Dialogue: Kabbalah and Psychotherapy

Email Dr. Sanford Drob




Click here for An Interview with Sanford Drob on Kabbalah and Psychotherapy.

New Kabbalah Home:

Email inquiries with my response are subject to editing. I will not post your comments if you do not want me to, so if you are not willing to have your inquiry or comments posted please let me know.  Please feel free to continue this dialog by writing Dr. Drob at forensicdx@aol.com.

Please note that earlier dialogs are posted first in this section.

10-03 Tom Shmuel Rooth and Sanford Drob


Clinical Applications of the Kabbalah


The following is an edited version of a brief exchange on the subject of Kabbalah and psychotherapy. Anyone is welcome to join in this dialogue by contacting S. Drob at forensicdx@aol.com


10/12/03 From: Tom Shmuel Rooth


I am beginning graduate studies at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, and want to find materials that address clinical applications of Kabbalah.  Are you able to suggest any?  I hope to pursue bringing Kabbalah into clinical application, and to build a practice (eventually) that incorporates them into an integral approach.  Any suggestions will be helpful.


10/13 From: S. Drob


As for clinical applications of Kabbalistic ideas, if you have not done so already you might want to read my article "This Is Gold, Freud, Psychotherapy and the Lurianic Kabbalah” which is in the "articles" link of my New Kabbalah website.  I have not seen much on Kabbalistic psychotherapy (you may want to check out books by Edward Hoffman) but judging from emails I have received there seems to be a growing interest in this area among current graduate students in psychology. I have also heard from people who are interested in the interface between Jewish mysticism and such figures as Bion and Lacan.  I am now completing a book on Jung and Jewish Mysticism, which is more theoretical than clinical in nature.

[Note 9-30-04: On Kabbalah and psychotherapy a good, wise and readable book is Estelle Frankel's Sacred Therapy, Shambhala, 2003. Also, I recently posted a long dialog on Kabbalah and Psychothjerapy on this website. You can read it by clicking here: An Interview with Sanford Drob on Kabbalah and Psychotherapy.]

While I believe that Kabbalistic principles provide a significant basis for an overall view of the cosmos and the human psyche, I would caution against falling into the Jungian error of finding specific Kabbalistic symbols in the dreams, etc. of one's patients, or of indoctrinating one's patients with Jewish mystical symbolism.

Please let me know how your work proceeds and if you don't mind make me aware of anything you find particularly interesting on your topic.

12/1 From: Tom Rooth


I want to thank you for so graciously taking the time to respond to me, and for the insights and information you provided to me both personally and on your website.  I just completed my paper on “The Clinical Kabbalah,”…I use your email as a basis for proffering that while Kabbalah provides a sound philosophical and theological foundation for a therapist, to compel a client to learn Kabbalah as part of receiving therapy may not be in the client’s best interests.  Nonetheless, at this time I remain interested in creating a clinical Kabbalah, and finding ways in which its principles may apply to a therapeutic setting, certainly from the perspective of the therapist’s attitudes, and perhaps as a means of methodology with clients.  I’m just a beginner; I have plenty to figure out, yet.  One thing I have figured out already is that not many people have written about using Kabbalah as a template for therapeutic practice.


I love Symbols of the Kabbalah.  I have not had time to sit down and read it from introduction to conclusion, and admit to using it as a reference when I wrote my paper, but find it to be one of the more clearly written pieces I’ve read.  The parts I read, plus your website writings, greatly interest me.  I look forward to reading more about Jung.


You asked me to update you on anything interesting that I encountered in this process, and I believe I have, although it may be old hat to you.  I think that the sefirot offer ways to frame or reframe pertinent questions to clients, so that a therapist can avoid negative connotations when asking a client to clarifying thoughts or feelings.  For example, perhaps I would ask a historically violent man how, when he uses his male power to dominate a situation at home, if he is increasing or decreasing his honor; it may make him question if his method brings him what he really wants.  Does he want only power, or does he also want balance and joy in his home?  Is discipline a thing he enforces, or is it also something lives by example?  I am only hypothesizing, here, but feel as if I have found a way to use the sefirot in therapy: their complementary qualities provide ways to cause clients to reflect on their behavior, and perhaps not only see a behavior they would rather have, but a way to bring it into being.  .



