Ignorance is…Just Plain Ignorance (Or, Why Catholics Need to Stop Promoting Scientology’s Stigmas About Mental Health)

Earlier today, I posted a video that offered a cautionary view of medication.  The point of the video was that while medication can sometimes be helpful, it can also be problematic if it used to mask other relationship or personal problems that are actually causing the depression. In these cases, medication can actually keep a person depressed longer because the person may experience just enough relief to lose the motivation to solve their underlying problems.  They may get better, but never be well.

Sadly, two people took the opportunity to demonstrate their ignorance by making the following comments in response to the Facebook post I linked to the video.

“G”  wrote:  Not sure how a Catholic offering help to other Catholics can even suggest the anti-faith solution of drugging people with dangerous psychotropic meds. That makes no sense.   The psychiatric profession, with their drugs, is based on the assumption that there is no soul, only a biological entity, and all the thoughts, emotions, and beliefs of that biological entity are the sum total of brain chemicals. This stands in direct contradiction to the beliefs of the faith. How does one enter the diametric opposite of the faith into pastoral counseling and consider it okay?   Do we invite a little bit of the demonic into the Mass to make sure we are integrating all views? No. And we should not do so when we are counseling from a faith-based view.

and “E” wrote:  How about 3 Prayers of Humility, taken daily.  Add to that a large dose of the Grace of God.

First of all, both of these folks entirely missed the point of the post.   There was nothing about the post or the video that promoted “drugging people”  and nothing about the post the prevents someone from seeking God’s grace. Quite the contrary.  If anything, the was a way of asking people to think carefully before using psychiatric drugs. They can be helpful, but they are not the panacea some people view them as.

That said, even if the post was about passing out antidepressants like they were candy, these comments are still incredibly ignorant, off base, and completely inconsistent with the Catholic view of medicine in general and psychiatry in particular.  Worse, these are exactly the kind of comments that cause people who are suffering to refuse to seek treatment.  These are exactly the kind of comments that make people prefer suicide to seeking help.

What is the Catholic View of Psychiatry?

The problem with comments like these is that they are more consistent with a Christian Science (which believes that all illness, much less mental illness is purely a spiritual problem) or even Scientologist (which profits by offering its own phony “treatment.”) view of medicine than they are a Catholic view.  Catholics recognize that good can be found even in ritually impure places.  What did St. Paul say to the early Christians who wondered if it was OK to eat meat sacrificed to pagan gods?  In 1 Cor 8:4-6 he says, “So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”   In other words, God alone is God, what have we to fear of pagan sacrifices to nonexistent gods.  How can meat–which was made by the One True God–be defiled by ignorant people making pretent gestures to gods who don’t exist?

Catholics recognize that  truth and goodness remains true and good even when it is hiding in “ritually impure” (so to speak) places.   It remains so, because it was made–or at least made possible–by God.  If something is helpful, or true, or good (as evidenced by the fruit it bears) then it comes from God.  When Jesus was accused of using demonic power to cast out demons, he challenged his accuser by pointing out that actions, such as healing, can only come from a power stronger than that which caused the illness (c.f., Lk 11: 14-28).

In 1993, Pope John Paul II addressed a gathering of psychiatrists saying, “This meeting affords me a welcome opportunity to express the church’s esteem of the many physicians and health care professionals involved in the important and delicate area of psychiatric medicine…. By its very nature your work often brings you to the threshold of human mystery. It involves sensitivity to the tangled workings of the human mind and heart, and openness to the ultimate concerns that give meaning to people’s lives. These areas are of the utmost importance to the church, and they call to mind the urgent need for a constructive dialogue between science and religion for the sake of shedding greater light on the mystery of man in his fullness.”

In light of such comments by Pope JPII, every Catholic should have big problems with comments like those from G and E above.

No Catholic should ever feel afraid or ashamed of seeking professional mental health treatment of any sort. No Catholic should ever try to discourage a brother or sister in Christ from seeking such help.  And if some erstwhile Catholic does ever do anything to stop someone from getting the help they need, that person will have much to account to God for.

