Rabbi Azriel Hauptman
Mental illness is a part of our lives just as much as physical illness. Although in the past, suffering from mental illness was a skeleton than needed to remain in a carefully guarded closet, today we are slowly warming up to the reality of mental illness and its necessary treatments. As such, we turn to professionals and members of the clergy in search of guidance and relief. Humans are social creatures and it is nearly impossible to achieve wellness with the help of just one person. Family, friends, mental health professionals, and spiritual leaders all have their place in our lives. It truly takes a village.
This may sound confusing, and indeed life can be complex! In order to make it simpler, try to view a person as possessing four domains that contribute to one’s ability to thrive. They are the body, the mind, one’s relationships, and the spirit. This is known as the bio-psycho-social-spiritual model. This model indicates that identifying the source of one’s suffering determines the type of help that is needed. If one’s mental illness has its roots in a biological cause, such as thyroid disease, then a physician would be the right address. Mental health practitioners best address psychological causes, and social issues such as loneliness can be remedied by reaching out to friends and family. Finally, spiritual needs are best addressed by spiritual “professionals” such as Rabbanim.
This minimalistic view of Rabbanim as spiritual professionals is not really accurate, as Rabbanim fulfill numerous roles in other spheres of life as well. They can offer an empathetic ear, provide funds for those in need, and help connect their congregants with social services. Rabbi Chaim Solovetchik, the legendary Rav of Brisk, famously said that the role of a Rav is to do Chesed.
In the modern world, the role of a Rav has further evolved into a collaborator with the mental health professional community. Rabbanim are often on the front line of mental illness, as people suffering from emotional issues will frequently consult with their Rav. This has thrust upon Rabbanim an additional role as mental health adviser.
Broadly speaking, Rabbanim and therapists are coming from different perspectives. Rabbanim try to guide you to connect with Hashem and the Torah and to live your life according to its values. The therapist, on the other hand, wants to help you connect with yourself and heal from the inside. They both share the common goal of leading the individual to a happier and more fulfilling life. Through proper collaboration between Rabbanim and therapists, they can merge their different perspectives to provide a holistic approach to wellbeing.
Rabbanim are also one of the primary referral source of mental health professionals. They are often tasked with the job of differentiating between individuals who need professional help and those that do not. For this reason, many Rabbanim frequently consult with mental health professionals to receive their input for these types of situations.
Another area where collaboration is vital is in providing treatment that is in accordance with Halacha. There are times when there are real questions regarding the Halachic acceptability of certain interventions. Rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, a treatment plan can be devised with the collaboration of Rabbanim and clinicians that can both be clinically and Halachically sound. In conclusion, our community has come a long way in reducing the stigma of mental illness and in using a variety of resources to achieve mental and emotional wellness. Rabbanim and therapists used to look askance at each other, but in recent times have achieved a greater understanding of each other. The more we can pool our resources and collaborate with each other, the more we can assist people in their own journeys to happiness and wellbeing.