12/7/03 From: Sanford Drob

Thanks for writing and I am glad to hear of your progress and that you find my work interesting and helpful. I agree that the complimentary qualities of the Sefirot can be useful in capturing some of the features of good psychotherapy. The blending of chesed and gevurah, i.e. kindness and judgment, in rachamim (compassion) seems to me to be a particularly good description of the posture that a therapist must take with his/her clients, as well as the attitude that the client must take towards him or herself. I would also, of course, recommend the Lurianic dynamic of Ein-Sof, Tzimtzum, Sefirot, Shevirah, and Tikkun, etc. as a model of the entire therapeutic process (which in my view mirrors the creative process in general--therapy at its best creates or forges a soul or self). One could conceive of Ein-sof as the full holding space of the therapeutic encounter, a space that the therapist must withdraw from (Tzimtzum) in or to allow the client's values, being and conflicts to emerge in their own right (Sefirot). Once this occurs the client fully experiences the contradiction and conflict, inherent in an unrestored (pre-Tikkun) psyche, leading to a shattering of aspects of his/her psychic world (Shevirah), which must then be emended/restored/re-created in therapy (Tikkun). At each phase of the treatment each of these phases are operative, but at any given point, one of them (e.g. Shevirah, i.e. rupture) may be more salient than any of the others.

As I think more deeply about the Lurianic dynamic I see it as a general model of creativity, language, and transformative change--which would, of course, include psychotherapeutic change. As you can see in my books I believe that this dynamic is present throughout the entire history of thought and is in some sense a perennial philosophy.

The Sefirot are also dynamic in some of their aspects, but in attempting to derive a psychology from them one runs the risk of simply amassing a series of traits, values or faculties, and losing sight of the creative/psychotherapeutic process. I believe the Sefirot in and of themselves are more conducive to the development of an axiology (system of values) and such an axiology--as your example illustrates has implications for psychotherapy, but I think we need the full Lurianic dynamic (of which the Sefirot are the positive objects but not the dynamic itself) in order to achieve a Kabbalistic psychology. The dynamic aspects of the Kabbalah (and here I am referring primarily  to Tzimtzum, Shevirah, Kellipot, Birur and Tikkun)are important because they bring to the fore the negative experience of emptiness, dissolution, uncertainty, evil and the unknown that are so important for therapy (and life) but which most patients (and many therapists) seek to avoid at all cost.

11-8-04 Keith Kurlander and Sanford Drob

Kabbalah Psychotherapy and the Coincidence of Opposites

Dear Dr. Drob,


I wrote an email to you a couple of months ago inquiring for resources related to a clinical application of the Kabbalah for my masters paper.  Thank you for your response, the sources proved useful.  I have some questions or thoughts regarding some of your writings, which I have found particularly useful.


I am interested in coincidenta oppositorum, how this philosophy is articulated in the kabbalah, and specifically how this concept can be used psychotherapeutically (since it seems in many ways to exist in many psychotherapeutic schools of thought). 

I am confused in a couple areas of this philosophy.  Question 1: Is the term coincidenta oppositorum, stated by socrates in his doctrine of opposites, are the two related?  I am wondering the origins of this concept; although as I think you have implied that it seems to have arised in many wisdom traditions at different time periods. 


