in the Catholic Mystic Tradition
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition
as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.
Spiritual Counsels |
A Story About Desire |
Psychotherapy and Spiritual Counseling |
Psychotherapy Techniques |
Demonic Influence |
Putting it into Practice |
The Reason for Emotional Awareness |
Summary: When You Feel Stuck
psychotherapy in the Catholic mystic tradition is prayer and
combined with a sincere study of the faith. Its
that simple. If only we did exactly what Christ told us to doto turn
away from the satisfactions of the world so as to
renounce sin, pray constantly,
and live chaste and humble lives
filled with loving sacrifices for the salvation
of other soulswe would be spiritually and mentally healthy.
Many individuals through the
ages have found healing for their emotional pain in this way. But such healing
requires total surrender to God. Its all or nothing.
that you take up relentless, persistent prayer to
God (and to the saints and angels for their intercession) that you will grow
in holiness, and, at the same time, you must force yourself to maintain
a calm trust in Gods protection and guidance despite your fears
of admitting your own helplessness and despite your impatience
with things not happening as quickly as you want.
Its a sad truth that
in todays world, despite our prayers and
confessions, many Catholics do not live lives
completely ordered to the commands of Christ. We hesitate to make the total
surrender to Him that Christ asked us to make because, despite our best conscious
intentions, we constantly encounter psychological obstructions that hold us back
from living holy lives.
If your boat is
tied to the dock, no matter how hard you row you still wont go very
far until you untie the rope. In a similar way, no matter how hard you try
to improve your life, you will be obstructed with self-sabotage and
failure if you havent resolved the unconscious conflicts from your
childhood that tie you to frustration and resentment.
Accordingly, many individuals
today need psychotherapy to help them overcome the unconscious
resistances to doing the very things they know consciously they
should be doing.
A Story About Desire
I dont know whether its
true or not, but the story goes that a man came to an ancient philosopher
desiring to learn wisdom. The philosopher took the man out into a river and
then suddenly wrestled him down under the water.
Just at the point of drowning him, the philosopher hauled
him out again and said, Now, what did you say you wanted?
The poor guy was just gasping and wheezing, begging for
Well, when you want wisdom as much as you want to
breathe, the philosopher told him, then you shall have it.
Psychotherapy and Spiritual
Many persons find it difficult
to make a total surrender to God through their own efforts, and they discover that
education and reasoning do little to overcome their resistances. In this case,
spiritual counseling and psychotherapy must be used to understand and overcome the
fear that puts up obstacles to the spiritual
purgation necessary for living a
These obstacles are created by
emotional resentments that begin in childhood and become the core of your
psychological defenses. Such defenses have an original purpose of protecting
you from intense emotional pain by hiding your resentments from conscious awareness,
but as you get older these resentments can so erode your confidence
and self-esteem with feelings of victimization,
hate, self-blame, and
self-punishment that they affect not only your
mental health but also your social health and spiritual health.
In fact, individuals caught up in
their unconscious defenses are stuck in the false belief that they are
in control of their lives and their own mental health.
And why is this?
Well, you may not want to admit this to yourself, but all of us have dark and
hateful thoughts and imaginings that we keep shrouded
in secrecy and dont want to reveal to anyone, especially not to a psychologist.
How many times have you said to yourself, If people knew what I was really like,
they would never want anything to do with me? But the more you try to hide the
truth of your life from others, the more you hide it from yourself, and the more you
fall into pridethe pride of doing everything your way without need for
total surrender to God.
theories and techniques
have been developed since the early 1900s when Sigmund
Freud formulated the concept of psychoanalysis. All of these techniques have
one basic objective: to help us do the things we would like to do, but,
by ourselves, cannot manage to do.
Some of these techniques are
based in conscious, rational thought processes.
techniques, for example, focus specifically on changing thoughts and behaviors.
Note that vocal prayer is the pre-eminent form
of Cognitive-Behavioral therapy.
and reasoning are also forms of psychotherapy. Note that this has
been a preferred method of Christian psychotherapy, beginning with Christ
Himself, continuing with the Apostles, and fully exemplified by men such
as St. Thomas Aquinas, whose work is often recalled by modern Catholics in
their practice of psychotherapy, and St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual
Still, some persons develop such
deep resistance to changing their lives for the good that psychotherapy must
reach deep into their unconscious minds, well past their conscious
Imagery helps you visualize things that could or might happen so that
you can achieve them or avoid them in the future. Note that St. Ignatius
of Loyola anticipated this concept in his Spiritual
Prayer (or contemplative prayer) calls upon inspiration by the Holy
Spirit to reveal and understand unconscious mental conflicts. Note that Catholic
mystics through the ages have had much to say about this.
Dreams  can be interpreted to help you understand emotional
elements of your life that you have not yet recognized consciously. Note that the
Book of Daniel provides a practical example of this, while the Book of Sirach (34:5)
warns us that dreams are not meant to be taken as predictions of actual future
Some persons falsely believe that
psychological disorders can be the result of demonic influence.