For more information on Catholic-integrated approaches to marriage, family, and emotional problems, visit the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s website or call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment with a professional, Catholic counselor.

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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.

  • Anna

    Thank you for this very important post. Can you please clarify what you mean about “ritually impure” sources? Do you mean that to describe the medicines? If so, why? Thanks.

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      I was being facetious. I apologize for the lack of clarity. I’ve amended the post to, hopefully, make it clearer that I was being mildly sarcastic. Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you felt the post was helpful. Dr.Greg

  • Anna

    Ah – much clearer now – I was trying to figure out why it would be “impure” at all – thanks :-)

  • http://aftertheecstasythelaundry.wordpress.com Cynthia

    A thoroughly excellent book on at least one aspect of mental health is The Catholic Guide to Depression: How the Saints, the Sacraments, and Psychiatry Can Help You Break Its Grip and Find Happiness Again by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty.

    I cannot begin to tell you the mixed bag of advice I’ve received over the years concerning my own treatment. I cannot even begin to understand how these people see themselves as well-intentioned.

  • http://moss-place.stblogs.org Peony Moss

    Typo alert: “exactly the kind of comments that cause people who are suffering to seek treatment.” — should there be a “not” in there?

    What do you think of the line, beloved of some of our priests and deacons, that if more people went to confession that we wouldn’t see so many people turning to therapists and antidepressants?

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      much obliged. correction made.


  • Julia

    Thank you – I wish this would be sent around to lots of Catholic blogs.

    I have an aunt and a sister with schizophrenia – both are well-functioning individuals when on their medications. My son was diagnosed a few years back as type #2 bi-polar, in his late 30s. He lost a series of great jobs and almost lost his family as well. His wife’s family thinks he should just have more will power. The wife neglected getting his prescription re-filled and he went off the rails again. Her family thinks it just costs too much and the kids need the same amount of toys as the neighbors. No understanding at all of the problem and none of them will go to family meetings to get explanations. Last time the meds ran out and he ended up in yet another ER, I found that COSTCO has them very inexpensively and I got him a year’s worth and he now watches to make sure he doesn’t run out. These are good Catholic people who shame him in front of his children instead of being helpful to a good man with a medical problem.
    I have also heard members of my Catholic choir saying that will power and trust in God are better than anti-depressants. There is a real lack of understanding the difference between major depression and temporary sadness about life events. I have even heard members of a Catholic family saying that optimism and will power was better than medicine in saving their father from cancer !! No credit for the surgeons and other medical personnel who helped him lick it. The implication is that people who don’t recover from cancer didn’t have the positive attitude and strong will to survive that their father has. Sitting around the table were people who had loved ones they lost to cancer – how insulting and demoralizing.
    Is it a lack of scientific understanding behind this attitude? I’m in my 60s and I don’t recall Catholics or anybody else having this attitude when I was young.

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      I think there is a decreasing respect for science that, oddly to some, corresponds with the declining influence of religion. People don’t realize the relationship between Christianity and reason, but historically, the more Christian a person was, the more they valued reason and intellectual rigor as well. In a post-Christian society, superstition, pseudo-science, and wishful thinking is quickly replacing respect for truth. As we abandon Him who is Truth, we lose interest in seeking more natural truths as well. Thanks for your comments! Dr.Greg

  • https://twitter.com/JosephPPelaez Joseph Pelaez

    Medicine aids people, many times to seek a Spiritual solution.
    Sometimes persons who are religiously preoccupied speak things of wisdom.
    In The Brothers Karamasov the religiously preoccupied person was
    ‘feared’ by more than she acted oddly. Of course, being of sound mind
    is very important. There is a large element of spiritual battle in the
    minds of religiously preoccupied persons; who would do much better
    with a perfectly sound mind. The flesh, the world, and the evil spirits
    say things from them that discredit their whole witness — however,
    sometimes their words of wisdom should be heeded; and are confirmed
    by persons of sound mind saying the same things in a different way but
    maybe not in as urgent a way. Jesus loves them just like he loves someone
    with heart disease. Lord, help us to respect the mentally ill, asserting
    the truth, without condescending to them.

