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.


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