The truth is actually the other way around. Psychological disorders result from
emotional resentments that have been stuffed away into the unconscious, and then,
if the resentments are especially strong, the anger and hatred underlying them
will attract demons the way blood in the water attracts sharks. Remember a
fundamental point here: demons cannot get into us unless we invite them in,
and one clear invitation is through the door of hatred and
lust. Consequently, prayers of deliveranceand
formal exorcism, if necessarycan help to clear the path for further psychological
healing. Note well, though, that the demons will keep coming back as long as there is
hatred and lust for them to feed on. To stay free of the demons it will be necessary
to resolve the resentments underlying the psychological disorder.
Even individuals in
religious lifeespecially novicescan benefit from deliverance prayer or
exorcism. Although some persons may say that unless a person can accomplish healing
through prayer alone the person is not suitable for religious life, keep in mind that
exorcism is prayer. And for that matter, psychotherapy, when conducted properly,
is also prayer.
The Place for
Psychological and spiritual healing is
hard work. It will often seem counter-intuitive because it does not examine
only what is on the surface of your life. To be able to cure the pain and
confusion of your life, you really have to examine and change what motivates
you to act in ways that cause pain and confusion,
and, for the most part, this motivation is unconscious
and under the surface of your life. Therefore, your true motivation cannot be
examined directly. It must be examined indirectly by digging through all the dirt
and filth hidden under the surface. Its no wonder, then, that most people
fear psychotherapyand fear psychologists.
psychiatric medication has a special appeal to it, an appeal that is seen
more and more today in advertising. Rather than go through all the hard work
of constantly monitoring your feelings, thoughts, and actions, why not feel
better without having to do anything at all? Why change your lifestyle? Just
take some pills a couple times a day and go about your life as
Now, the truth
is, psychiatric medications are generally mandatory for the treatment of
disorders such as schizophrenia and mania. For
other disorders such as depression,
PTSD, anxiety, or
obsessive-compulsive disorder, psychiatric medications
can, in some cases, be a helpful adjunct to psychotherapy. That is, medications
can suppress debilitating anxiety or alleviate your depressed mood such that
you can then feel comfortable enough to do the hard work of psychotherapy.
however, that psychiatric medications are not curative. The medications merely
suppress unwanted symptoms for as long as a person takes the medications. If
the medications are stopped, then the symptoms will flourish again in full strength.
I fear for such persons because, although on the surface it may seem that they are
living devout lives, all of the hatred and anger suppressed by the medications
still lurks in the depths of their hearts.
But if psychotherapy is used in conjunction with psychiatric medications, the
psychotherapy holds the possibility of a genuine cure by resolving the
deep unconscious issues that lie behind the symptomsand then the
medications can be discontinued.
In the form of psychological and
spiritual healing I practice, and as I describe on this website, you can be
guidedthrough the sacraments, vocal and mental
prayer, fasting, study,
and the insight resulting from the psychotherapeutic relationshipinto
understanding the roots of your unconscious conflicts and defenses; you can
learn to identify the events of life that have wounded you and to understand
the emotions surrounding those events.
That is, its not enough
just to know intellectually what
happenedit is important to feel the pain and then be able to identify
and name the emotions associated with your pain.
This process happens through
your speaking about your life in a therapeutic setting so as to interpret
connections through spontaneous associations to your intellectual memories
and through other techniques, such as dream
Eventually, you can recover a
full awareness of your emotional life that in childhood you learned to suppress
as a psychological defense.
The goal of all
this work is not to blame your parents for what they failed to do
but to get past your hidden resentments
at your parents for what they failed to do, so that you can take full
responsibility for your life and ultimately
your parents and honor them. Remember,
so long as you have unconscious resentment for your parents, it will be
impossible for you to honor themand trying to honor them without
admitting your unconscious resentments for them is just a lie.
for Emotional Awareness
Some persons will say that they
want nothing to do with touchy-feeley psychology and will insist
that their lives are quite fine without it. Those who say this, however,
have usually experienced family dysfunctions such as alcoholism, or emotional,
physical, or sexual abuse. In an environment of lying, broken promises, arguing,
and violence, they grew to fear emotions as something
Nevertheless, in order to live
a true Christian lifestyle, everyone, male and female, needs to be able to
manage his or her internal emotional reactions to external events, so as
to remain always in a place of Christian purity of heart. Two common
emotional traps illustrate this.
Lets say that someone says
something critical to you. Your immediate reaction, based upon learned behavior
from childhood, will be to defend yourself. That can provoke more criticism,
and more arguing, until you get so exasperated that you start saying hateful
and vengeful thingsand right there you have abandoned purity of heart
and fallen into sin. This all happens because interpersonal conflicts result
from failed emotional communication.
Lets say youre on
your way home from work and suddenly you feel a temptation to stop at a bar
and drinkto use drugsto shopliftto stop at a strip
clubto get a massage from a prostituteto
masturbate. So right there you have abandoned
purity of heart and fallen into sin. This all happens because behind every
temptation is an emotional reaction to some event that has shaken your
Emotional awareness, therefore,
is a psychological tool that provides protection from sin.
