The newest approach in modern mental health might just be 3,000 years old — and Jewish.
In his new book, “The Connections Paradigm,” psychologist David H. Rosmarin explores an ancient concept in Jewish wisdom as he makes the case that humans are either connected or disconnected across three relationships in their life — the inner (or with themselves), the interpersonal and the spiritual — and that these relationships affect one’s mental health.
Rosmarin, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital, first heard of the “connections paradigm” from Rabbi Leib Kelemen, whom he calls his “religious mentor.” During a 2008 trip to visit Keleman in Jerusalem, Rosmarin told the rabbi he thought the world needed a spiritual approach to mental health, something that explained the struggles of society and offered practical solutions.
“There’s a Jewish approach to that,” Rosmarin remembers the rabbi telling him.
The psychologistist spent the next several years learning about the paradigm from Kelemen.
“If people have those three relationships and they’re in good shape, people can thrive and flourish,” Rosmarin said, “and not only be protected from anxiety and depression and substance abuse — and all sorts of other maladies that people come to the hospital for — but more broadly to live a connected, happy, thriving existence.”
Rosmarin attended the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto and spent time at a yeshiva before attending York University and the University of Toronto and receiving his Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University. He compared learning from Kelemen to being “a fly on a yeshiva wall that picked up this concept and used it in clinical practice.”
The application of the connections paradigm to mental health, he said, has been the real innovation.
“I don’t think there are many people doing it,” he added. “I do think it’s unique.”
Rosmarin, whose article “Psychiatry Needs to Get Right with God” was published June 15 in Scientific American, said the mental health community has been receptive to the role of spirituality and religion in recent years.
He views the Torah as a repository of strategies and ways to build a connection with God and improve emotional health. He said “The Connections Paradigm” is a collection of those strategies.
“People’s relationship with God, whether close and connected or strained and absent, can have a large effect on the way they feel,” Rosmarin said.
The information in the book isn’t solely religious, however. The first section deals exclusively with a person’s relationship to themselves.
The connection one has with one’s body — including diet, exercise, relationships with friends and even the amount of nightly sleep — plays a vital role in mental health, according to Rosmarin.
Taking care of one’s body is “not commonly adhered to,” he said. “There are basic rules to the body, and we ignore them. Ever since Thomas Edison, no one gets enough sleep. The bottom line is, we’re not good. We’re not paragons of self-care in any way.”
He lamented the fact that people often don’t take the time to consider why they ignore their relationship with their inner selves.
“What’s your North Star?” Rosmarin asked. “Where are we going? What’s your purpose? What’s your values? If people respect their body and have a set of values, it’s part of being a healthy human being.”
Rosmarin’s book is broken down into three sections, each with four chapters containing a technique to connect with ourselves, others and our spirituality. He suspects everyone will find at least one helpful technique, even if they already are attempting to live a healthy life.
In fact, Rosmarin said despite the book’s Jewish underpinnings, “The Connections Paradigm” wasn’t written exclusively for a Jewish audience. Because of the universality of its principles, he said, he can give a talk at Columbia University one day and speak at a synagogue the next.
“This is a culmination of 10 or 15 year of work studying the paradigm, doing clinical work, helping my patients using the techniques and then finally penning the book,” he said. “I’m happy that it’s out there and available for people to learn about.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.