Welcome to the May edition of Mind Body & Soul, themed The Soul and the Psyche. “Soul” and “psyche” represent, respectively, the spiritual and psychological dimensions of a person.
Interestingly, the two terms didn’t always have different meanings. When the term psyche was first introduced, it, too, was understood to be primarily a spiritual force, one that outlasts and outlives the body.
In parallel fashion, both the soul and the psyche are physically difficult to measure. We observe them indirectly, by way of the moods and thoughts they engender and the behaviors they emit.
What might Judaism have to say about the soul, the psyche, and their interrelationship? Decades ago, my colleague, Rabbi Dr Jerry Lob asked Rav Matisyahu Solomon, the Lakewood Mashgiach, whether he should initially focus on a troubled teenage client’s drug addiction or her violation of the Sabbath. Rav Matisyahu gave the following answer: “We are taught that Derech Eretz Kadma LaTorah. This means that we must first help someone function as a human being within society before we can expect her to keep the strictures of the Torah.” In short, Rav Matisyahu was informing my colleague that the foundation for a more functional soul is a healthy, wholesome psyche.
On occasion, our willingness to examine and probe the psyche helps us deepen our “soul work”. Consider Reuven, who finds it difficult to wake up consistently for Davening (prayers). Reuven might dejectedly conclude that he is plagued with the Middah (character trait) of Atzlus (laziness).
When a client informs me that they (or someone they know) possess bad Middos or are lazy. I encourage them to be curious, as to the source of the “bad Middos” and “laziness”.
Might Reuven be suffering from depression, which affects not only one’s mood, but also his energy level? Alternatively, might Reuven be saddled with perfectionism? In the context of Davening, perfectionism could take the form of Reuven longing to achieve full Kavanah (intention) and connectedness, while recalling the all too frequent disappointment of not achieving those lofty levels. Perfectionists of this sort typically give up before even trying. Yet another possibility is that Reuven is reenacting an unexamined family dynamic, in which family members important to him may have been either overly controlling or emotionally absent.
The advantage of “taking apart” a bad Middah is that it orients Reuven toward possible solutions. Instead of Reuven simply labeling himself a lazy person, he can acquire tools to address what may be depression; Reuven can face the underlying anxiety and also the flawed thinking behind his perfectionism. Finally, Reuven can examine his family history and begin to decide what elements of it he wishes to carry forward. In each of these instances, Reuven’s attention to his psyche guides him toward perfecting his soul.
In our current issue, Sara Teichman teases apart the various strands that comprise some children’s tendency toward fear, pointing us toward possible solutions. Simcha Feuerman uncovers the Talmud’s prescription for channeling relational hurt toward improving marital relationships. Alan Singer replaces the myth of “soul mate” with a model that allows for imperfection, difference, and change. Danielle Dragon pens words of encouragement to a pre-seminary student who is contemplating entering therapy. Yehuda Krohn shares a therapy tale about a client who couldn’t stop procrastinating. Staff writer Baruch Lytle, describes a unique model for treating addiction.
We hope that you find these articles to be illuminating, uplifting, and inspiring, a support for the psyche and a balm for the soul.