  • susanna

    Had the worst experience of my life on an antidepressant. All the while had been dabbling in the occult. Had deliverance masses and things improved tremendously. I suggest reading Fr Chad Ripperger on psychiatry at Sensus Traditionis.com, multimedia, and deliverance ministry of Fr. John Hampsch, a Claretian priest. SSRI stories.com is very interesting reading. Thanks. God bless.

  • Proteios1

    Some of what I read into this is based on the larger social understanding that physicians over prescribe. It’s gotten to the point where every time I go in I’m asked to bring in all my meds. Ten I’m asked several more times by a nurse, then physician or skill diluted NP or PA. I routinely say no to my GP as I’m over prescribed for every ailment. That’s just my families experience. Over prescribing for ADHD. Sme kids need it. Most are just kids. I see that everyday at home. My brother took antidepressants after his divorce. I’m sure it was easier than coping, but would a responsible MD have done this? These things do hurt and do take time to get over. If after some time he hasn’t, maybe he needs the help of pharmaceuticals, but the knee jerk response to an obviously sad event is what we all witness. Hence the emerging notion that this world is “drugged”.

    So as one who works on anti cancer compounds and has colleagues working on drugs, I realize the very important benefit to people some chemicals have. It’s the distribution part we see as the problem. Just look at antibiotics…and the consequence of abuse by physicians…MRSA.

  • Julia

    Proteios1: I think you hit on something that is the flip side of the problem Dr Greg reported, but related.
    I think there was a shift in public attitudes when pharmaceuticals started being advertised to the public instead of just to physicians. 1) Patients started diagnosing themselves and pushing their physicians to prescribe the drugs they see in magazine ads and on TV which they thought were appropriate; 2) doctors seemed to be caving in to their patients’ demands for useless or inappropriate medications, and then assume all their patients have the same attitudes and suggest the meds themselves; 3) doctors particularly gave in to the desire for antibiotics when totally inappropriate and to teacher-influenced inappropriate meds for ADHD; 4) the public is now hearing the warnings on those advertisements that sound so dire. Some watching all this lost trust in physicians, the medical profession, and the pharmaceutical industry. Unfortunately, they are now fighting against vaccinations as well as over-prescribing. There is an inability to logically discriminate. And due to dramatic movies, the public is scared of treatments that work, like electro-shock. I don’t see a good answer.

    • david

      The lack of logic is in the health care field. I’ve spent 22 years with the smartest idiots in the world. They are enslaved to relativism and a secular, evolutionary mindset. They cannot think. From global warming, to homosexuality, contraception, to gardasil, MDs and PhDs couldn’t be more ignorant of the facts and what they really mean. They know a lot of facts but they can’t discern what is significant and basically repeat what the system tells them to say. Consensus is what they understand, uniformity, and that goes to the spirit of the age.

      • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

        Well, sure…. But it isn’t as if Catholics shun all physicians, medicine, and surgery because of this. Obviously, caveat emptor when it comes to any health care services, but the special animosity people have toward psychiatry is…odd.

        What’s funny is that I’m the last person I would expect to be defending psychiatry. I think psychiatry over-promises and over-prescribes. In fact, that was the reason for the original post. Most people seem to have missed the point of that somehow. All that said, despite its problems, psychiatry is far from useless, and if a person needs help beyond therapy, it would be a shame to ignore psychiatry out of ignorance or bias. By all means, be informed and cautious, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Dr.Greg

  • Brad

    Fallen man’s hard-hearted habit of stigmatizing the infirm was exposed and utterly destroyed by our dear Lord, in His charity, in the narrative of the Man Born Blind, whom, incidentally, the Western and Eastern Church acknowledge as St. Celidonius.

