lie down in peace, and sleep comes at once
for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.
Catholic Psychotherapy |
Spiritual Counsels |
Understanding Causality |
The Unconscious Aspect of Emotional Trials |
Encountering Emotional Trials with Faith |
Medication vs. Self-Scrutiny |
Vitamins and Minerals |
scientific research that the brain and the mind have a mutual influence on
Medical research has taught us
that a hormonal imbalance, for example, can result in emotional symptoms,
and that correction of the hormonal imbalance through medication or surgery
can restore emotional stability.
Moreover, psychological research
has taught us that pure psychological activity, such as meditation and hypnosis,
can actually alter brain chemistry. Guided imagery and virtual reality, for
example, can effectively deaden pain reception in the brain.
All of this tells us that when
looking to determine the cause of something, we really need to consider
different kinds of causes.
Because the brain and the mind
have a mutual influence on each other, it is important to understand that
even though mental disorders may have a material cause in brain
neurochemistry they can also have a final cause in psychological
Think, for a
moment about the building in which you may now be sitting. We can ask,
“What is the cause of this building?” just as you might ask about
the cause of depression or anxiety. Well, in his philosophy, Aristotle
(Physics, ii, 3) described several different types of causes that
are relevant even today.
material cause refers to “that out
of which a thing comes to be and persists.” In this sense, for example,
the steel and concrete and glass—the materials—are the cause of
formal cause refers to the form—or
plan, or pattern—by which the essence of something is stated. In this
sense, the design and blueprints are the cause of a building.
efficient cause refers to “the primary
source of the change or coming to rest.” In this sense, the construction
company is the cause of a building.
final cause refers to “that for
the sake of which” a thing is done. In this sense, the owner’s
desire is the cause of a building.
Now, as Aristotle himself said,
“it follows that there are several causes of the same thing.” In
psychological practice this means that symptoms of depression, for example,
which might be “caused” by a chemical imbalance in the brain (material
cause) can, at the same time, be “caused” by repressed anger (final
Aspect of Emotional Trials
Psychologically, locating and
treating the unconscious final cause of the symptoms can be the most
critical aspect of the treatment because it can have a curative effect on
the other causes as well. Using medication to treat only the material cause—as
if it were the rational and only cause—will leave the final cause
untreated and free to continue exerting its harmful influence. In regard
to depression and anxiety, the psychological treatment usually centers around
experiences of anger and guilt and
basis for anxiety can usually be located in childhood experiences that lack
clear explanations and guidance from parents who tend to be disinterested,
critical, or abusive. Hence the children grow to dread circumstances that
have unknown or unpredictable aspects.
From a Christian
perspective, the root of anxiety is a lack of
trust in God’s providence, such that, when facing the unknown,
you worry endlessly about how to “figure it out” on your own. The
root of depression is a lack of trust in God’s
justice, such that when encountering any hurt
or insult you fall into a desire to take matters into your own hands
to get revenge, but, feeling helpless to overpower others, you turn your
anger onto yourself as unconscious self-blame.
This means, therefore, that some
persons cling with unconscious determination to a childlike desire to make
their parents admit their mistakes. These persons use their own disability
as evidence of their parents’ failures—evidence to be thrown back
into their parents’ faces—and, in so doing, they effectively reject
divine love for the savor of
“What?” you ask.
“Revenge? That’s ridiculous. I don’t want revenge. I’m
Well, no one is “past”
the capacity for self-deception, and only when
you can be honest about your entanglement in the
can you extricate yourself from it. So,
if you truly were past revenge, you would do anything it takes—pay
any price and overcome any fear—to be
healed, and then you would turn to your parents
and, as a gift of true love, offer to them your healing,
as evidence that, despite all their mistakes, they really didn’t cripple
you after all. But by continuing in your self-sabotaging behavior you show
that you would prefer to send yourself to hell
just to prove to someone how much he has hurt you. Note carefully that the real
psychological problem here is your desire to sabotage
yourself, not any particular disorder that may afflict you. Therefore, it’s
simply impossible to open yourself to God’s healing grace until you let go of
the secret hope that your own self-destruction will bring
you the sweet satisfaction of . . . well, revenge.