Question 2: this question is a bit lengthy and allow me to apologize if my thoughts are not articulate. My understanding of coincidenta oppositorum, and its psychological implications, is that one aspect of mental health and spiritual growth is the capacity to tolerate the experience of opposites. Psychotherapeutically, gestalt seems address this quite well.  What I wonder is whether we ever experience opposites on some absolute level.  Allow me to give an example:


Suppose  a client says I love my father and I hate my father.  Semantically these appear to be opposing statements.  Perhaps even the emotional quality of love and hate appear to be in complete opposition.  However, if we include the reference points, behind these statements we may find that the the love and hate this client feels contains many non-opposing references. For instance, if the client said I love my father because he taught me a just moral system, versus I hate my father because he is unavailable emotionally.  Now we find that even though the raw emotional quality of love and hate may be oppositional, we find that perhaps the holistic experience of loving a father’s moral system and hating a fathers emotional neglect are not actually opposites because there meaning units are not in opposition.  It seems that there are certain arenas of experience in this example that psychological opposition is experienced and other arenas where it is not; the raw emotion of love and hate versus the emotion with its attached meaning. 


So, I bring this all up because I wonder if a part of our role as a therapist is not only the facilitation of tolerance of opposites, but also aiding the client to identify the areas in which two seemingly opposite emotions are not actually in some absolute opposition when we look a bit deeper at the reference point.  Is there ever some absolute opposition in our minds (meaning, if we include the reference points on a very specific level, will they always be different, and isn't the references of love always included on some level in our experience of love, even as a newborn)? And of course I wonder whether this was all semantics, and I am misunderstanding the meaning of coincidenta oppositorum.


Thank you,

Keith Kurlander


Sanford Drob responds:

Dear Keith:

I found your query very interesting and well thought through and, as is often the case with good questions, it has prompted me to analyze the topic more thoroughly than I had before. Below you will find my response to part of your question. I will have to research the history of the coincidentia oppositorum idea more thoroughly to answer your more historical query. Perhaps you can share with me what you learn about this in your own researches.

I would like to have your permission to post your question along with my response and any further comments you may have on the Dialog portion of the Newkabbalah website. If you agree you may (only if you like) want to edit your question to take out any personal references or in any way you see fit prior to my posting it.

I should also refer you, if you have not already seen these, to my articles  The Coincidence of Opposites in Jewish Mysticism and Fragmentation In Contemporary Psychology: A Dialectical Solution (which are on the internet, the latter also appeared in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology), to my discussion of the problem of coincidentia oppositorum on pages 206-210 of my book Kabbalistic Metaphors, and a brief discussion of the idea of the coincidence of opposites in psychotherapy in Part I of An Interview with Sanford Drob on Kabbalah and Psychotherapy (also on the New Kabbalah website). Finally, I discussed the opposites and contradictions within the psyche as these apply to psychotherapy in some detail in an article I wrote for the Jewish Review in 1989, entitled "Antinomies of the Soul," which I hope to have on this website shortly. I think the question of the opposites in the psyche is an extremely important issue in psychotherapy. Jung, of course, has written a great deal about this topic.

The phrase coincidentia oppositorum (the coincidence of opposites) like many philosophical notions carries with it considerable ambiguity. I believe that we can distinguish between 'weak' and 'strong' senses of this concept. The weakest sense of coincidentia oppositorum appeals to the empirical observation that apparently opposing ideas, feelings and intentions often coincide within the same subject or mind. Progressively stronger senses of this idea rest on the assertion that there is a causal or logical relationship between opposing ideas, feelings and motives; for example, the Jungian notion that an idea or feeling compensates for the excesses or deficiencies of its opposite, or Derrida's view that a particular 'reading' is possible only because of the opposing ideas or readings it excludes. Perhaps the strongest sense of coincidentia oppositorum rests on the assertion that opposing, indeed contradictory, ideas are both true and that the assertability and truth of each is completely dependent upon the assertability and truth of its opposite. (I have attempted to provide examples of this strong use of the coincidence of opposites in both S. Drob: Fragmentation In Contemporary Psychology: A Dialectical Solution, where I discuss the interdependence of certain opposing philosophical views as free will and determinism, and in S. Drob: The Coincidence of Opposites in Jewish Mysticism where I apply the coincidentia idea to theology and the "word-thing" distinction). A weak version of the coincidentia idea might hold with Walt Whitman that the human psyche is vast enough to contain contradictory ideas, e.g. both perfect faith in God and atheistic unbelief, but only the strong version would hold that a person's faith was logically dependent upon his unbelief, and vice versa.

