself and help another with total devotion, and give the client confidence that his dependence on the therapist will not compromise the client’s “I”. (see also below)
Pitfalls to be wary of from the therapist’s side:
3. An overly manipulative therapist. Especially an intelligent one who can manipulate the client, even if it’s in the client’s best interest. Where do you draw the line between healthy and unhealthy manipulation?
4. The sense of control that a therapist assumes over the client’s life hearing the client’s most intimate issues, without any reciprocity.
5. The affirmation a therapist gets from the client’s trust in him which can lead to a reverse dependence or “counter-transference.”
Solution (to #3-5 above): In addition to the obvious methods of constant case review particularly with an objective supervisor, the Torah requires of the therapist an uncomprising selflessness, total egolessness, to the extreme that the therapist has to be the harshest judge of himself, and he must subject himself to total scrutiny by someone he respects and trusts.
The therapist’s approach in dealing with a client must be with the greatest awe and humility, recognizing the enormous responsibility he carries of being allowed to enter into the most sacred, intimate recesses of the soul of G-d’s child. He has to visualize G-d standing over him at all times and watching carefully: how are you dealing with my child? Nothing less is required of the therapist.