All that worry
and all that self-blame is rust on our souls that prevents us from getting
close to God. It’s a self-limiting sort of dynamic that keeps us stuck
in our own unconscious despair. For no matter how many times you say,
“Jesus, I trust in You!” if you say the words only intellectually,
without deep love in your heart, those words will do no more to heal your
fear than a coat of paint can fix crumbling
Emotional Trials with Faith
So consider for a moment all
the emotional wounds that have afflicted you and compare it all to what happened
to Saint Paul:
I am still more,
with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and
numerous brushes with death. Five times at the hands of the Jews I received
forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned,
three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on
frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers
from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in
the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and
hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through
frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things,
there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who
is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?
—2 Corinthians 11:23-29
No matter what happened to him,
Paul did not get depressed; he was not afflicted with
he did not stop working. Why? Well, when he said, “I have been crucified with
Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19b-20a), he
wasn’t just speaking flowery poetry—he meant it, literally. He really was
“dead” to psychological conflicts
about pride and
Of course, just like Saint Paul,
all those who live devout Christian lives will experience periods of uncertainty
and anguish—all aspects of personal
suffering. Just look at the lives of the saints.
But, if everything is accepted with complete faith, none of it has to become
a psychiatric disorder.
Consider it all
joy when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your
faith produces perseverance.
And that’s true when you
have guidance in faith through the
Tradition of the Church and the spiritual nurturance
of the sacraments and devout prayer. But when you encounter
trials without the rock-solid stability of the
Church to guide you and are forced to use your own wits to survive (as in
dysfunctional families), then adversity commonly
leads to chaos and confusion.
may be necessary in some extreme
bipolar disorder, and severe episodes of
Medications may also be useful
in some cases to provide temporary relief from anxiety or depressed mood
Psychiatric medications, however,
are not curative, and, for less extreme symptoms, the use of psychiatric medication
primarily supports the secular scientific error that you can “feel better” without
having to alter your lifestyle to assume moral responsibility
for your life. Real spiritual purification, however, demands a total change of
lifestyle, turning away from worldly attachments
to embrace a moral and virtuous life through complete
dying to self in Christ.
It’s important, then, to keep in mind
that psychiatric medications merely suppress unwanted symptoms for as long as you
take the medications. If you stop the medications, the symptoms will flourish again
in full strength. But, psychotherapy holds the possibility of a genuine cure by resolving
the deep unconscious issues that lie behind the symptoms.
Note carefully that
the use of psychiatric medications therefore poses a grave spiritual danger. If
someone uses medications merely to suppress symptoms, rather than use psychotherapy
to renounce willingly the morally disordered inclinations underlying the symptoms,
he or she can be in a perpetual state of unrepentant mortal sin, much
like a clean, shiny grain of wheat that, when
broken, is full of dirt inside.
So what can you do? Although
severe symptoms may require emergency medical treatment, psychotherapy—or
spiritual direction with someone who is also a qualified
psychotherapist—can help to uncover psychological
conflicts that block complete trust in God.
a trauma can often be the result of repressed
anger, and if the anger is resolved in a spiritual
context, rather than suppressed with medication, the “psychiatric
PTSD will resolve
right along with the anger. Similarly,
often the result of anger turned inwards;
it can derive from a desperate need for
for not receiving that approval. But if you seek only the approval of Christ, not the world, you
have no reason for anger and no reason to condemn
Vitamins and Minerals
The daily diets of many persons have nutritional
deficiencies that affect mental health. Most persons aren’t aware of this, and so, if they
experience any mental health problems, they tend to believe that their lives must be dependant
on psychiatric medications.
So, rather than subject yourself to harsh medications that sedate and dull your mind (and
more often than not lead to substantial weight gain), consider this list of some vitamins
and minerals that can help naturally with psychiatric symptoms. Be advised that the
therapeutic dose may be higher than the FDA minimum daily recommendation, so a simple
multivitamin tablet probably won’t have much effect on psychiatric symptoms. You might
want to discuss this with a naturopath practitioner, or see the book Nutrition and Vitamin
Therapy by Michael Lesser, M.D. (1980) for dosage recommendations.
Keeping in mind all that I said
above about depression and anxiety in general, consider the following specific
If you have
difficulty concentrating or are troubled
first go to the webpage about Distractions and Fantasies
and read about how to understand the troubling experiences. Then you can work on
driving away these thoughts with holy thoughts by following a simple process. First
say, “I don’t need to think about that right now.” Then recite the
Jesus Prayer constantly to block any other thoughts.
If you find yourself lapsing in the Jesus Prayer, repeat the statement “I don’t
need to think about that right now.” and then return to the Jesus Prayer.
The prayer is simple: Lord Jesus
Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
The technique, too, is simple: recite
Still, as simple as it is, it’s
hard work. No sooner will you start to say the prayer than your mind will wander
and you will be off in your own thoughts. But once you realize that your mind has
wandered from the prayer, stop thinking and return to the prayer. Don’t try to analyze
what happened. Just immediately stop thinking and return to the prayer.
You have to hold in your heart the will
to do this. But if you desire it more than anything else—more even than the desire
to stay stuck in your fear and anxiety—you can do it. If you
love God, and if you love your soul, you can do it.
If you have excessive
worry (called anxiety in clinical terms) about an
impending event, pray and trust that God will
inspire you in due time as to what appropriate action you will need to take; then tell
yourself, “I don’t need to think about this right now” and immediately pray the Jesus
Prayer to ward off any extraneous thoughts. This will protect you from anxiety. There
may be trepidation simply about the unknown; that’s normal, but keep telling yourself,
“I don’t need to think about this right now.” Trust that divine inspiration will help
you get through the difficulty and will tell you what to do when you need to do
If you have generalized
anxiety that persistently troubles you about nothing in particuar, keep
telling yourself, “Even though I feel anxious, that feeling is distressful but
not dangerous, and so I can relax.” Then, to ward off any extraneous thoughts,
repeatedly pray Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit or other short prayers
such as the Jesus Prayer.
When you have doubts
about what you or others might do in regard to something that might occur
in the future, tell yourself (with a gentle smile), “It’s none of your business.” God will
let you know what you need to know if you need to know it; until then, just focus on
living a chaste, modest, and
humble holy life, no matter what others may do.
This does not mean that prayer will make your
feelings of anxiety simply dissolve; having to face the unknown will cause distress in
anyone, but prayer allows you to “sit with” your emotional pain and feelings of helplessness
while knowing that God will guide you through the distress and show you what to do when
you need to do it without worrying about figuring it out on your own.
Remember, worry can make
nothing happen except disaster itself.
You might also practice a
physiological relaxation technique such as Autogenics.
Once you learn how to relax and trust in your body on the physical level, you can then
turn to trust in God to free you from anxiety on the spiritual level. A relaxation
recording (true to the Catholic faith) from this website can
help you experience such trust.
If you have a problem with
waking up in the middle of the night (called
insomnia in clinical terms), worrying about
not sleeping will only deepen the insomnia. The psychological core of insomnia is
your worrying about some impending matter such that you become trapped in obsessive
thinking about the matter as you try to sleep. Many persons believe that they are
experiencing some mysterious physiological problem when in actuality the problem is
simply a matter of unrestrained thinking. The solution to insomnia,
therefore, is relinquish your fixation on thinking and to trust that God will
provide the guidance necessary to help you find your way through the trials and
difficulties of life.
Therefore, follow these procedures:
When you lie in bed at night in
preparation to sleep, realize that in sleep you are completely helpless in the world
and that only a complete surrender to God will be of any protection. Therefore, make
a deliberate commitment to surrender yourself to God’s protection.
To do this, lie in bed calmly, relax all
your muscles, and repeat to yourself, “Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my
spirit.” But do it by coordinating the prayer with deep, calm, and regular breathing.
Silently, in your mind, say the first part of the prayer while inhaling deeply,
and then exhale deeply as you say the second part of the prayer.
Into Your hands,
I commend my
Make a disciplined effort to repeat
this process over and over until you fall asleep, warding off any other thoughts.
When thoughts try to intrude, do not allow yourself to dwell on them. If you do slip
and lapse into them, immediately stop thinking about anything and return to the
prayer and the deep breathing, until you fall asleep. Note that you may have to say
the prayer for an hour at a time before you fall asleep, so be careful not to give
Whenever you wake up in the middle of
the night and cannot immediately fall asleep again, then follow a process similar
to the process of falling asleep initially, but you may use any of the following
Into Your hands,
I commend my
Lord Jesus Chirst,
Son of God,
have mercy on
As when you first go to bed, make a
disciplined effort to repeat this process over and over until you fall asleep again,
warding off any other thoughts. When thoughts try to intrude, do not allow yourself
to dwell on them. If you do slip and lapse into them, immediately stop
thinking about anything and return to the prayer and the deep breathing, until you
fall asleep. Note that you may have to say the prayer for an hour at a time before
you do fall asleep again, so be careful not to give up prematurely.
Although secular psychology will not admit this,
all phobias have a basis in anger, especially anger at God. Those who
have a fear of heights are afraid of falling to their death, and
their fear of death derives from their fear of their anger at God. Those who have a
fear of enclosed spaces are afraid of themselves because they are
angry at God. Those who have a fear of open spaces are afraid of
having their anger at God exposed. Those who have a fear of insects (or
other vermin) intuitively understand that, in folklore, vermin are symbols of demons,
and demons, by nature (that is, by their fallen nature) are creatures of anger at God, and so,
if anger “crawls” within the heart of a person, that person will be “accused” of his or her
anger at God when seeing crawling vermin.
Thus the cure for any phobia is in overcoming anger
at God by developing trust in God’s justice and providence.
If you feel
fatigued, note that in the spiritual realm,
chronic fatigue can be the result of demonic oppression or parasitism
and that deliverance prayer from an understanding priest or priest exorcist may help
you. Note also that chronic fatigue can have a cause in medical conditions such
as vitamin deficiency (especially vitamin D3),
Coeliac (or celiac) disease, early menopause, hypothyroidism, Lyme disease, Morgellons
disease, Obstructive Sleep Apnea, parasites, shiftlag, and Vibroacoustic Disease (VAD).
See Medical Factors Affecting
Psychology from my other website.
If you have a
loss of appetite or if you
overeat, first remind yourself that you should
hunger for nothing but the Body and Blood of Christ, and that, because your body is
a temple of the Holy Spirit, you must take good care of it,
neither eating too little nor overeating. Then, in regard
to overeating, see my webpage about Weight Reduction for
If you have
feelings of extreme worthlessness or
guilt or shame, first remind yourself that apart from Christ you
are worthless and deserve nothing but condemnation, yet
in Christ you are offered mercy whenever you make a mistake. All
you have to do is, with a humble, contrite heart, call out for and accept His mercy.
Note also that whereas guilt derives
from something you have done or thought that is wrong or sinful, shame derives
from a belief that there is something “wrong” with your very being because others have
mistreated you and you feel rejected or unloved. Nevertheless, when Christianity is lived
in its mystical fullness it becomes a protection from shame because Christianity affirms
that we all are created good. Even though unrepentant sin can stain your soul and send you
to doom, nothing can rob you of your essential goodness. In this sense, shame can be
understood to be a demonic illusion intended to pry you away from trust in God.
When you live in a state of
sin, your own sins condemn you. But when you live in a state of
grace, through chastity and obedience,
Christ will protect you, and your confidence, which will come from Him, can never be
undermined, because Christ can never be undermined: The gates of the netherworld shall
not prevail (Matthew 16:18).
If you have a
depressed mood, first think of Christ on the cross,
hated and despised, and reflect on the fact that all who would be Christians must suffer
rejection by the world and die on the cross with Christ, in order to be resurrected with
Him to everlasting life.
Then consider that the psychological basis for
the psychiatric condition called Depression is anger: both anger at others and anger at the
self for not being able to control others. To learn more about this, see the webpage
Depression on my other
Finally, consider that a depressed mood can
also be related to medical conditions such as degenerative neurological conditions
(e.g., Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease); cerebrovascular disease (e.g., stroke);
metabolic conditions such as vitamin deficiency
(e.g., vitamin D3); endocrine conditions
(e.g., hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, hypoparathyroidism,
hyperadrenocorticism, hypoadrenocorticism); autoimmune conditions (e.g., systemic
lupus erythematosus); viral or other infections (e.g., hepatitis, mononucleosis, HIV);
certain cancers (e.g., carcinoma of the pancreas); and environmental factors
(e.g., EMF radiation). See
Medical Factors Affecting Psychology
from my other website.
Thoughts of Death
If you have thoughts
of death, remember that only by dying to this
world can we be born to everlasting life, and that until God alone decides that our time
here is finished we must devote all our energy to hard work in his service.
So be honest with yourself here and recognize that suicide is
just a way of saying to God, “My will—not Thy will—be done.”
1. On the Distractions and Fantasies
page of this website I explain about understanding your fantasies rather than trying
to ignore them. This work of understanding is valuable, but even when you have
understood your fantasies they will not just grow wings and fly away. Distractions
will keep intruding into your mind as long as you live. The advice on the present
webpage is therefore intended to help you ward off the distractions you have
2. You don’t have to be concerned about getting your
work done. When you need to think logically, or when you need to pray other
prayers, the Jesus Prayer will not interfere. It will cease when you need
it to cease; just remember to start it again when you become aware that it
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition
How to Turn the
of Daily Life into
for Our Cultural
The Struggle for
About the Spiritual Depth of