Faith on the Couch–Already Courting Controversy

Over at our More2Life Radio facebook page, a correspondent has issues with this whole enterprise of mixing faith and psychology.

He writes, “Not sure why one would take our faith and enter a belief system that does not accept the tenets of the faith – the mental health profession.

This seems extremely dangerous.

A system that is based on the belief that man is solely a biological entity; based on the belief that thoughts and emotions are the product of brain chemicals; based on a denial of the existence of the soul; based on a denial of the existence of an afterlife; and based on the view that God is a delusion, an evolutionary adaptation that has outlived its usefulness, does not seem compatible with faith, which holds contrary views.

Is is not time to turn instead to pastoral routes to healing and turn away from a profession that has turned away from faith?

While I am not unfamiliar with his point of view, I wonder if the habit of intellectually cherry-picking random facts to discredit an institution is really the best way to go.  After all, hasn’t the same approach been used by those who wish to discredit the Church.  To wit:  “Not sure why one would take their good common sense and enter a belief system that does not accept the tenets of the science – the Roman Catholic Church.

This seems extremely dangerous.

A system that is based on the belief that man must make himself solely a puppet of God’s will; based on the belief that thoughts and emotions are the product of angels and demons whispering in your ear; based on a denial of logic and reason; based on a denial of simple facts of biology; and based on the view that God is some all-powerful Santa, a father-fantasy intent on keeping people content in their misery, does not seem compatible with reason and science, which holds contrary views.

Is is not time to turn instead to empirically proven routes to healing and turn away from a profession of voodoo-priests who molest children in their spare time?”

It seems to me that this is exactly the sort of sloppy thinking that the faithful need to avoid.  As Pope John Paul II wrote in Fides et Ratio, “Faith without reason is superstition.”  He also wrote that reason without faith  leads to nihilism–i.e., the ability to know the price of everything and everyone but the value of nothing.

St Thomas Aquinas also took the view that man understands God best when he is open to both revelation and to science.  In fact, the Catholic Church practically invented scientific inquiry because it understood that we can learn a lot about God by studying his fingerprints on the sculpture of creation.  Even moreso, since he has intimately united himself to all of creation through Christ Jesus.

An institution, whether clerical or clinical, cannot be dismissed simply because some will abuse their power or misrepresent what is true.

That said, my interlocuter has a point.  Psychology (or religion for that matter) is not completely benign.  It has genuine power to heal, but in the wrong hands, it has power to hurt as well.  My practice is filled with many clients who are trying to recover from the pain they suffered from previous therapists who could not or would not respect their faith journey. Marriages broken by marriage-hostile counselors, parents alientated from children by therapists who undermined their power, people who were lost to confusion and even despair when mental health professionals mocked their faith.

Of course, I have also been witness–and I am pleased to say I have also been a part–of many people’s journey toward healing.  Couples reunited.  Families made whole.  People discovering the truth about who God made them to be because of the integration of faith and reason in the services of psychological healing.

What do you think?  Is there a place for the integration of psychology and faith?  What are your experiences of counseling?  Largely good?  Largely bad?  I’m interested in your experience.

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.


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