Modern Psychology and Catholic Understanding — part 2J. FRASER FIELD
The founders of modern counselling and psychotherapy weren't at all timid about voicing their hostility toward orthodox Christianity.
Traditional religion and modern psychology stand in a special relationship to one another because both of them provide philosophies and technologies for ordering the interior life. This equivalence of function may well be the source of much of the antagonism that has characterized the relationship between psychology and orthodox Christianity through the years.
While it can be difficult to document the attitude of an entire profession, especially when, as with most forms of institutionalized prejudice, psychologists tend not to be aware of their biases, there is plenty of evidence of a wide-spread, broadly based, and scientifically unjustified prejudice against religion throughout the field of psychology.
And while religion has arguably been the most important social force in the history of man, research that focuses on the religious dimension in counselling remains a risky undertaking, only rarely accepted for publication in the major counselling journals.
Paul Vitz describes how, in graduate school at Stanford University, "… religion was treated as a pathetic anachronism, Occasionally a person's religious beliefs were "measured" in personality tests. The common interpretation was that people holding traditional religious views were fascist-authoritarian types."
Training in the clinical professions is bereft of content that would engender an appreciation of religious variables in psychological functioning. As Allen Bergin has noted "Race, gender, and ethnic origin now receive deserved attention, but religion is still an orphan of academia."
Many people today enter the counsellor's office as they once might have gone to the priest, in search of solace, absolution, meaning, and the chance for a new life. A number of psychologists have made the observation that psychotherapeutic systems have been derived from traditional religious forms; that the psychotherapies possess religious forms, but with secular contents.
Psychologist Robert Sollod has recommended that "…psychologists begin to sort out what aspects of their approaches represent a form of substitute religion, closely mimicking religious traditions, and drawing on those motivations which in a religious context would naturally lead to religious commitment and spiritual development. From the point of view of religion, the psychotherapies may be responding to important religious motivations, which constitute humanity's spiritual potential and not merely psychological needs."
In their moral role, counsellors and psychotherapists tend to function as a kind of secular priesthood purporting to establish standards of good living while often facilitating a transition to a non-religious view of life.
As one critic has observed, one of the biggest problems in communication between much of psychology and the Christian faith is the refusal of psychotherapists to acknowledge, address, and if need be defend the implicit moral positions they take.
Once again, counselling can be a great help in the right context — that context being Christianity. If you need counselling, my advice is to find a strong orthodox Catholic who is also a good psychologist, someone who practices their counselling art within a mature understanding of the true nature and proper end of man.
J. Fraser Field. "Modern Psychology and Catholic Understanding — part 2." Catholic Insight (November, 2001).
This article was first published by Catholic Insight.
J. Fraser Field is executive officer of the Catholic Education Resource Center. He holds a masters degree in counseling psychology from the University of Victoria.
Copyright © 2001 J. Fraser Field
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