R Itiel Giladi
Are you having a hard time? Would you like to talk about it?" This might be the most hackneyed "psychological" question of all times, but the truth is that the best work of therapists is often done in heart-to-heart talks. And that is what the sages commented about the basic verse which is related to giving spiritual aid, "When the heart has a worry a man should suppress it" [Mishlei 12:25] – "one should talk about it to others" (as if the word used is "yessichena" and not "yashchena"). And the verse indeed ends with, "a good word will make him happy." In order to be happy, it is necessary to have a "good word" – to talk about the situation optimistically. The role of an advisor is not merely for him to say that things are good by himself but rather to guide the conversation and lead the patient into speaking in a proper and helpful way.
Correct speech must be full of faith and humility. Talk about difficulties might come from a feeling that "the world owes me a debt," as an expression of a complaint or to spread an atmosphere of sadness and despair. One should strive for speech full of faith in G-d and His personal and righteous guidance, speech which is brimming with optimism and a feeling that all problems can be fixed. The sages taught us that "the only true 'speech' is prayer." A proper "discussion of the soul" between man and man is accepted by G-d as a prayer for mending the situation and for solving any problems.
In addition, a therapist must help the patient define in a precise way just what is upsetting him or her. The correct approach will not simply search for a definition of the problem to be solved but will try to determine what is lacking in the soul and should be refilled. For example, when I am angry I am also lacking peace and quiet, acceptance of other people, or acceptance of reality based on an outlook of faith. Why is this important? In addition to the fact that "knowing the malady is already half the cure," Chassidut explains that the letters of the alphabet serve as channels through which the soul is revealed. If there is difficulty expressing something, this is not simply a technical problem. It shows that the issue involved does not "flow" smoothly and therefore does not light up the soul. By defining the lack properly we make a path for the soul which allows it to communicate, a route through which in the end the lack will be filled from internal wellsprings, from the root and the foundation of the human soul.
In going beyond the atmosphere of prayer and precision in speaking, deep spiritual therapy has some aspects of "interpreting dreams" – to forage into the realms of the unconscious mind, from which dreams arise, with an ability to weave together disconnected ideas into a whole picture (and that is why modern psychology feels that analyzing dreams can be very important). We have been taught that "all dreams follow the mouth" – a positive explanation causes the dream to be fulfilled in a good way (and vice versa, heaven forbid). Speech that will interpret reality in a positive way is therefore very important.
In addition to speech about faith, which corresponds to prayer, there is also speech which is related to the Torah ("How I love my Torah, it is the topic of my speech all day long" [Tehillim 119:97]. Such Torah constantly interprets the current situation in a positive way. From the point of view of therapy, good "dream interpretation" is the ability to "judge spiritual reality with merit" – to reveal positive motives for the problems and even find a viewpoint which shows that there may be benefits (in the present or in the future) that stem from what at first appeared exclusively to be nothing but problems. A good therapist guides his patients to describe the difficulties and the problems from a positive viewpoint, where without ignoring the problems the same elements can be viewed in a positive light. For example, I am not just lazy, I have a very calm nature. I am not simply angry much of the time, rather I care deeply about what is happening.
For those who want to go into greater depth, what we have been discussing here are the three stages of fixing problems with speech which correspond to stages of mending every spiritual process according to the Baal Shem Tov – surrender, separation, sweetening. Surrender causes a person to accept the Will of G-d and also to turn towards Him out of a feeling of belief that He will be the source of our help; Separation is the process of defining the problem precisely (which in the end leads to revealing the energies of the soul in the proper letters); and Sweetening is the transformation of the difficulties and the darkness into benefit and light – "a good word will make him happy."