Psychology and Catholicism


There was not even a suggestion in any of the psychology texts we read or discussions we had in class that the cultivation of virtuous habits was in any way related to human happiness. Words like "self-denial" and "self-sacrifice" never appeared. Yet as psychologist Robert Sollod observes, "The problems and troubles that lead people to seek psychotherapy may derive less than is commonly supposed from not expressing themselves, fulfilling themselves, or satisfying needs directed toward themselves than from not having a workable way of living in which they participate in and contribute to matters they care about beyond themselves.

The bottom line is that the dominant concern of modern psychology with "self-fulfillment", "self-actualization", has no relation to how Jesus lived, or how he instructed his followers to live. Christ commanded us, "deny yourself, take up our cross and follow me"; he did not command us to busy ourselves identifying and fulfilling our personal needs and wants.

For the Christian, "the self is the problem, not the potential paradise," as Paul Vitz has observed. Psychologists themselves haven't been completely blind to the rotten fruit that's resulted from what Paul Vitz has aptly described as their "cult of self-worship". Donald Campbell, a past president of the American Psychological Association, argued some years back that contemporary North American society is now full of "under-inhibited overly narcissistic and overly selfish individuals," for which he believes psychology must take considerable blame.

Vitz and Campbell are in fundamental agreement that psychology's emphasis on the self and its fulfillment has helped promote a view of life that now leads many to see shallow, personal, ego fulfillment as an end in itself the very meaning of their lives.

I became quite captured by this whole problem during my time at university and even wrote my Master's thesis on the topic. Implications and Challenges", The simple reason is that today the assumptions and techniques of psychology have been blended seamlessly into the areas of business, families, popular entertainment, and even the courts, while psychological understandings now determine to a large extent how we define the meaning, purpose, and goals of education.

We really are living in a "therapeutic age. At the philosophical level, we understand that the human person is a unity of body and spiritual soul, who is interpersonally relational from conception. The whole person is called to grow not only physically, but also psychologically, morally, and spiritually in personal self-gift love and wisdom knowledge , as well as in freedom and responsibility. Second, we employ the same empirically-supported psychotherapeutic techniques as mainstream psychotherapy. We also use other empirically-supported psychotherapeutic techniques that have been developed from Christian insights, such as forgiveness therapy, which also recognizes that human nature can be healed and transformed with God's help divine grace.

In this regard, John Paul II , par. This moral component of the therapeutic task makes great demands upon psychiatrists, who must be committed to attaining a more adequate grasp of the truth of their own lives and to showing profound respect for the dignity of their patients. A new client comes to therapy reporting his main problem is feeling detached from God.

Modern Psychology and Catholic Understanding part 1

How would you proceed? In our experience, it is unusual that detachment from God should be reported as a client's main presenting problem. Nonetheless, if this were the case, we would begin by assessing whether there were any psychological issues of trauma loss or grief or any underlying psychopathology.

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I did graduate work in counselling psychology and worked in that field for a couple of years before eventually going back to university to pick up my. ".this book reveals the ways that both psychologists and theologians believed that they were and were not dealing with similar phenomena in different ways.

If there were no properly psychological issues, we would refer the patient to a spiritual director. If there was however psychopathology in addition to the said presenting problem, we would address the person's needs according to two levels of treatment. First, we would directly address his psychological issues, in a way that was respectful of his spiritual life.

This will include instilling hope as an effective motivator in the client's life Benedict XVI, On Christian Hope, , for example, in overcoming addictions. Second, we would coordinate the psychological effort with the proper work of a spiritual director or guide, who was not only in the client's religious tradition, but also apt to aid the client with appropriate religious practices involving prayer, scripture, and sacraments, for example, in the case of the Catholic tradition.

A complement to the psychological treatment could consist of assigned spiritual readings. Often there is a relationship between spiritual and psychological issues.

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For example, the incapacity to forgive is both spiritually and psychologically unhealthy. Likewise, the inability to make deep human commitments and to form lasting relationships is also both spiritually and psychologically unhealthy. Indeed, both psychopathology and sin limit human freedom as is apparent in the case of certain addictions or compulsions. In this case, the therapist addresses the unhappiness and suffering as well as their causes.