As you astutely point out, an analysis of this idea is complicated by several factors. The first of these is that apparently opposing or contradictory ideas and assertions may actually have partially or wholly different meanings or referents, in which case the opposition between them would be largely a function of vagueness and non-specificity. A second, related, complication arises from the possibility that an object, event or state of mind can be accurately described through what appears to be contradictory ideas simply because it is being described from two different perspectives or in two different ways (the same act can be both good and evil, depending upon one's point of view). Finally, it is not always clear whether the poles of a supposed opposition actually contradict one another or are rather simply opposites in some psychological or other non-logical sense (an example of this might be an individual's anger and attraction to the same person), in which case no special philosophical doctrine would be needed to reconcile them.

Given the complexity of the analysis of coincidentia oppositorum, we would also expect a similar complexity in proposals to 'resolve' such oppositions or bring them into the state of 'unity' that is described by certain mystics (e.g. Cusanus, Azriel) and certain psychologists (Jung) who have made use of the coincidentia idea.

First, we might hold that by simply clarifying our terms and their referents will remove any apparent contradictions in our talk about mind and the world. For example, clarifying the senses in which a person 'loves' and 'hates' his mother, or the senses of 'God" in which an individual believes in and does not believe in God, will remove apparent contradictions generated by overly general and vague language.

Similarly, it might be thought that seeming contradictions can be resolved by specifying the differing value criteria that are brought into play in making apparently contradictory assertions. Life might turn out to be both meaningful and meaningless, human nature may turn out to be both fundamentally good or evil because were are surreptitiously applying different value criteria (or definitions of meaningful and good) at the same time. Again. By specifying our criteria the contradiction is removed.

So far we have discussed points of view that would render the notion of coincidentia oppositorum misleading or valueless. A more positive view of the doctrine emerges from a recognition that the major dichotomies in human thought and experience (being and nothing, matter and mind, cause and effect, meaning and absurdity, male and female, outside and inside, science and religion, etc.)  reflect oppositions in value and that a coincidence of such  oppositions involves the reintroduction of a value that has been excluded by the historical privileging of its supposed opposite. This, I suppose, is the suggested 'resolution' that follows from the Jungian notion of compensation and Derrida's deconstruction.

Another perspective on the coincidence of opposites is taken by those who hold that there are indeed fundamental antinomies that exist in both thought and the world that cannot be resolved through semantic analysis, and which require more than a "compensation" if we are to gain a satisfactory understanding of them. Some are of the view that such antinomies are irresolvable, while others (e.g. Kant, Findlay, Steinsaltz) suggest that their resolution requires the positing of a 'higher world' in order to resolve them. Still others (e.g. Hegel) suggest that a new form of 'dialectical' or 'bilinear' thinking is required in order to assimilate the poles of a contradiction and pass over into a higher integrating conception. 

In addition to those who hold that contradiction is somehow inherent in the nature of things there are those who believe that contradiction is not of the world-in-itself (whatever that may be) but is introduced into the world by thought and language. This view is very different, and should be distinguished from the view described earlier that apparent contradictions are merely semantic. i.e. due to vagueness and imprecision in the use of terms). On the view I am now discussing, the very distinction between words and things, which is introduced by language, conditions an infinite series of other distinctions that are necessary for practical life, science and culture but which nevertheless rend apart a primary unity. These distinctions give rise a series of contradictory yet interdependent ideas, beginning with the notions that (1) distinctions between things are necessary for there to be language and (2) language is necessary for there to be distinctions between things. While some suggest that such linguistically-generated  'contradictions' can only be resolved through a cessation of language and thought (traditional mysticism) I have suggested that a turn to bi-linear or dialectical thinking can demonstrate the logical interdependence of the dichotomies and antinomies engendered by language and thereby provide us with a glimpse (even within thought and language) of a unified whole.

