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A Biblical Approach to Mental Health

Online Course Overview

Kalman J. Kaplan, Ph.D.

Course Content:

The class will be divided into 13 topics. Each topic will be introduced by a multimedia presentation of about 1 hour each.

  1. Overview of God (gods), nature and creation: Nature precedes the gods in the Greek version, but God precedes nature in the Biblical account. The differences in the respective orderings are not just chronological, but logical and psychological as well. The biblical creation stories do not subordinate man to nature as in the Greek accounts, nor do they focus on an Oedipal conflict between father and son or antagonism between man and woman.
  2. Self and other: Greek thought seems to see self and other as fundamentally opposed, while Biblical thought sees them as working in harmony. The legend of Narcissus is prototypical. Narcissus is totally self-involved, and idealizes his own face in the brook, not realizing that it represents his own reflection. A psychotic juxtaposition rips Narcissus apart and he commits suicide. In the Biblical story, God calls on Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh of their wickedness. However, Jonah does not want to go and runs away. Ultimately, Jonah learns the message of teshuvah, repentance or return and divine mercy and that he can reach out to another without losing himself. In both this lecture and the following one, the TILT model is developed/
  3. Cycle versus development: Greek thought seems to see life as a cycle while Biblical thought sees genuine linear development. Initially Narcissus is totally self-involved. He then cycles to the opposite extreme, falling hopelessly in love with his own reflection. Ultimately, Narcissus recognizes the face in the brook is his own and commits suicide. Jonah does not cycle but is protected in his regression to overcome the dualism between self and other. He runs away in confusion. The story could thus end in Jonah’s suicide, but it doesn’t – God intervenes as a protective parent, until Jonah overcomes his confusion and shows healthy development. .This same pattern repeats itself. God again intervenes, this time engaging Jonah in a mature dialogue to teach him the message of teshuvah and divine mercy
  4. Man and woman: The difference between the Greek and Biblical accounts of the first woman can be seen through comparing the story of Prometheus and Pandora with that of Adam and Eve. Pandora is described as a curse to man in retaliation for Prometheus stealing fire for man. Eve is described as a blessing to man and as a helpmeet opposite (ezer kenegdo).
  5. Obedience and disobedience: The question of obedience versus disobedience then depends who one’s god is. If it is Zeus, one should and indeed must rebel; if it is the Biblical God in contrast, perhaps one should obey. We will contrast three narratives in this regard: creation, recovery from the flood, and the warning/ command to a father regarding his son.
  6. A Practicum in Biblical mental health: We cover the following       psychological issues from a Biblical psychological point of view: Self Esteem (David and Goliath), Singing One’s Own Song (Miriam), Making Difficult Decisions (Solomon and the Two Mothers), Rejecting Temptations (Joseph and Potiphar’s wife), Good and Bad Anger (King Saul) and Hoarding versus Enjoying (Manna), Overcoming a Bad Start to a Family (David and Bathsheba), Supporting One’s Son (Hannah and Samuel), Using Others (Amnon and Tamar), Dealing with Disability (Moses and Aaron) and Suicide Prevention (Elijah)
  7. Fathers and sons: The biblical story of the Akedah – Abraham’s binding of Isaac – provides an alternative to the Greek legend of Oedipus to understand the relationship between fathers and sons. The Akedah narrative suggests an unambivalent resolution of the father-son relationship that is based on a covenant of love and shared purpose between parent and child rather than a compromise between the parental wish to possess the possess the child completely or even to kill him and the desire not to do so.
  8. Mothers and daughters: The Biblical story of Ruth – provides an alternative to the Greek legend of Electra to understand the relationship between mothers and daughters. The Ruth narrative suggests an unambivalent resolution of the father-son relationship that is based on a covenant of love and shared purpose between parent and child rather than a compromise based on threats of abandonment and enmeshment.
  9. Sibling rivalry and its resolution: The Hebrew Bible offers a plan to resolve family conflict by employing the father’s blessing. Originally the source of the sibling conflict, the blessing may work to achieve some level of reconciliation between his sons, as in Jacob’s blessings to all his sons. Greek literature offers no such balm; never developing the idea that a father should bless his children. The result is that conflict in the families grew more angry and nasty in each succeeding generation until the families self-destruct, as did the family of Oedipus.
  10. Body and soul: Plato sees the relationship between body (soma) and soul (psyche) as conflictual and unfortunate. The soul is compelled to view reality not directly, but only through the prison bars of the body. Biblical thought, in comparison, views the human body and soul are both sacred (both referred to as nefesh), both created by God. They can and must function in harmony to fulfill God’s purpose in the world.
  11. Freedom, life and suicide: To the Greeks, freedom is a struggle against the control of others and suicide is an effort to establish some sense of control over one’s own life. For the stoics of Greece and Rome, suicide represents a high form of creativity. Further, almost twenty suicides abound in the surviving 17 tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides. Biblical thought, in contrast, sees freedom as a central feature of its foundation narratives. Freedom can be achieved only in the acceptance of the realities of man’s relationship with God. In Biblical thought, life itself is the essence of creativity and suicide only destroys this opportunity. There are comparatively few stories of suicide in the Old and New Testaments (seven in all) and many stories of suicide-prevention.
  12. A tragic versus hopeful outlook on life: The Classical Greek view is deterministic and the essence of the tragic vision of man; the Biblical view is intrinsically open to the possibility of change and transformation and lies beneath the idea of genuine psychotherapy. The Greek view of tragedy is contrasted with the Biblical views of hope essential to therapy in three critical contrasts: the ability to overcome a dysfunctional family, the efficacy of prayer, and resiliency with regard to misfortune.
  13. Application of Biblical Psychology to therapeutic cases. This lecture applies Biblical Psychology  and the TILT model to  eight  therapeutic  cases seen by Dr. Kaplan.  The following developmental types are discussed:  the Regressed Position B (Edwin), the Emerging Position E (Teri),  and the Advanced Position D (Monisha).  In addition, the  following five clinical cases are examined: the Enmeshed Position A (Ken), the Disengaged Position C (Stacey), the Borderline Depressed Position A/CIndividuation (Julie), the Borderline Paranoid Position A/CAttachment (Doug) and the Conflicted Psychotic Position A/C Total (Roberta).


  1. Kaplan, K. J. (1998) TILT: Teaching Individuals to Live Together. Philadelphia, PA.: Brunner/Mazel
  2. Kaplan, K. J. (in press). Living Biblically: Ten Guides for Fulfilment and Happiness. Eugene, OR: WIPF and STOCK Publishers
  3. Kaplan, K. J. and Schwartz, M. W. (2008) A Psychology of Hope: A Biblical Response to Tragedy and Suicide. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
  4. Schwartz, M. W, and Kaplan, K. J. (2004) Biblical Stories for Psychotherapy and Counseling: A Sourcebook. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press
  5. Schwartz, M. W, and Kaplan, K. J. (2007) The Fruit of Her Hands: A Psychology of Biblical Woman. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
  6. Wellisch, E. (1954) Isaac and Oedipus. London, U.K.: Routledge and Kegan Paul
  7. Yerushalmi, Y. (1991). Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Nonterminable. New Haven, CONN: Yale University Press: