Monday, October 16, 2006

Catholic Psychology 101

Psychology is one of those topics that is often maligned in religious circles. I think that we as traditionalist Catholics are especially prone to bash psychology. A lot of this stems from the fact that there is, admittedly, a lot of bad psychology out there. Those of us who have taken a college or even high-school level psychology course know that there is a lot of the bad mixed in with what may be good.

So, why have I as a Catholic writer decided to write on the topic of Psychology? Well, it’s a long story but let me try to explain: First of all, I’ve struggled with bouts of anxiety and depression for most of my adult life. It was because of these issues that I recognized my need for a Savior. These trials have been blessings in that they awakened the sense within of a need to be “rescued.”

However, I’ve hit a wall this last year. Ironically, I’ve come to see that these psychological issues that drove me to Christ have also become the issues that take me very close to being separated from Him. I’ve come to notice in myself, and in many others who seek to be faithful Catholics, that these issues create barriers that prevent us from living the faith as fully, effectively and joyfully as it should be lived. I’ve learned, rather painfully, that book knowledge about the faith - knowledge that teaches us what we as Catholics are to believe, how are to live and why - can only get one so far. There is, in my opinion, another indispensable companion to all this knowledge that is often overlooked. That companion is sound mental health.

Sound mental health, and its relationship to the spiritual life, is something that has been underestimated – at least I underestimated it. In fact, I often wonder if most Christians of all stripes have a tendency to view poor mental health as some sort of virtue. I think that many of us, especially those with melancholic temperaments like myself, see a false humility in the self-deprecation and pessimism that accompanies poor mental health. I think we often have the impression that the more negative we see ourselves, our fellow man and the world around us, the more “pious” we really are. I would even go as far as to say that many of the heresies we as Catholics seek to eradicate have poor mental health as one of their roots. One only has to look at the impetuousness and gloominess of a Martin Luther to see an inseparable link between the way one thinks and the theology one espouses. There is a heavy danger in underestimating the impact poor mental health can have on our faith life. It will, subtly but effectively, distort your image of yourself, others and God, no matter how much “book knowledge” you have. Poor mental health will hamper your efforts at fighting sin, will ruin your prayer life and will mess with you in many other ways you could never imagine.

So, I’ve decided to write a series of articles on precisely this topic. The beauty of the Catholic faith is that she has 2000 years of experience in dealing with human beings and their problems. Sound mental health is a topic that the Saints and many spiritual writers have dealt with, and I think it’s time to once again re-discover the riches of sound advice that have been given on this topic.

I feel there is a real need to address this topic, especially in our day and age. We live under circumstances that by their very nature foster poor mental health. Some of us struggle more than others, but I would guess that many who seek to live a fully Catholic life are not doing so well, not because they are insincere or lazy, but because they lack knowledge and application of sound, Catholic psychological principles. Sound mental health is a topic that the Saints and many spiritual writers have dealt with, and I think it’s time to once again re-discover the riches of sound advice that have been given on this topic.

Some may still be skeptical as to whether or not this topic is worthy of any discussion. That’s OK. I just have a hunch that there are countless people of faith out there who are suffering needlessly because we as Catholic authors have not given the topic of sound mental health and its connection to the spiritual life enough exposure. I hope that what will be written here in the future will help not only the readers but also those of us whose responsibility it is to teach the faith to others. We cannot be effective evangelists unless we are able, through an understanding of how we and others “tick”, to meet people where they are at on their journey. The status of one’s mental health is seriously the point at where knowledge either bears fruit or becomes destructive.

My first posts will be a study of the Temperaments and their relationship to the spiritual life.

God Bless,
-Patrick Morris