Catholicism and Psychology–Perfect Together?

Welcome Readers!

In preparing to write the inaugural post for this blog, a re-imagined version of an old,  popular candy commercial popped into my mind…

SCENE: A shrink and a Catholic priest are walking around a grocery store. They absentmindedly bump into each other and their purchases fall on the floor, getting all mixed together.

SHRINK: You’ve got your chocolate in my mayo!

PASTOR: You’ve got your mayo in my chocolate!

TOGETHER: Hey! THAT’S…. DISGUSTING!!!

There are any number of people on both sides of the fence who think that psychology and religious faith (and perhaps, especially, Catholicism) go together like…well, two things that don’t go so great together. My hope is that this blog will help my fellow Catholics, and people-of-faith in general,  both appreciate the helpful role psychology can play in their lives and also become faithful, discerning consumers of psychological news and insights.

Although this blog will, at times, address topics related to general spirituality, my primary focus will be more on the intersection of religious faith and mental/emotional/relational health and specifically, how Catholicism might best interact with current trends in psychology.

The Catholic Church has taken a lot of hits over the last decade–many self-inflicted.  Religion, in general, is seen as being on-the-ropes in our current culture.  It is often said that we live in a post-Christian age.  Although the number of people identifying as “spiritual but not religious” is growing, and rates of religious non-affiliation among 18-29 yo’s has doubled from 8-16% (according to Pew) in the last decade or so, 80% of the US population still claims affiliation with one denomination or another (with 70-75% of those are various Christian denominations and the remainder divided between Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faithful) and 40% of the US adults claim weekly Church attendance.  Despite the fact that religion’s influence has decreased, in this day of hyper-partisanship and cultural-compartmentalizing, it seems to me that getting 40% of Americans to do anything on a given day every week is something just shy of a miracle.  Religion is still a powerful force in our culture.

Likewise, it would be hard for anyone to deny that psychological insights and doctrines impact everyone for good or ill.  Psychological terms like “self-esteem,” “drive,” “sibling rivalry,” “actualization,” “identity,” and so on are part of almost everyone’s vocabulary. And, of course, Catholics are not strangers to psychological counseling.

Regarding this last point about mental health treatment, Catholics face a special challenge.  As fellow Patheos blogger, Mark Shea, is fond of noting,  the sociologist, Peter Berger once remarked that if India was the most religious nation in the world and Sweden the least, then the US is a country of Indians ruled by Swedes. We might as well say the same thing about mental health in the US; specifically, the US is a nation of Indian patients treated by Swedish shrinks.

Is that as it should be? Do the non-religious “Swedes” doing the treatment planning know something the religious “Indian” clients don’t? Can we in the mental health biz be comfortable with maintaining this attitude in this age of multiculturalism? What would it mean for religion and psychology to get beyond tolerating each other and, instead, creatively engage each other? And specifically, since this is a Catholic blog, is there such a thing as a Catholic approach to psychology and, if so, what would it look like and why?  Can psychology help us live our faith more effectively?  If so, how?

These are some of the questions I hope to address. Sometimes I’ll be able to answer questions, and more often my posts will just raise more question for you. But I think that’s just fine. After all, religious faith and psychology are both quests to discover ultimate truths about (with apologies to Douglas Adams) the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. And we can’t get anywhere without asking big questions. Chances are we won’t always agree, but hopefully, we can learn from each other.

Thanks for beginning this new adventure with me!

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.

  • http://www.parafool.com victor

    Hi Greg! It’s so good to see you blogging here at Patheos! Definitely the class, credibility, and legitimacy factor of Patheos has increased tenfold just by adding you as a blogger. Keep posting and I’ll be reading!

  • Deacon Norb

    Welcome aboard. I plan on becoming a fan just like I am a fan — and friend — of Dcn Greg’s.


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