My Therapy Journey

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s I was in a post-graduate psychoanalytic psychotherapy training program. At the time, it was considered a prestigious Freudian Training Institute that prided itself on the scientific study of the human mind. My instructors were mostly PhD’s in clinical psychology that held prestigious positions as clinicians, teachers and researchers. I was there for 4 years. Later in life, after becoming religious, I became interested in helping people with various kinds of addictions, but during my training, when it came to the subject of addictions, because of the dreadfully low success rate, we were sort of encouraged to look for nice easy neurotic patients after graduation. I will come back to the subject of Alcoholism at the end of this essay to make a point and hopefully you will see why I have specifically chosen to use the suffering alcoholic as an example.




Fast forward: In 1988 my wife and I started our journey into Torah-observant Judaism and I came upon a book called “Path of the Just”, a Jewish ethical work, published in 1738 by the influential Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato (1707-1746). The aim of the book is the perfection of human character. As I started to read, I came to something that completely knocked me out. I want to share with you the actual words that have had such a profound effect on my personal and professional life. I believe that what I read was responsible for a personal transformation that ultimately led our family to make Aliyah to Jerusalem, the Holy city of our ancestors. Here is what I read:


Rabbi Luzzato writes: Only teachings that are based on the Torah have the power to cure human problems. The only reason why Torah has any power at all is because G-d bound His most precious influence to it. If G-d had not made it so, then the Torah would be no different from any other educational book. These [secular] books may contain accurate and valuable information, but they do not incorporate any significance and excellence into the soul of a person who reads, recites or comprehends them. Books such as these have absolutely no power to rectify creation.


Finally, I understood why my own personal psychoanalysis although helpful in certain ways had failed to bring me the deep spiritual joy that I was seeking. The psychoanalytic theory, on which the therapy is based, although brilliant in many respects, simply did not have the power to heal my Jewish soul and in fact was in other ways quite harmful to me. I was inspired to give away my collected works of Freud and practically my entire professional library. An esteemed colleague of my mine politely asked if I wasn’t sure that I wasn’t having a middle-life crisis! I later realized that I was - he was right - but it wasn’t the type of crisis that he was familiar with (the type that leads to psychopathology and mental deterioration) it was the type of existential crisis that, with Hashem’s loving help, forced me to examine my life and has led me to the Truth.


So by now you want to know what this has to do with the treatment of alcoholics. The connection is simple: it was only through a Spiritual Awakening and a close ongoing relationship to Hashem, and not medical science, that millions of recovered alcoholics are alive today. Read what Dr. William D. Silkworth, M.D chief physician at a nationally prominent hospital specializing in alcoholic and drug addiction wrote: “I have specialized in the treatment of alcoholism for many years. We doctors have realized for a long time that some form of moral psychology was of urgent importance to alcoholics, but its application presented difficulties beyond our conception. With our scientific approach to everything, we are perhaps not well equipped to apply the powers of good that lie outside our knowledge. We physicians must admit we have made little impression upon the problem as a whole. They [the recovered alcoholics of Alcoholics Anonymous] believe in themselves, and still more in The Power which pulls them back from the gates of death”. Turning to Hashem (their “Higher Power”) and simply asking for His help as a child would speak to a loving father has now saved millions of alcoholics who were totally powerless and hopeless in face of their obsession to drink. It was only through personal prayer and not medical or psychotherapeutic science that these men and women were saved and today are living normal lives.


It's been ten years since we've moved to the holy land and have been incorporating a connection with Hashem and Torah study into my work with people. I cannot begin to describe the many miracles that I've seen - the likes of which I never saw in my previous thirty years of psychotherapy practice.

© 2020 Zev Ballen, Psy.D, LCSW