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in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.

—1 Samuel 16:7


Fear  |  Love  |  Humility  |  Spiritual Counsels  |  Books  |  About CSF

Introduction | A Story About Desire | Psychotherapy and Spiritual Counseling | Psychotherapy Techniques | Demonic Influence | Medications | Putting it into Practice | The Length of Treatment | The Reason for Emotional Awareness | Summary: When You Feel Stuck

THE only true psychotherapy in the Catholic mystic tradition is prayer and fasting [1] combined with a sincere study of the faith. It’s that simple. If only we did exactly what Christ told us to do—to turn away from the satisfactions of the world so as to renounce sin, pray constantly, and live chaste, modest, and humble lives filled with loving sacrifices for the salvation of other souls—we would be spiritually and mentally healthy. 

Nevertheless, even in her time Saint Teresa of Avila could see the true depth of human nature: that we scorn the way of a holy lifestyle and seek immediate, tangible comfort for our emotional distress.


You see, the gift our Lord intends for us may be by far the best, but if it is not what we wanted we are quite capable of flinging it back in His face. This is the kind of people we are; ready cash is the only wealth we understand.


The Way of Perfection (30.2)

Today, things are even more disordered than in times past. Now we live in a culture of blatant insanity; children are brainwashed from infancy by movies, television, magazines, popular music, sports, and social media that are all awash with the diabolical vices of aggressiveness, competition, defiance of authority, sensuality, hatred, anger, revenge, and lust. Hence when many individuals experience emotional distress, they think in depths of their hearts, “God owes me. Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t mean much to me right now. I want tangible compensation for all I have suffered!” Gluttony, pornography, masturbation, alcohol, and drugs are the currency of the “ready cash” the modern world demands from God.

Consequently, in today’s culture of insanity the fundamental Christian principle of dying to the self  has so lost its meaning that even most Catholics today find the concept to be incomprehensible. And, sadly, all the while this is occurring, most of us are blind to it.

Accordingly, many individuals today need Catholic psychotherapy, not Orthodox Psychotherapy, to help them overcome the unconscious resistances to doing the very things they know consciously they should be doing.


Hence it can be said that Catholic psychotherapy is a bet that you make that getting close to your unconscious will remove the psychological obstacles that prevent you from loving God with a pure heart.


A Story About Desire

I don’t know whether it’s 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 air.
     “Well, when you want wisdom as much as you want to breathe,” the philosopher told him, “then you shall have it.”

Psychotherapy and Spiritual Counseling

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 holy lifestyle.

These obstacles are created by emotional resentments that begin in childhood and become the core of your unconscious 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 don’t 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 pride—the pride of doing everything your way without need for total surrender to God.


Psychotherapy Techniques

All the psychotherapy techniques that I use are evidence based, but the evidence does not come just from scientific experimentation; much evidence comes from ages of experience and wisdom.

Many various psychotherapy theories and techniques have been developed since the early 1900s when Sigmund Freud formulated the concept of psychoanalysis. 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.

Cognitive-Behavioral techniques, for example, focus specifically on changing thoughts and behaviors. Note that vocal prayer is the pre-eminent form of Cognitive-Behavioral therapy.

Teaching 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 Exercises.

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 thoughts.

Guided Imagery helps you visualize things that could or might occur so that you can achieve them or avoid them in the future. Note that St. Ignatius of Loyola anticipated this concept in his Spiritual Exercises.

Mental 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 [2] 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 events.

Demonic Influence

Demons are everywhere, trying to influence everything. Primarily, they affect our behavior by trying to affect our thoughts, so as to discourage us and lead us into doubt and despair, and our task is to resist such temptations. In some cases demons can affect circumstances, but only with God’s permission; in these cases, our task is to surrender to God’s will.

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 deliverance—and formal exorcism, if necessary—can help to clear the path for further psychological healing through psychotherapy. 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 unconscious resentments underlying the psychological disorder.


In the proper circumstances deliverance prayer or exorcism can be a valuable adjunct to psychotherapy. But keep in mind that prayer—even deliverance prayer— cannot cure a psychiatric disorder because prayer alone cannot reach into the deep unconscious part of the mind that desires disorder and resists healing. This is why deep psychological understanding of the unconscious must be added to prayer.


The Place for Medications

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. It’s no wonder, then, that most people fear psychotherapy—and fear psychologists.

Consequently, 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 usual. 

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.[3]

It’s important, then, to keep in mind that psychiatric medications are not curative. The 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, 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 symptoms—and then the medications can be discontinued.


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.


Putting It Into Practice

In the form of psychological and spiritual healing I practice, and as I describe on this website, you can be guided—through the sacraments, vocal and mental prayer, fasting, study, and the insight resulting from the psychotherapeutic relationship—into 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, it’s not enough just to “know” intellectually what occurred—it is important to feel the pain and then be able to identify and “name” the emotions associated with your pain.