Interpersonal conflicts result from failed emotional communication. Temptations
do not just appear out of nowhere; behind every temptation is an emotional
reaction to some event that has shaken your self-confidence. It is impossible
to stay in the place of Christian purity of heart if you fail to understand
your emotional reactions to the events around you.
Thus through psychotherapy you
can learn to respond to every moment of the present with a complete understanding
of the emotions involvedand this understanding gives you the ability
and appropriately to the situation.
if someone says something that hurts you, you can say to yourself, OK.
Im feeling helpless and abandoned. In the midst of these feelings,
you can recognize how you responded
to similar feelings as a child. Then you can choose an appropriate,
non-defensive, mature, and psychologically
response to your current feelings.
But if you
havent done your psychological work, instead of naming your feelings
you will just feel a vague yucky inadequacy and
go off and drown the yuck with food or drugs or some other dysfunctional
behavior. The sad thing is that when you drown the yuck, right along with
it you drown the possibility of forgiveness.
You Feel Stuck
People often tell me that they
feel stuck and unable to make any spiritual progress, and they ask me what
Learn to Pray
Well, first of all, pray. But
be careful here. Just going to Mass and praying the Rosary isnt
sufficient to inspire healing. Prayer must be a constant moment-by-moment
communication with God in the heart. Prayer can also be a matter of deliverance
prayer (with a priest) and exorcism (by a priest-exorcist). Moreover, healing
prayer is not simply a matter of asking for specific things to happen or for
material objects; instead, pray for God to inspire you and to give you guidance.
Furthermore, pray for the wisdom and courage to perceive and carry out that
guidance so as to make meaningful changes in your beliefs about yourself and,
consequently, to change your physically and spiritually unhealthy
Moreover, dont expect that
God will tap you on the shoulder and say, Hey
[N]! This is what I want you to do.
Gods answer to your prayers will come though ordinary daily events.
It will be up to you to open your heart to believing that ordinary
eventsunder the influence of constant prayercan help guide you.
For everything that happens (especially for
distress), say to yourself, What is this
telling me about what I need to learn about myself and how I need to
One really good prayer is the
following prayer of my own. (It really works, because I used it during my
take me as Your disciple.
Guide me; illuminate me; sanctify me.
Show me what is holy,
and I will pursue it.
Show me what is unholy,
and I will turn from it.
Command me, and with Your grace
I will obey.
Lead me, then, into the fullness
of Your Truth and Wisdom.
the Social World
Second, as a way to detach from the
unholy influence of the social world, follow the
Spiritual Counsels on this website.
Third, if you find that you have
difficulty praying and keeping the counsels, then consider that your stuckness
could be a form of anger, directed at others,
especially your parents. That is, you may be
unconsciously creating a disability so as to send
yourself to hell to prove to others that they have failed you. In this
case, you may need psychotherapy techniques to resolve this problem.
1. When prayer is combined with fasting for psychotherapy,
it is important to understand both prayer and fasting in a very specific sense.
In regards to healing, prayer
must be more than “standard” formal prayers (such as the Rosary); prayer must be an
intimate communication with God as an appeal for deep personal scrutiny (both
psychological insight into past emotional injuries and psychological insight into the
ways current thoughts and behaviors are affected by those past emotional injuries) and
an appeal for the desire and courage to alter dysfunctional life patterns through
a dedicated surrender to, and trust in, God’s will.
In regards to healing, fasting
should be considered to be an act of distancing oneself from anything that is not necessary
for nurturing a state of life governed by total love for God. Hence we can fast from worldly
activities (e.g., entertainment and sports) that bring material pleasure to life but that
actually distract us—and often lead us away—from an awareness of God’s holy presence in our
lives. In this regard, the most benefit will result from perpetual fasting. (Note that perpetual
avoidance of mortal sin could also be considered a form of fasting, but this sort of fasting
must be considered mandatory for every Christian.)
We can also fast from food and drink that our bodies do not really need
for optimal functioning. In this regard it is important to understand that fasting does not
amount to a ruthless act of merely denying ourselves pleasure from good food; instead, fasting
has two aspects. First, it can refer to cutting back on—and even eliminating, if possible—unhealthy
foods (e.g., junk foods, sugary foods, processed foods). Second, it can refer to a selective
reduction of the usual amount of food for a limited time, so as to effect a purging of
physiological toxins from the body and also to stimulate a greater awareness of a spiritual hunger
for the presence of the holy in our lives.
2. Note that a traditional Catholic
guide such as the Baltimore Catechism claims that dreams are irrational and
meaningless and should be ignored. But note carefully that this Catechism was
written at a time when the psychology of the unconscious was not scientifically
understood. It just goes to show that scientific knowledgein contrast to
Catholic dogmais always limited to the current culture. If you want to believe
the Baltimore Catechism about dreams you may as well believe that the world is flat
or that the sun revolves around the earth.
in the Catholic mystic tradition
How to turn the
of daily life into
for our cultural
and spiritual battle
about the spiritual depth of