Religious and Research Verification for the Psychoexemplaries

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These 2 perspectives, one from ancient religious faith sources and the other from modern substantiating scientific research, gives H. Steven Moffic, MD, hope that psychoexemplaries have mental health value.

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PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

I had to take a pause in my columns discussing examples of psychoexemplaries due to deadlines for bigger projects. Actually, another psychoexemplary, without saying so, was posted yesterday. It was on humanitarianism, a psychoexemplary if there ever was one. It got there via our editors, Leah Kuntz and Heidi Duerr, setting up an interview with me about the Humanitarian Award I received last month. If you read it, you can see I got carried away with the depth and meaningfulness of the questions.

Before the break, the columns covered so far were on peacemaking, supporting, statesmanship, compassionating, and generosity, now adding on humanitarianism. Ironically, though, that pause also left me an opportunity to unexpectedly note and comment on 2 different perspectives on the same general topic.

One relates to just finishing the 2-day celebration of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, commemorating the Jewish people receiving the basic text of the Torah (Old Testament). Leading up to Shavuot were the 49 days of Counting the Omer up (not down) from the second night of Passover, in other words a psychological and physical journey from slavery to revelation. Probably all of us have had instances of feeling trapped one way or another, only to suddenly think of the way forward.

The Omer traditionally referred to the ancient offering of grain, but the mystical Kabbalah interpreted it as a time for self-reflection and improvement.1 There are 7 weeks representing the divine: loving kindness, justice, beauty, victory, glory, foundation, and majesty, as one way of naming the recommended soul-searching to do.

Within each week, each day has its own self-improvement focus. For instance, day 1 of week 1 is devoted to Loving-Kindness of Loving-Kindness, the intent being to try to express kindness all day long. The next day is Discipline in Loving-Kindness, and so on. Given its role to begin the counting, I would think that Loving-Kindness should also be added to our list of psychoexemplaries. Yet, this cannot just be naive loving-kindness. There is a Jewish Yiddish saying that translates to something like kindness to the cruel can easily turn into cruelty to the kind.

Secondly, I ran across some new literature and research that is the other side of the adverse childhood experiences coin, which so often are associated with future mental and health problems. These others are the much less well-known benevolent childhood experiences, sort of a variation of positive psychiatry.2 They include good opportunities, stable home, and a nourishing school experience. They predict better mental health via a personality development of the “Light Triad”: treating people as ends unto themselves; valuing the dignity of all; and faith in the goodness of humans.

These 2 perspectives, one from ancient religious faith sources and the other from modern substantiating scientific research, gives me hope that presenting and following these psychoexemplaries has mental health value.

Next week we continue with some more of the psychoexemplaries. If you have any recommendations for what should be included, let us know.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

References

1. Jacobson S. Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer. Meaningful Life Center; 1996.

2. Landa-Blanco M, Herrera T, Espinoza H, et al. The impact of benevolent childhood experiences on adult flourishing: the mediating role of light triad traits. Front Psychol. 2024:15:1320169.

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