Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a similar process to teshuva. CBT is a psychotherapeutic technique that focuses on alleviating a patient’s negative symptoms by working to alter his or her maladaptive cognitions and behaviors.
In this period leading up to the yamim noraim (Days of Awe), people are encouraged to become absorbed in deep introspection and begin to take stock of interpersonal, intrapersonal, and spiritual endeavors. Chazal, in their wisdom, had a keen understanding of both the human mind and the human experience. Among the immeasurable contributions Chazal made to Judaism are the countless psychological insights concerning the human condition. In fact, some argue that Chazal actually predate Freud, Jung, and Adler as being the first psychologists.
One of the highlighted focuses during this time of year is teshuva, repentance, a sort of to return to a more pure, idyllic state of being. Repentance is primarily characterized by a change in both behaviors and cognitions. People strive to correct wrongdoings ultimately reconnecting, or “returning” to G-d through a four-step process: departure from the sins which we have wrongfully committed, feeling regret vis-à-vis one’s actions, confessing before Gd, and acceptance of the future. What this means is that after correcting personal behaviors, individuals must reframe our thoughts concerning their sins. Man must no longer justify and validate the reasons for sinning; rather, he should sincerely regret them.
In his acclaimed book, The Judaic Foundations of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dr. Ronald W. Pies enumerates the connections between Judaism’s teshuva process and CBT. These connections offer insight into the process of repentance from both a religious and psychological perspective. Pies discusses the concept of self-awareness and self-examination as a fundamental value in both the Judaic tradition as well as in the CBT approach. Self-awareness and self-examination are centered around both scrupulously and fairly assessing our actions and motives. Pies maintains that people often either underestimate or overestimate their own faults, which this leads individuals to go astray. It is therefore crucial, especially now, to honestly evaluate and assess individual behaviors.
Pies quotes Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 6:6, which teaches to “know one’s place.” The Rabbis advise assessing both individual accomplishments and faults in order to rectify them. Albert Ellis and Robert Harper, in A Guide to Rational Living, offer strikingly similar advice: “Accept your own wrongdoings…as misdeeds to learn from and to correct in the future,” (Ellis & Harper, 1961, p.186).
The coming days are often considered an intense time period on the Jewish calendar. With this newfound cognitive understanding of the repentance process as being rooted in religious and psychological teachings, the process gains a new level of significance. Not only does the process reflect a special gift from Gd to man, it also has scientific backing in how to approach these new days.
For those who find it more difficult to connect to their spiritual side on the yamin noraim, think of it like a CBT session with a psychologist, it’ll work.