How religious therapists think

I observed hundreds of people in one room yesterday who were seeking faith-based therapy. I heard the speakers speaking the language of logotherapy. In that case why are they not seeking logotherapy itself? Well, if they are already using the concepts, what do they need it for?

I think that many of them are not even aware of logotherapy as a discipline of psychology. Man’s Search for Meaning may be quoted here and there but they somehow forget the back of the book: Logotherapy in a Nutshell. But even if they are aware, they tend to feel that logotherapy is not telling them anything new.

They’re saying: We’re doing cognitive therapy but we don’t quite trust it (because it is not based on Jewish principles of faith) and we also sense something is missing from it, so let us infuse faith into therapy and what will come out is “Jewish cognitive therapy” or “Jewish psychodynamic therapy.”

This is the irony of it. Logotherapy does not feel new to them because it is based on the same principles we uphold as religious people.

Personally, I trust logotherapy and I can use it as it is without feeling that there is some kind of faith component missing for me. I don’t feel it is redundant because it’s a practical discipline that already incorporates the very same faith-based principles of my Jewish beliefs, without having a need to implant anything from a religious system into therapy. In other words the faith-based nature of logotherapy both supports a religious world-view and at the same time is universal enough to make it a discipline that stands in its own right as a purely therapeutic approach.

I like the universal flavor of it because it takes us back to the very essence of what it means to be human.

I want to share with you now what Michael Abulafia from Machon Tal said about what they teach and you can judge for yourself. Does this make logotherapy redundant for them? Is there a place for logotherapy in their program? What would make an argument that they should be teaching logotherapy convincing to them?

He described what they teach by listing ten points:

1) The source of good: We believe that although there are genetic tendencies nothing is determined. There is no intrinsic bad in the person, so there is a lot of hope. We always believe in healing, as opposed to the Western dualism of good and bad as separate forces.

2) This is not a different psychology. We are bringing it to professionals who are using regular psychology and putting a base of faith in the background. We are treating people from an atmosphere of believing in the strengths of the person. The place that is the most painful is a way to bring the person out of himself.

3) Everyone in the various approaches who are presenting today is talking about the same thing. All the techniques are using the same approach, which is to believe in the good in the person. The purpose is to connect the person to himself. You connect the person to himself in one way or another. You give medicine if you need to but the person himself is the “starter” of his own engine. So CBT being Jewish means you want to help the person realize which thoughts he thinks are true.

4) We want to take away the idea that only one way is the right way and only I am right. Who is wise? – One who learns from everyone. You have to always change, be more connected to your inner self and go with the changes of time. You have to sit across from a person face-to-face and see him where he is right now.

5) What we teach is very exact. It’s not some kind of floating-in-the air theory. We know what the human powers are. We can identify the map of 10 sefirotic (a kabbalistic term) forces at work in a person and we can bring the person to a more inner place of who he is.

6) In Israel we have a completely different psychology. Rav Kook talks about the reality we are in as ripe for using the power of the imagination. Until now the mind was the thing that was in control. Now we can bring the imagination in and allow the person to flow. Metaphor is the best way to touch the pain.

7) What is the soul? Who is the person? We were created in God’s image.

8) We are there for the individual but also attuned to how the community influences the individual. We have to listen to every person because each and every one is significant for the whole. When we see the light of a spiritual leader’s face we can know it’s a ray of light to follow. The light of the face is the innermost person shining. So I have to be able to be open to everyone and to learn from my client. We are all interconnected. This is very rich.

9) We are working from a place of being messengers on a mission. We are assuming that all of the things that happen are for your good that is, to teach you something about what your mission is. From that place where you fall, that is exactly where you’ve been given the task to stand up. It’s not a problem to talk to people about their pain. The closer you are to the pain the better you can develop the person’s inner world.

10) There is a family structure within each person, a “father” and “mother” and so forth. What goes on between me and the other is part of what’s also happening between me and myself. Where is the influence of the mother or father coming in? If the person is experiencing difficulty in the interpersonal realm we can look to see where things are stuck in family relationships or between generations.

We can turn around situations from being crisis to rebirth, from falling to getting up. This gives us a lot of strengths with which to go from one level to the next. We can then treat the person in a much deeper way. If someone is angry at his parents or angry at God it means he’s angry at himself. We help him to connect between the parts that are disconnected. We do this through a dialogue and in the dialogue the question is not “why” but “For what?”

The more we are connected to our inner place we can be with the person exactly where he is. We can change the controvery he is having into one that is “for the sake of Heaven.”

The idea of meeting the pain is to allow the person to develop in a spiritual way. The autistic child does not draw. He doesn’t use his imagination. You sit with him under the table so to speak, as in Rebbe Nachman’s parable and say exactly what he says, to be with him where he is. We have helped children like this because the therapists had no expectations but were willing to be with him where he is. They weren’t in a place of struggle with him. They could meet the “bad” without giving it value. You don’t have to teach the person in order to help him. You just set aside a place for him, to be with him. All the techniques are the same. They are about teaching me to be myself. We are not afraid of the bad stuff because the root of a person is good. (End quote)

I ask again, is this not the language of logotherapy? Have they rendered logotherapy redundant?

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2 Responses to How religious therapists think

  1. How encouraging, the orientation towards meaning is spreading! As you explain, in Logotherapy what the therapist of faith seeks is already the essence of the approach. How can an essential approach which encompasses what is sought by increasingly many, be redundant? How can a universal home base for faith in psychology be redundant? As meaning oriented therapy spreads, many will adopt it and this is wonderful and meant to be, however, the source in Frankl for this psychology of the soul can never be marginalized and must be taught far and wide for it is the very foundation for the flourishing of such therapies. Thank you Batya, for your inspiring thoughts and questions.

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