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Monday, 1 September 2014

Time to see a therapist?

Daf Yomi Moed Katan 21

Years ago, when I would recommend that someone seek help for mental health or marriage issues, I would inevitably encounter resistance.   There was such a stigma attached to therapy.  Nowadays, it seems everyone has a therapist.  Celebrities openly talk about their therapists and it’s just one of those people who take care of you. Everyone has a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant, a personal trainer and a therapist!

Is it working?  Is the world any saner?  Certainly, there are many people who do need help, but does everybody need a good therapist?

The Beraisa states: One who meets his friend who is in his twelve-month mourning period (following the first thirty days), he should console him and not ask him how he is doing.  After the twelve months, he should ask how he is doing and not directly console him.  However, he may implicitly offer words of comfort. 

Rabbi Meir taught: If one meets his friend who has concluded his twelve months of mourning and directly offers him words of consolation, to what may he be compared?  To a person whose leg broke and healed.  He encounters a doctor who tells him, “Come pay me a visit.  I’d love to break it again and then heal it, so that you can see how good my cures are!”

The mental health profession today is thriving, but while there are many qualified psychologists and psychiatrists, there is also an abundance of “counselors” and “therapists” out there who practice pop psychology methods.  As Rabbi Meir teaches, it’s very perilous to open old wounds – when seeking help you need to be so careful that you are seeing an expert who knows what they are doing.

The Almighty has given each and every one of us our own mental healing mechanism.  With time, we can get past many of life’s ordeals.   He allows us to forget so that we can move on with our lives.  Some people need mental health professionals to open and deal with old wounds, but most of us don’t.  We need to learn to work through our issues and utilize the inner mechanisms that the Almighty has bestowed us with.   

According to Susan Pinker in The Village Effect How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier, part of the problem is that in our age of social media we are no longer talking to one another.  And so we hire therapists to talk to.  British philosopher, Alain de Botton writes in Religion for Atheists that people who regularly meet as a community to worship and be there for one another are psychologically much healthier.  In fact he goes so far as to suggest that religions should not “be abandoned simply to those who believe in them!”  For most people, you don’t need to see a therapist to open old wounds, you just need to start coming to shul more regularly!

If you really need help then absolutely don’t hesitate to seek help.  But if you don’t and you’re just looking for a way to avoid dealing with your own problems, it’s time to get a grip on life, leave your sorrows in the past and smile as you face a brighter tomorrow!

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