Mental Health, Psychotherapy and Judaism


He received the Israel Prize , the state's highest honor, for research derived from psychological interpretations of Hasidic and Midrashic concepts that pertain to social welfare and other areas within the social sciences. Please enjoy these responses from the distinguished Dr. What is the role of religion or spirituality in your clinical practice? The role of religion is central in my clinical practice because Judaism is a text based on religion. By emphasizing the centrality of text, I wish to declare that I derived my Jewish psychological paradigms via the hermeneutic process of reinterpreting the sacred texts in psychotherapeutic terms.

Most therapies are based primarily on talking techniques. From this perspective my therapy does not invent new techniques because it is the content and context which is crucial in reshaping ones meaning of life. Accordingly, if the Oedipal text teaches that we are destined to kill our fathers, by using the Issack solution of intergenerational tension, the possibility of continuity in spite of the natural gap between generations is used as a modeling therapeutic device.

A new client comes to therapy reporting his main problem is feeling detached from God. How would you proceed? As a student of Max Weber's socio-psychological understanding of religion, I believe that all so called behavior patterns are rooted in religious beliefs which were secularized in the process of acculturation. Then I would use the Jewish belief in free will , to help the client to formulate a concept of divinity which could help in controlling life events rather than being controlled by it.

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This slim volume focuses on the interface between mental health, psychotherapy and Judaism. The topics considered are varied and relate to theoretical as well. Nonetheless, psychiatric ailments continue to be stigmatized. And while Jews have been instrumental in establishing the field of psychology — and are often.

What is the relationship between sin and psychopathology? However, if the perception with the feeling of sin is still entrenched , I would suggest a longer period of therapy to try and uproot the forbidden preoccupation with sin which according to the Hasidic doctrine, for example, is the greatest sin of them all.

The answer here is clear cut and short. It is the client himself who possesses not only a free will but also the responsibility to change. While this assertion sounds like a humanistic politically correct slogan, it implies that even so called "mentally ill" people are basically responsible for their condition, might be far out among some mental health practitioners.

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What is the most difficult part of practicing psychotherapy while maintaining your beliefs? The most rewarding part? While the most difficult part in psychotherapy is to work with clients who under the disguise of a deterministic view of life are reluctant to take responsibility for their own misery, the most rewarding part emerges from the therapist's feeling that he succeeded to change this "convert's" disbelief in one's ability to change.

Stick around, there are many more VRT interviews to come! Keep track by bookmarking the table of contents or follow along on facebook. I'm troubled by the notion that "mentally ill" people are responsible for their conditions. First, why is mentally ill in quotations?

Secondly, is this an assertion that biology plays no role in any diagnosed mental health conditions? In Israel, Jews in this group may be called daatim though his term sometimes covers the ultra-orthodox as well. Men will dress more casually than in ultra-orthodox circles, but may wear skull-caps, often crocheted, and not black, and the dress of women, while modest, may not follow completely the strict dress code of the ultra-orthodox. I have described the dress of the two groups because dress sends important signals about religious identity and group membership. Estimates of the numbers of traditionally and modern orthodox are even harder to make, but perhaps about one-third to one-half might identify themselves as traditionally or modern orthodox.

Judaism is the oldest monotheistic religion, and belief in the unity of G-d, the origin and continuous source of creation, is by definition central. Orthodox Jews believe that G-d revealed teachings to humanity, via Moses, and passed down and elaborated by generations of pious scholars. There are laws applying only to particular categories of people — Jewish kings for example, or women who have recently given birth to a child, or priests, or non-Jews. But there is a large body of law and custom widely accepted and practiced by all orthodox Jews.

There are minor variations in detail between different sub-groups of orthodox Jews. The common features of all varieties of orthodox Judaism include observance of the dietary laws, Sabbaths and festivals, the sanctity of marriage strict monogamy , encouragement of regular prayer and religious study, and a high value placed upon the Jewish home and family as the centre of religious life.

The education of children is an esteemed activity. Especially among the more strictly orthodox, children are regarded as blessing of which one cannot have too much — so family size is normally very large: Mystical experience and religious enthusiasm are valued particularly among the more strictly orthodox, famously in hasidic groups. Orthodox Jews, then, have monotheistic religious belief, a love of Israel, and follow strict laws regarding diet, Sabbath observance, sexual behavior and other aspects of daily life. Family life, education and practical kindness are all highly valued.

The epistemological tools acknowledged and supported by orthodox Judaism What are legitimate sources and kinds of knowledge for orthodox Jews? Among the very strictly orthodox Jews, secular study is not highly-regarded.

Some areas of study may promote values which are seen as antithetical to Jewish values, for example with respect to sexual behavior. For strictly-orthodox men, particularly in Hasidic circles, a life-time career in religious study, and often teaching, is the most esteemed career track. The intellectual demands are high, but the focus of study is Jewish law and lore, with no significant attention being given to wider cultural, literary, artistic or scientific topics. Women in such circles may have a wider education than the men. However women will prioritise marriage and family commitments.

These are likely to be heavy given the value place on having as many children as possible. Women will commonly contribute to the family livelihood, sometimes being principal breadwinners in order to free their husbands for religious study. Time is usually made for communal charitable activities by both men and women. University education is rare, but technical training may be undertaken, with the computer industry proving very popular.

Small business management and administration is another popular livelihood, and, in some strictly orthodox circles, medical and para-medical training and careers are religiously acceptable and commonly undertaken, including counseling and psychotherapy. The traditionally and modern orthodox will not eschew secular study, and as is known, Jews have made significant contributions in science, medicine and the arts.

Medicine, law and business are popular careers. As among the strictly orthodox, women are free to devote themselves to family care if they wish, but it is common for women to be economically active.

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Literal interpretation of scripture — in its normally-understood sense of the term — is not valued by orthodox Jews. Scriptural study is said to involve several levels: Every level of understanding including the plain meaning is open to differing interpretations. Scriptural study normatively involves a small piece of text in centre of the page, surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of words of commentary, offering diverse interpretation.

Nevertheless, scriptural interpretation is not a free-for-all, and only interpretations offered by competent orthodox religious authorities are accepted. However when choosing a medical practitioner, one is obliged to seek the most professionally competent, regardless of his or religiosity. In practice, the more strictly orthodox and their rabbis have been negative about using mainstream psychotherapy and counseling services.

The reasons will become apparent later in this chapter. Spitzer regards it as essential that orthodox and Hasidic patients with psychiatric and psychological disturbances are seen only by professionals from a similar cultural background. Spitzer and others argue that the behavior and feelings of orthodox patients cannot be understood by others, and appropriate help and treatment can only be developed by those with a full immersion in the cultural and religious values and practices of the community.

One aspect of the animal soul is the intelligent soul Nefesh HaSichlis See e. The divine soul apprehends spiritual reality, and strives to cleave to G-dliness.

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The animal soul seeks material and self-centred pleasures, and the intelligent soul may be employed by either. The animal soul and the divine soul often have conflicting interests, and different Jewish mystical and ethical systems propose varying methods of dealing with this conflict of interests, notably whether to suppress the animal soul and its demands by abstinence and fasting, or whether to train the animal soul by teaching it to enjoy things done for the service of G-d.

The latter path has probably been more popular. Judaism does not regard the animal soul as the work of the devil, but as a source of challenges to be dealt with in the right way. Among western Jews, the study of Jewish mysticism was largely confined to Hasidic circles. Among oriental Jews, the study of mysticism is more widespread.

More recently, Jewish mysticism has become a more generally popular topic for study in orthodoxy generally. Study includes the mystical systems of the Zohar, and of Lurianic kabbalah, and systems for contemplation and meditation. The idea of a lifelong moral struggle, which humans are inherently equipped to win, but in which they have complete free choice, is the simple but pervasive theme underlying Jewish ethical teaching and Jewish accounts of personal development.

It is closely tied to the Jewish view of human development. Development is a lifelong process, in the Jewish view. Even the totally righteous individual is engaged in a constant developmental struggle. Awareness of G-dliness is seen as an inherent human potential, but achieving this awareness is an ongoing process, and a necessary precondition to the spiritual-moral struggles that are the main purpose of existence. Education, too, is a life-long process — training in religious awareness and spiritual work begin before birth, and all Jews are seen as having an obligation both to learn and grow, and to facilitate the learning and growth of others.

The study of religious texts and adherence to the myriad details of Jewish law are the key vehicles of this process. Pregnant women and young children should avoid contact with non-kosher species of animal, for example should not be given toy bears to play with, as they may cause spiritual harm, by their predatory nature. Very young children should be taught to say blessings before and after eating and drinking, to remind them that the food is not there solely to be enjoyed, but is from G-d, and the strength derived from eating is to be used for good activities.

Teachers and parents should encourage children and adolescents to study and lead a religious life, but this should be in a way of pleasantness and firmness, without shouting, shaming or using physical force — these latter methods produce short-term compliance but have no beneficial long term effects. One area of personal development very popular in orthodox circles is the study and practice of the laws relating to guarding the tongue Shmiras HaLoshon.

Bad-mouthing, slander and even gossip and chat, may all cause tremendous harm, to the tellers, the listeners and to the object of discussion Pliskin, This should be done several times daily, and implies the acknowledgement that G-d is the source of all material goods. The age of transition to full adult moral and spiritual responsibility is clearly given as 12 for women and 13 for men.

Jewish Psychotherapy according to Mordechai Rotenberg

These are religious obligations — commandments mitzvot , and it is known that these forms of social support have powerful protective effects in preventing the onset of psychopathology among those who have suffered severe stress. What is the role of religion or spirituality in your clinical practice? Please enjoy these responses from the distinguished Dr. These conflicts and apparent conflicts are primary reasons for the reluctance of many orthodox rabbis to endorse unconditionally the use of counseling and psychotherapy. The other major group of clinical issues focuses on treatment.

