Counseling Lessons: Joseph and Dion

Bismillah walhamdulillah

Source: The Gift of Therapy by Irvin D. Yalom M.D. p.8-9

“One of my favorite tales of healing, found in Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi, involves Joseph and Dion, two renounced healers, who lived in biblical times. Though both were highly effective, they worked in different ways. The young healer, Joseph, healed through quiet, inspired listening. Pilgrims trusted Joseph. Suffering and anxiety poured into his ears vanished like water on the desert sand and penitent left his presence empty and calmed. On the other hand, Dion, the older healer, actively confronted those who sought his help. He divined their unconfessed sins. He was a great judge, chastiser, scolder, and rectifier, and he healed through active intervention. Treating the penitents as children, he gave advice, punished by assigning penance, ordered pilgrimages and marriage, and compelled enemies to make up.

The two healers never met, and they worked as rivals for many years until Joseph grew spiritually ill, fell into dark despair, and was assailed with ideas of self-destruction. Unable to heal himself with his own therapeutic methods, he set out on a journey to the south to seek help from Dion.

On his pilgrimage, Joseph rested one evening at an oasis, where he fell into a conversation with an older traveler. When Joseph described the purpose and destination of his pilgrimage, the traveler offered himself as a guide to assist in the search for Dion. Later, in the midst of their long journey together the old traveler revealed his identity to Joseph. Mirabile dictu: he himself was Dion — the very man Joseph sought.

Without hesitation Dion invited his younger, despairing rival into his home, where they lived and worked together for many years. Dion first asked Joseph to be a servant. Later he elevated him to a student and, finally, to full colleagueship. Years later, Dion fell ill and on his deathbed called his young colleague to him in order to hear a confession. He spoke of Joseph’s earlier terrible illness and his journey to old Dion to plead for help. He spoke of how Joseph had felt it was a miracle that his fellow traveler and guide turned out to be Dion himself.

Now that he was dying, the hour had come, Dion told Joseph, to break his silence about that miracle. Dion confessed that at that time it had seemed a miracle to him as well, for he, too, had fallen into despair. He, too, felt empty and spiritually dead and, unable to help himself, had set off on a journey to seek help. On the very night that they had met at the oasis he was on a pilgrimage to a famous healer named Joseph.

From: The Gift of Therapy by Irvin D. Yalom M.D. p.8-9

A powerful story indeed. It seemed to me that the main point that the author took away from this story is: these two healers were both able to benefit each other in different ways, and it makes one reevaluate the role of the ‘healer’ and the patient. Who is who?

I took a few different points away:

  1. The main thing that was on my mind by the end of the story was not that these two were both able to benefit each other. It was that these two were both proof that complete healing and tranquility is not something that one can achieve on their own or something that another human can offer you. Humans are flawed, period. All therapists are dealing with a hundred different issues and if they were to mention any of them to you, you would stop seeing them as this powerful force and that’s dangerous to the relationship of therapist and patient. But being that I plan to offer therapy exclusively for the muslimeen, I do plan to apply this point: There is no healing that is possible, without someone turning to the source of strength, the source of peace, the source of all that is good, Allah subhanahu wa ta’aala. Although this point has to be driven home with wisdom, it must be driven home nonetheless, otherwise you are doing an injustice to the patient (i.e. whoever came to you for help). As a Muslim that others trust and confide in, it is your duty to be for them as much as you can, but to admit to them that you do not have all of the answers or all of the capabilities. The cure to all of the evil and wrong that we see in this world is simply to turn to Allah swt and His divinely revealed religion, if these people only knew. (But I guess people don’t like simple answers.) To continue, they say if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. If people come to you for help, your job is to not solve their problems for them, but to provide them with the tools to solve their problems on their own. Do not allow anyone to become dependent on you, because who are you to be depended upon? You yourself are dependent. Only Allah swt is independent of all needs, while we are all dependent on Him s.w.t. Furthermore, you yourself must understand the power of the salah, the Qur’an, sincere du’aa, crying to Allah swt, before you mention these powerful “tools” to someone else. This is why I’ve always found that the best counselors are the devoted Muslimeen, because you see so much tranquility in them and a clear vision regarding the world around us. When they advise you with something, they do it with such sincerity towards you. They did not receive that except through being true with Allah swt, and true imaan in all that He has mentioned in His Book. Their yaqeen (certainty) is contagious and feeling it for even a few moments will clear away the fog and allow you to see clearly.
  2. Don’t be embarrassed to admit that you don’t have all of the answers. It is worse for you to pretend like you do, and for this individual to learn to depend on you for that. Worst-case scenario – they may begin to idolize you, and yes, I mean in the shirk-y sense. There is a type of love and reverence that is only for our Rabb, Most High. (See Suratul Baqarah ayah 165) No human deserves it, so be careful if you try to claim this for yourself, or if you are the one who feels this for any human. Be humble and admit that you are devoid of absolute knowledge. The “healers” in the story were so reluctant to admit that they needed help. Then when they did seek help, they went to another flawed human, and for spiritual advice to top it off. Were the story to continue, I would imagine Joseph would have returned to his depression and acted upon his self-destructive thoughts after the death of his “healer,” Dion.
  3. Do therapists need therapy? This is a big topic in the field of counseling, and the overwhelmingly common response is “yes.” In fact, that is supposed to be the “right” answer. How do I feel about this? I’m assuming I’m talking to the “therapists” of the Muslim communities now: If you are trying to help the Muslims with their problems, but you do not have a relationship with Allah swt, this is a situation devoid of barakah. Develop a relationship with Allah swt, a sincere and true one. This will be your best “therapy” as a therapist. (I don’t like to use these terms, but I am trying to make it all hit home). That is first and foremost, and after this if you are able to find a Muslim, with knowledge and the other qualities that Allah swt has praised (patience, steadfastness, mercy etc.) then confide in this person, while knowing full well that any benefit that comes from them, is ultimately by the permission of Allah swt. Knowing that all of the benefit will be by Allah’s permission will protect you from turning the “session” into a pity-party or a chance to complain (1). To conclude on this point, the idea that a Muslim can/should go to a non-Muslim for therapeutic help is extremely debatable, to say the least. I am obviously not shying away from my stance, and were I to think that there were no issues with it at all, I would surely not be in the field. This is why I think it is important for Muslims, especially the leaders of the communities, college MSAs, etc. to have some basic counseling knowledge and tips up their sleeves, for those inevitable instances in which your brother or sister in Islam comes to you for help.

Footnotes:

1. Complaining has conditions through which it can be permissible. Important things to keep in mind: Don’t complain about the Qadr of Allah; Complain to someone who can help; Recognize that the help and benefit was ultimately from Allah swt.

To be continued inshaa’Allah…

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