As therapists, we know all too well the importance of self-care. When exposed to the level of trauma, pain, and tzarus that we encounter on a daily basis, the need to develop ways to manage and sit with this pain is self-evident. When I hear my colleagues speak of where to turn for models and methods of self-care, however, I’m somewhat puzzled and troubled by who they don’t seem to turn to, namely Great Torah Individuals (GTIs, for the purpose of brevity and avoidance of sexism). The discomfort here is not a religious or moral one, per se. It’s not about being more frum and more focused on Da’as Torah. Rather, simply from a logical and clinical perspective, I can’t think of any better models for how to manage and sit with others’ pain than GTIs.
I am aware that some might argue that GTIs don’t do psychotherapy (certainly true), and therefore aren’t exposed to the level of pain that we are. This argument seems not merely specious, but very likely the opposite of accurate. A great many GTIs hear a tremendous amount of tzarus on a daily basis, and my own experience working as a Rabbi at a nursing home tells me that individuals will often say more and more quickly to the Rabbi than to the therapist.
Given, then, that GTIs hear and tolerate so much pain, and seem to cope with it so well, why are we not banging down their doors for advice on how to manage our own self-care and emotional strength? If they are the experts, why aren’t we seeking out their help in this realm? Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in for exercise, Yoga, music (just bought myself a clarinet which I haven’t played since 8th grade!), meditation, cooking, etc. I just wonder why we seek these out so frequently and advice from GTIs so infrequently (or at least that’s how it appears from therapist talk).
Of course, as smart therapists, we could all speculate as to the “why” of what I’m describing, but my question is more rhetorical. I would like to inspire all of us to keep exercising and doing all that good stuff, but to also get our heads on straight about who the real experts are. Let’s learn from our Torah leaders how to engage in the most geshmak self-care that’s out there.