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We recognize that in therapy there are two persons with their own beliefs. I became quite captured by this whole problem during my time at university and even wrote my Master's thesis on the topic. Yet as psychologist Robert Sollod observes, "The problems and troubles that lead people to seek psychotherapy may derive less than is commonly supposed from not expressing themselves, fulfilling themselves, or satisfying needs directed toward themselves than from not having a workable way of living in which they participate in and contribute to matters they care about beyond themselves. Jung's claim to be a natural scientist was granted him by many a Catholic thinker, although others, such as the psychologists Agostino Gemelli and Magda Arnold, questioned the scientific soundness of his psychology. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email lecturers cambridge. It would be so easy as a Catholic Christian psychologist to make the mistake to sum up all suffering as stemming from sin and the remedy as prayer, sacraments, etc. Open global navigation Cambridge University Press Academic.

However, personal sin and psychopathology are not completely linked. Based on the teaching of Jesus Christ see the Gospel of John chapter 9, verses , Roman Catholics hold that not all suffering comes from personal sin.

In the face of the effects of sin and of psychopathology, psychotherapy from our perspective seeks to instill hope for healing and for strength in the midst of continuing struggles with sin and suffering at both spiritual and psychological levels. For evil remains bound to sin and death. And even if we must use great caution in judging man's suffering as a consequence of concrete sins this is shown precisely by the example of the just man Job , nevertheless suffering cannot be divorced from the sin of the beginnings, from what Saint John calls 'the sin of the world' John 1: Though it is not licit to apply here the narrow criterion of direct dependence as Job's three friends did , it is equally true that one cannot reject the criterion that, at the basis of human suffering, there is a complex involvement with sin.

On the one hand, research has shown that the most important element of the psychotherapeutic treatment is the perception that the therapist truly cares. This factor seems at least as important as the actual psychotherapeutic technique that is used. On the other hand, from a Christian Catholic perspective, we consider the practice of psychotherapy a response to the vocation to heal. Such a vocation to a life's work involves the therapist being called to care genuinely for the client and to develop skills to communicate this care and empathy as well as to employ empirically-supported psychotherapeutic techniques.

As a whole then, the primary condition for change in therapy is the relationship between the client, who makes a decision to change, and the therapist, who therapeutically aids the client to make that change through competent care and treatment. We in no way, moreover, exclude that in the midst of this therapeutic collaboration God gratuitously and effectively aids the client in healing.

Toward this end, the therapist can and may pray for the client, although not necessarily in therapeutic sessions. What is the most difficult part of practicing psychotherapy while maintaining your beliefs? We recognize that in therapy there are two persons with their own beliefs. The psychotherapist must respect the beliefs of the client, while loving the client as a neighbor in need. At the same time, the therapist is called to speak the truth in love, even in difficult situations, for example, when there is negative pressure on the bond of marriage.

The therapist will always work on behalf of the marital bond, regardless of the faith perspective of the client.

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He affirms the importance of "Existential, person-centered and relational considerations of the conjugal union [but] never be at the expense of indissolubility It is always difficult to see a client make decisions that will negatively affect his or her own flourishing. Nonetheless, the therapist will work to establish, on the one hand, an unambiguous statement of informed consent that respects the two sets of beliefs and, on the other, clear and achievable treatment goals that both parties can support.

In therapy, the clinician will then labor to help the client make good and free choices that contribute to his or her mental health and overall flourishing. The rewards of psychotherapy are twofold.

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First, on the side of the clients, it is rewarding to see them grow in freedom and truth, which is especially evident when they can recognize, accept, and give love to others, thus transcending their own painful pasts. We find it especially gratifying when clients diagnosed with psychopathology are healed and capable of flourishing in their own vocational commitments to goodness and holiness, family and marriage , as well as formal and informal work.

Clients thus become more capable of enriched relationships and meaningful life goals. Second, on the side of therapists, we find untold recompense in being able to have expressed our own calling to love of neighbor through contributing to the healing of another person and their relationships. Address to Roman Rota. John Paul II On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris.

On Psychotherapy and Religion. Like what you see? Follow the series by bookmarking the table of contents or "like" me on facebook. I do appreciate your research on various religious points of view. Probably the therapy concepts recently pay not enough attention to the specific attitudes of people in respect of different denominations and confessions.