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      Terrific to hear from you, Brad. As you know, I’m a big fan of your work. Thank you for stopping by. Great comment. I was unaware the “man born blind” had an official name. -Greg

  • Pete Mc Nesbit

    Meds are important to people who need them. The United States is the ONLY country that allows the amounts of non-medical ads on television. I have pharmacists and doctors in my family who all agree that the constant shilling of drugs in the media, really pushes up the cost of medicine to all. It is past time to stop drug companies that shill medicines and cures to gullible people. Other countries pay a lot less for drugs because the cost of what is popular on television isn’t a factor.

  • Linda Zentner

    “——–No Catholic should ever feel afraid or ashamed of seeking professional mental health treatment of any sort. ”

    With all due respect, this is terrible advice. It is crucial that one who is suffering from mental problems seek themselves, if they are able, or ask family or friends to assist -in finding solid and orthodox Catholic mental health clinicians. Further, suggested reading: “The Drug, The Soul and God” by John-Mark Miravelle

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      I think my record is pretty clear that I believe in the importance of Catholics seeking competent Catholic counseling. That is why I operate a Catholic-integrated counseling practice. When I said, “any sort” I meant counselors, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists or therapeutic groups–the Catholic context should be assumed by anyone familiar with my work. That said, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my point.

  • Ryan

    It seems to me, Dr. Greg, that such extreme detractors from psychology or psychiatric medicine would be failing to recognize what Thomists call “the interior senses,” or the physical component of the human intellect. While the intellect itself IS spiritual (and so NOT biological), it is intimately tied up with the imagination, the memory, the estimative sense, and the common sense, all of which deal with the real world, and all of which may poison and misdirect the intellect and will. Or, for that matter, the emotions themselves — being bodily! — can be disordered or affected in any number of ways. And to the extent that psychiatry and psychology recognize this disorder and can, in some medicinal or therapeutic way, restore its proper function, it is a science to be lauded.

    Still, the impression one gets from studying psychology is that it does tend to get too big for its philosophical britches by becoming openly materialistic and reductionist (e.g. Skinner), or even (as is the case with some educational psychology), hyper-idealist bordering on gnostic.

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      I think you’re right on, and I agree that secular psychology can be entirely too big for its britches. But that shouldn’t mean that Catholics should avoid it or that there is something demonic about it as the original commenters suggested. Thank you for your excellent comments. Dr.Greg.

  • http://321force.blogspot.com Barbara

    The difficulty for Catholics, and truly any person, is how easily doctors jump to the SSRIs and the like. I myself was prescribed two different kinds for something that was ultimately a thyroid disorder. I became so jaded that I suffered much longer than I should have because I decided I would never take meds unless there was a physical ailment. It was a Catholic psychologist who suggested I get blood tests, and lo, the answer appeared. However, had it not been my thyroid, I shudder to think I may have refused meds that could help.

    It is getting more difficult to trust physicians because of the nature of having so little time to discuss the whole picture, and the ease with which meds are handed out. I think has a lot to do with Catholics who say these kinds of things.

  • deltaflute

    Sadly ive recently read a book given out by a parish that implied that the reason more people seeking mental health had something to do with their relationship with God. The author naturally has no evidence and completely ignored that a possible reason is advances in medicine and lessening of social stigma.

    It amazes me that such learned Catholic writers think that sort of thing is not harmful.

  • Jen F

    Thank you so much for this. Anxiety/depression runs in my family, and it took me awhile to get over the “stigma” of seeing a therapist, or eventually, take medication. I used to think everything was a spiritual problem…but when I started seeing a therapist I realized it was more complicated than that! I found that through therapy, medication, and spiritual direction, I have grown so much more in my spiritual life-in fact, every aspect of my life is more integrated now. God has used all three to heal and grow me. I think it is easy to forget that God can work in many different ways and many different people.