This process occurs through your speaking about your life in a therapeutic setting so as to interpret unconscious connections through spontaneous associations to your intellectual memories and through other techniques, such as free association and dream interpretation.

From my website A Guide to Psychology and its Practice:

Learn about the common problems and conflicts that can occur during the psychotherapeutic process of emotional healing.

Questions and Answers about Psychotherapy

Eventually, through the work of psychotherapy, 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. To do this work, it is necessary to bring to conscious awareness the many emotional injuries that your parents inflicted on you. Only then can you can take full responsibility for your life and ultimately forgive your parents and honor them for whatever good they did do. If you don’t do the work, then your anger at your parents will get stuffed down into the unconscious where it will stew in unconscious resentment. So remember, as long as you have unconscious resentment for your parents, trying to honor them is just a lie.


The Length of Treatment

The length of treatment depends on the nature, the severity, and the extent of the emotional wounds that have afflicted you—and those criteria in turn affect the strength of your resistance to change, which in turn affects the length of the treatment. For example, someone who experienced a lack of parental involvement and guidance in childhood, but who had supportive friends and teachers throughout childhood would likely be receptive to changing old patterns of thinking and behavior and so might need anywhere from a few weeks to a few months of weekly sessions of treatment. In contrast, someone who experienced repeated parental abuse throughout childhood, who lacked a supportive social network throughout childhood, and who experienced continued emotional trauma as an adult would likely develop strong defenses resistant to facing the pain of the abuse, resistant to changing behavioral patterns, and resistant to relinquishing the desire for revenge on the abusers. Overcoming those resistances could take several years of weekly treatment.

The Reason 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 dangerous.

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.


Let’s 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 things—and right there you have abandoned purity of heart and fallen into sin. This all occurs because interpersonal conflicts result from failed emotional communication.


Let’s say you’re on your way home from work and suddenly you feel a temptation to stop at a bar and drink—to use drugs—to shoplift—to stop at a strip club—to get a “massage” from a prostitute—to masturbate. So right there you have abandoned purity of heart and fallen into sin. This all occurs because behind every temptation is an emotional reaction to some event that has shaken your self-confidence.

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 involved—and this understanding gives you the ability to respond honestly and appropriately to the situation.


For example, if someone says something that hurts you, you can say to yourself, “OK. I’m feeling helpless and abandoned.” In the midst of these feelings, you can recognize how you responded defensively to similar feelings as a child. Then you can choose an appropriate, non-defensive, mature, and psychologically honest response to your current feelings.

But if you haven’t done your psychological work, instead of naming your feelings you will just feel a vague yucky inadequacy and then get angry or 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.


Summary: When You Feel Stuck

People often tell me that they feel stuck and unable to make any spiritual progress, and they ask me what to do.

Learn to Pray Properly

Well, first of all, pray. But be careful here. Just going to Mass and praying the Rosary isn’t sufficient to inspire healing. Healing prayer must be a constant moment-by-moment communication with God in the heart. Healing prayer can also be a matter of deliverance prayer for yourself or with a priest and exorcism by a priest-exorcist. Moreover, healing prayer is not simply a matter of asking for specific things to occur or for material benefits; instead, pray for God to inspire you and to give you humility and 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 behaviors.

Moreover, don’t expect that God will tap you on the shoulder and say, “Hey [N]! This is what I want you to do.” God’s answer to your prayers will come though ordinary daily events. It will be up to you to open your heart to believing that ordinary events—under the influence of constant prayer—can help guide you. For everything that occurs (especially for tribulations and distress), say to yourself, “What is this telling me about what I need to learn about myself and how I need to change?”

One really good prayer is the following prayer of my own. (It really works, because I used it during my conversion.)

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.

Detachment from the Social World

Also, as a way to detach from the unholy influence of the social world, follow the Spiritual Counsels on this website.

Hidden Anger

If you find that you have difficulty praying and keeping the Spiritual 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.

Ego States

Discovering and understanding ego states can be an important part of psychotherapy. For example, the “inner child” can hold much of your emotional pain from childhood, and its pain of being neglected can be the basis for much of your emotional distress and dysfunction; if you resolve to listen to that pain, rather than run from it as you likely have been doing most of your life, then the missing part of your psychological healing can be remedied.

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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 knowledge—in contrast to Catholic dogma—is 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.

3. Be careful not to be deceived by “medical marijuana.” Marijuana is an evil substance, and any use of it, for any reason, opens a hellgate to demonic influence. As politically correct as “medical marijuana” may seem, it’s all a demonic deception.


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Where Catholic therapy (Catholic psychotherapy) is explained according to Catholic psychology in the tradition of the Catholic mystics.