In traditional styles of talking - models of therapy - diagnosis is an important element in the helping process. The classic work Diagnostic Statistical Manual - most commonly referred to as DSM IV - is the best example of the centrality of this process. What is most apparent is this text is that the names are all negative. This stands in contradiction with our idea of judging every person positively.

Names are descriptions relationships. Or more exactly partial descriptions of a particular relationship. When we call someone “attractive” we are doing a number of extremely important activities simultaneously. First we are exposing ourselves and our world view by calling ‘that thing’ by some name of our choice. Our choice of a word exposes first and foremost how we, ourselves, think. Second we are attempting to describe how we will relate to ‘that thing’ according to the command imbedded in any given name. All names are summaries of ‘laws of action’. Names not only describe but they also command action on the part of the ‘caller’. The name requires that the caller act in ways that are appropriate to that name/command. If someone is ‘lazy’ (probably one of the less traumatic names in the DSM) then it is more then suitable to relate to that person as a ‘lazy’ person, otherwise why think of him as such? Third, to the extent the name is accepted by the object/person then he too is commanded to act ‘that way’. Therefore a relationship is defined by the name. Fourth, each name determines the options of behavior open to the owner of any given name. Hopefully a positive name will open new options and alternatives that will lend themselves to the change process. Conversely a negative name will restrict options and the flexibility necessary for new directions and behaviors. Fifth, there is a paradox in professional name calling: the faster our understands can diagnosis the situation and gets the ‘aha’ effect (‘now I understand’) , the faster one becomes rigid and closes out other possibilities and surprises of uniqueness on the part of the client. This is the down side of ‘good professional training.Sixth, the negative naming contradicts the religious commandment of judging positively.

We learn from Sages that God commanded Adam to call all things by their true name - their inner essence that reflects their given goal in this world. The Midrash tells how Adam calls each element, object, living thing by its name/goal. In modern physics there are a number of basic elements (that change with the discovery of ‘new’ elements) which make up our world. I think the present number is 117. In Hebrew there are twenty two - the letters that make up our world. The name is made up of these elements. Adam names reflects the basic element of each object named. What is of interest to us is that after Adam finishes his task God calls to him and asks him, ‘And what is your name?’. Adam answers ‘Adam - the Hebrew root for ‘in you image’; ‘I came from the earth’; ‘I have blood (a soul)’. Then God asks him, “and what is my Name?” Adam, who has the status of an Angel well knows the true name of God, the 72 letters that form the true secret name. Adam replies, “ Your name is God.” Why, the Sages ask, does he use the simplest name? Why not the richest, most awful name? Their answer is of great importance to us as helpers. If Adam were to use that complex secret name God would not be accessible to all of us. Rather only the initiated could have access to Him.

The names we use today are artificial constructs that reflex only how we think, and not the true essence of what we want to describe. The basic rule of thinking is, “what you think is what you see.” This means if we were trained analytically we see unconscious reasons for everything. If we were trained in structural family therapy we ‘suddenly’ see issues of boundaries and hierarchy. If we were trained in cognitive therapy we see issues of ineffectual thinking patterns. What you think is what you see. Religious therapists see another way....

We should therefore choose a name that will contribute to the process of change. If we are going to obligate both sides with a name, do so with a helping name. If we are going to expose ourselves, do it in such a way as to show our best side.

Our Sages summarize it by reminding us that when you point at someone, call him a name, - one finger is extended towards the object while three others are pointing back at us!

Please send us your comments to TorahPsychology@shemayisrael.co.il