Can a soul/spirit be ill??

21 02 2012

The Hebrew term for a psychiatric illness (‘machalat nefesh’) means the ‘disease of the soul’. By all means, this term is highly dissonant with current scientific concepts whereby mental disorders are recognized as bio-psycho-social entities. Using the word soul (‘nefesh’) may suggest that the spiritual essence of a person is affected by the psychiatric disorder and that the dreams, hopes, love and decisions of persons with mental illness are diseased. The ‘soul approach’ may also add to the metaphysical characteristic of mental illness.

In the past few years I called (together with some other colleagues) to find a better – more scientific and less stigmatic – term to MACHALT NEFESH. I believe that the new term should consider the multidimensionality and complexity of the illnesses, and reflect research findings about the etiology and mechanism of psychiatric illnesses.

Any ideas???



6 responses

21 02 2012
Jill Sadowsky

Amir, I like what you wrote. I have never liked the term ‘mental illness.’ I think, that if we rename the illness and call in ‘brain illness,’ people might think of it the way they think of physical illnesses. Why? Because they understand that the brain is a ”physical thing,’ something that belongs to and is a part of our bodies. I hope that I am not being naive here, but I really believe this.

21 02 2012

Thank you Jill, I agree. I think that in the end of the day it all comes down to neurobiological processes; that is, from the most moderate anxiety to the most extreme psychosis or mood disorder, the nervous system is what activate these disorders. True, there are many etiologies for psychiatric illnesses but they all come to realization by the CNS and ANS. Hence, in order promote the scientific aspect of this field and to diminish the body-mind separation I believe that we should think about an alternative term to MACHLAT NEFASH.

21 02 2012
Michael Roberts, PhD

Great to have this subject up for discussion.
My own work suggests to me that it is not the Soul / Spirit that becomes dis-eased but the ability of the Soul to communicate with and operate through Mind, Body and Community that becomes disrupted. This happens mainly, in my experience, when doubts or extinction are cast on the existence, function or value of the existence of Soul. This most often happens after prolonged distress or sudden trauma.
These experiences will distrub the foundations on which a lifestyle is built and give rise to dys-functional thinking and behaviour. Soul, by its inherent composition, is perfect and immune to dis-ease. Mind, Body and Community can be influenced or dis-eased by mis-information and bad-experience inputs which will prevent the Soul from operating properly in its dealings with other Souls.
For those with a bio-psycho-social view (Body-Mind-Society) of what it is to be human, mal-operation is seen as physical, mental and society dis-ease instead of simple mal-operation. The full spectrum of Body, Mind, Soul and Community must be considered if the root of any mal- operation is being considered. For this, a multi-disciplinary approach is required. Any single discipline is insufficient.
What does your work tell you?

21 02 2012

Thank you Dr. Roberts for your comment. I agree, no single discipline is sufficient. I will write about it soon. I think that the focus should be our nervous system (see comment above) but not only.

21 02 2012

Amir, I feel that if we call the illness a brain illness, rather than a mental illness, people will assume that it is physical because they understand what a brain is. This way, we might be able to lessen the terrible stigma associated with mental illness. I think that psychiatrists should be able to help here as they have a lot more influence than I have. Keep on with your amazing work.

21 02 2012

Thank you, Jill! The stigma section at the WPA ( is very minded to the impact of stigma and language. I hope that their work would improve the present situation.

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