Psychological health and psychopathology. Traditional Jewish sources are said to describe a range of psychopathology that corresponds to what we are familiar with today Loewenthal, Accounts of well-being and psychopathology can also be found in traditional sources, and there are many references in the book of Psalms and elsewhere to the importance of religious faith and trust: The other important therapeutic tool frequently advocated in traditional Jewish sources is the importance of offering assistance, comfort and all forms of practical support to those in need — the regular charity to the chronically poor, consoling the bereaved, visiting and assisting the sick, lending money to those who have suffered financial set-backs to enable self-support.

These are religious obligations — commandments mitzvot , and it is known that these forms of social support have powerful protective effects in preventing the onset of psychopathology among those who have suffered severe stress. The idea that psychological disorder is solely spiritual in origin e.

However all would agree that succumbing to the evil inclination is spiritually unhealthy and psychologically damaging — but there are other causal factors in mental illness as well. Theory of human change. Although there are frequent references to the importance if religious trust for well-being, this is not usually seen as a panacea, particularly not for serious psychopathology, either in religious traditions, or among contemporary religious leaders or among the lay orthodox-Jewish public.

Jewish tradition has always endorsed the obligation to seek medical treatment, and the doctor is empowered by G-d to heal. Medical treatment for psychosis — particularly medication — is seen as appropriate. There are no problems in Jewish law in seeking and obtaining this. There appear to be no problems in religious law with taking medication. Own-group counselors and psychotherapists, with religiously-approved training and known to be G-d fearing individuals, may be consulted.

Some religious leaders may suggest that religious faith, prayer, and other activities may be sufficient:. We give the person with difficulties a boost, talking about belief, and trust in G-d, saying we must not despair…everything is from Heaven. Thus while faith, prayer and other religious activities are widely seen as helpful, particularly in promoting positive well-being, a small minority endorse religious beliefs and activities as the sole panacea for psychological disorders.

Common moral issues encountered There are several areas in which the values of Orthodox Judaism may conflict — or appear to conflict — with the needs of psychotherapeutic work. These conflicts and apparent conflicts are primary reasons for the reluctance of many orthodox rabbis to endorse unconditionally the use of counseling and psychotherapy. Orthodox counselors and therapists will have received training and guidance in dealing with these issues, and will liaise closely with the rabbinate in their day-to-day work, so their work is usually endorsed by the rabbinate.

First, Jewish law does not condone homosexuality, masturbation, extra-marital or pre-marital sexual relations. Thus any indication that these practices can be condoned or supported is not appropriate for orthodox Jews, even though of course all these practices can and do happen. Therapists who do not share orthodox Jewish values and beliefs may think or suggest that an orthodox Jewish client is being made guilty or anxious as a result of religious prohibitions about sexual behavior.

On a more minor level, touching and other contact with people of the opposite sex is not approved, and therapists would need to be aware not to offer to shake hands or touch strictly orthodox clients of the opposite sex. Necessary contact for medical, life-saving purposes is permitted. Second, more strictly orthodox clients may be troubled by the issues thrown up by the laws regarding respect for parents and teachers, and prohibiting speaking badly of another person.

This can lead to difficulties for clients particularly in talking about abuse. There is complete rabbinic support for the disclosure of abuse, and taking appropriate steps to prevent its repetition, as well as dealing with the traumatized individual. But clients need to be aware that there is such rabbinic support, and of course, as one orthodox therapist has said: It is important for the therapist to be familiar with the issues in religious law, and to have appropriate rabbinic contacts, and for the therapist to be able to make suggestions about seeking appropriate rabbinic advice if clients seem likely to have reservations about making disclosures.

It is also important for the therapists to liaise with rabbinic authorities with regard to child protection issues.

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Rabbinic authorities have developed policies and practices in this area, consistent with the law, and have close liaison with the statutory authorities. It is important to know what these are and to act accordingly, since therapists and clients who report child protection issues to the police or social services without appropriate liaison with the rabbinic authorities may find themselves ostracized by lay people in the strictly orthodox community, who find it hard to accept that an often respected member of the community has behaved abusively.

The accused may be hotly defended as an innocent upright person, who is being maliciously slandered by a disturbed individual.

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If lay members of the community can be made aware that there is rabbinic support for the steps being taken, this will defuse any counter-productive attempts to protect the abuser and delay protective measures. Thirdly, somewhat similar issues can beset attempts to deal with violent or abusive marriage relationships. Marriage is regarded as a holy and desirable state, and every attempt to preserve a marriage is regarded as praiseworthy and religiously meritorious. Nevertheless, there is no rabbinic support for domestic violence or other forms of abuse. Again it is important for therapists to be aware of the complex issues in religious law, and to have appropriate rabbinic contacts.

Among the many other issues that may be important is the issue of child-bearing. Jewish law is clearly negative about the use of contraception, unless life is endangered, in which some but not all forms of contraception are permitted. Moreover among the strictly orthodox, children are regarded as a blessing. Family sizes may be very large, and women and men may find themselves with inadequate resources to cope with parenting the very large numbers of children they have been blessed with.