February 2019 \ News \ COLUMN—MENTAL HEALTH

By Haim Belmaker

An important development in Israeli psychiatry over the last 15 years has been a widespread acceptance of the usefulness of “mindfulness” derived from Buddhist theory and practice as an integral part of psychotherapy in Israel. Almost all Israeli psychologists and a majority of Israeli psychiatrists have been trained in using mindfulness beginning with seminars given in Israel by the famous therapist of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) Linahan and in more recent years the seminars by local leaders such as Nochi Alon and others. Mindfulness training has gone on both in psychiatric hospitals and in private practice settings and has had a great effect to increase the prestige of Eastern religious values among the Jewish majority psychiatric profession in Israel.

My own work in psychiatry and religion began in the mid 1970’s when I taught for several years a course on psychiatry for clergy (rabbis) in training at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. I learned to my surprise as a psychiatrist that most young clergy students did not know the basic concepts of schizophrenia, manic depressive illness, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression and teaching basic diagnosis was found very useful by them. They also found it useful to understand when they might need to consult, to refer to a practitioner for psychiatric treatment and how could they relate to what disorders might be appropriate for supportive counseling by a clergyman versus what disorders should be referred to a medical professional or a psychologist.

Another important tradition in Israel that may reverberate in our World Psychiatric Congress on Religion/Spirituality and Psychiatry 1st-4th December, 2019, Jerusalem, is the study of the analysis of religious texts using psychiatric insights. The founder of the World Psychiatric Association Section on Religion and Psychiatry is Prof Herman van Praag of the Netherlands, who also spent several sabbatical years over the course of his long career in Israel, who analyzed King Saul of the Bible psychiatrically. Another area for which our local psychiatric association is famous is the study of obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) and its relationship to Judaism. Articles have also been published in other religions such as the case histories of “scrupulosity” in Catholic theological texts used by priests in confession and also in Hindu patients in India suffering from obsessions relating to rules about the killing of other living things when extended to creatures such as insects that can occasionally lead to paralyzing anxiety.