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

  • Barbara

    Absolutely there is a need for faith based psychology! Especially Catholic based therapy, because Catholicism embraces the whole person. In fact, I have a dear friend who is not Catholic jump from therapist to therapist until he found a Catholic one. The Catholic view of man and the effect of sin on man promises to untangle the psychological knots we tie ourselves into over our failures.

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  • Nicole

    Of course they can be integrated. And we need more faith-filled individuals entering the field. If the pope says we need to use the “cesspool” which is the Internet to evangelize, the same goes for the mental health profession.

  • Jane Hartman

    So good that someone is taking on this profession. I had years of psychotherapy and found it to be harmful and incredibly expensive. I have very little use for counselors or even psychiatrists for that matter. They have caused a lot of harm in my life. It has taken me years to get over the trauma caused by the mental health profession (if you could call it that.)

  • Mary

    I very deliberately chose a Catholic marriage and family counselor but ended up divorced none the less…I don’t believe it was the counselor’s fault. I look forward to reading your column, Dr. Greg!

  • Kim Cameron-Smith

    Information, even useful information, can be interpreted in a way that violates plain ol common sense. Psychology and psychiatry offer us useful information about how we thrive and how our bodies respond to stress, but anybody with impoverished views of what it means to be human can take that information and cause more harm than good. I would only use a Catholic counselor, especially for any issues related to marriage or parenting!

  • Victor

    (((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.)))

    You’re kidding! Right?

    Long story short, I think that we should all try to keep each other in “Honest Check” and as a Catholic, I agree that science should also be equally included whether our soul agrees or not cause I believe that GOD helps all those who truly seek with a sincere heart. NO?


  • Oregon Catholic

    I know there is a place for psychiatry, psychology, and medications to treat mental illness. But I think it fails most often when trying to deal with addictions and depression, 2 conditions we seem to have an epidemic of. I think those are the most symptomatic of a spiritual wasteland. Addictions are the result of trying to fill up the empty space in our being where God should be. I like the Kiss of God metaphor to explain it – when God places our soul into our body He gives us a tender kiss, filled with all His Love. We look for that feeling of love and union with God our whole life. Some think they find it with stuff or drugs, etc. but nothing less than God ever fulfills, It takes a spiritual approach to heal that wound.

    Depression is so often a type of despair from trying to run our own lives and having no way to find meaning in suffering or make sense of our disappointments and failures except to get angry and turn it inward on ourselves.

    I have had these 2 conditions lifelong and the only thing that ever helped me was putting my trust in God and making my relationship with the Trinity, Blessed Mary, the saints, and angels the most important thing in my life. I still suffer from those conditions but I no longer despair over them and I trust in God’s plan for me in this world and the next.

  • Mikki

    I’ve been through some counseling for marital issues and am happy to say that I am currently working with a fabulous counselor. Catholic. Sensitive to my particular faith journey. Doesn’t take a light approach and pushes me to change where I need to. The previous experience was not so pleasant. We started off seeing a counselor from Catholic Charities (I had no idea where to start, so I figured that would be my best bet.) Unfortunately, the first words out of her mouth after hearing our situation were “Well, sometimes two people just aren’t meant to be together.” And over subsequent months, it became very apparent that my husband’s ability to BS and twist words were too much for her to handle: everything was MY fault and she failed to recognize the underlying source of the problem. ARGH. I got the impression that the counselor thought it would be easier to give up rather than give us the tools to work through the hard stuff. No, it’s not easy to fight for your marriage, especially when one partner thinks it’s not worthwhile. I think it’s vitally important when you’re in a troubled position that you have the opportunity to work with a counselor or therapist or doctor who is sensitive to your beliefs and willing to work WITH that rather than push it aside for an easier agenda.