So much for the philosophical aspects of the coincidentia idea. I will now make some brief remarks on the applicability of this notion to psychology, particularly to psychotherapy.

While language, as the vehicle of psychotherapy, helps to clarify our thoughts and feelings, it also limits and obscures them. This is because in expressing oneself one must choose between two poles of an opposition or select one set of words from an indefinite array of possibilities. One says I dislike x, or miss doing y, or feel angry about z, and one has already committed oneself down a path that may (and generally is) only partially and inexactly true. What I feel about my wife, my son, my dead father is … but when I say what I feel I have revealed something and concealed or ignored much more. That words both reveal and conceal is, according to Kabbalistic thought, a result of the Tzimtzum, the notion that all creation involves concealment and limitation. The psychotherapy patient will often, even as he or she speaks, have the sense that the words he/she is saying are not quite right, or that they are the very opposite of what he/she means to say, or that his/her words and their opposite are both true. It is important that the therapist and the patient both understand this, and that the therapist does not work to hard to dissolve the individual's contradictory beliefs, feelings, and attitudes by artificially pointing out the different senses, for example, in which the individual loves vs. hates his/her father, mother, spouse or self. Rather the therapist and client must both be open to the possibility that both beliefs ore feelings are present at once in a single sense, and that the client's developing and working through one train of thought and feeling does not preclude him or her developing another opposing trend on another occasion, and  further that these two trends of thought are linked together, and even interdependent, in a variety of as yet unknown ways. Further, the therapist and client need to be open to the possibility (and wisdom) of silence. If language divides psychic realty, at times silence may be the only way to make it whole.

The Kabbalists associated two of the Sefirot in particular with the harmonizing of opposites, Binah (Understanding) and Rachamim (Compassion, Empathy and Mercy). According to the Zohar and later Kabbalists, understanding and (especially) compassion are the essential midot or traits that enable the world to exist as these traits tend to, as Moses Cordovero put it "sweeten all judgments" and neutralize the bitterness of divine decrees; decrees that would categorize a person or an act as hateful or sinful. The trait exemplified by the Sefirah Rachamim, is said to create a balance between Chesed (overflowing love), and Din (Strict judgment) so that God can be accepting of humanity's imperfections and flaws (Palm Tree of Deborah, Ch. IV). Cordovero held that just as God is merciful to humankind, we should always show compassion and mercy to ourselves and others, especially to those who offend or provoke us, because even they have good qualities that should soothe our anger and cause our heart to delight in their virtue. (Ch. I. Attribute 6). The process of understanding and compassion/empathy enables both therapist and client alike to contain the contradictions inherent in the human soul and to see these as even necessary for the psyche's development and individuation.

Good luck on your project and please keep me posted on its progress.

Sanford Drob



Dr. Drob is available for psychotherapeutic consultations in New York City. You can call him at 718-783-1769.

The Lurianic Kabbalah is treated in detail in Sanford Drob's Symbols of the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Metaphors .

If you entered this site via a search engine, and there are no "flash contents" on the left hand side of your screen, the site will function better if you click here and go directly to www.newkabbalah.com and follow the instructions at the bottom of your screen to either enter the site or load Flash 4, if you do not already have it.

All material on New Kabbalah website (c) Sanford L. Drob, 2001-4.


Back to Lurianic Kabbalah


Back to Dialogue


Home | Lurianic Kabbalah | Books | Articles | Interviews | Dialog | New Projects
Jung and the Kabbalah | Jewish Review | Author Bio | Links | Tikkun/Tzedakah