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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Depression and Anxiety

I will lie down in peace, and sleep comes at once
for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

—Psalm 4:9

 

Catholic Psychotherapy  |  Spiritual Counsels  |  Books  |  About CSF

 
Understanding Causality | The Unconscious Aspect of Emotional Trials | Encountering Emotional Trials with Faith | Medication versus Self-Scrutiny | Self-help Recommendations

 
WE KNOW from scientific research that the brain and the mind have a mutual influence on each other.

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.

  
Understanding Causality

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 activity.

  

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.


  

The 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 a building.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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 cause).

 
The Unconscious 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 unconscious feelings of anger and guilt and victimization.

  

The psychological 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 revenge.

“What?” you ask. “Revenge? That’s ridiculous. I don’t want revenge. I’m past that.”

Well, no one is “past” the capacity for self-deception, and only when you can be honest about your entanglement in the unconscious 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.

 

Sending yourself to hell???
What does that mean?

  

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 rust.

  

  
Encountering 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 did not get PTSD; 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 revenge.

 

Read a letter by Saint John of Avila about
St. Paul’s suffering and faith

 
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.

  

—James 1:2-3

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.

Read an excerpt from the writings of Saint Rose of Lima
about grace and tribulation

 

  
Medication vs. Self-scrutiny

Psychiatric medications may be necessary in some extreme cases—such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe episodes of major depression.

Medications may also be useful in some cases to provide temporary relief from anxiety or depressed mood to facilitate psychotherapy.

Psychiatric medications, however, are not curative, and, for less extreme symptoms, medications should be used only in conjunction with psychotherapy or rigorous spiritual direction. For the most part, 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 from worldly attachments to embrace a moral and virtuous life through complete dying to self in Christ.

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. For example, anxiety and nightmares following 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 disorder” of PTSD will resolve right along with the anger. Similarly, depression is often the result of anger turned inwards; it can derive from a desperate need for social approval and a self-condemnation for not receiving that approval. But if you seek only the mercy of Christ, not the acceptance of the world, you will have no reason for anger and no reason to condemn yourself.

   
Self-help Recommendations

Keeping in mind all that I said above about depression and anxiety in general, consider the following specific points: 

If you have difficulty concentrating or are troubled by obsessive thoughts [1], then drive away these thoughts with holy thoughts. First say, “I don’t need to think about that right now.” Then recite the Jesus Prayer, constantly, to block any other thoughts.

The prayer is simple: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.

The technique, too, is simple: recite the prayer constantly.[2]

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), when you experience any concerns about an impending event, 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 it.

If you have generalized anxiety that persistently troubles you about nothing in particuar, keep telling yourself, “Even though I feel anxious and that feeling is distressful, I’m not in danger, 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 (from A Guide to Psychology and its Practice). 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.

Audio CD:
Guided Imagery Relaxation
The Catholic Way

 

If you have trouble sleeping (called insomnia in clinical terms), worrying about not sleeping will only deepen the insomnia. Therefore, when you lie in bed at night in preparation to sleep, repeat to yourself, “Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” Make a firm effort to say these words over and over until you fall asleep, warding off any other thoughts. If you lapse into your own thoughts, immediately stop thinking about anything else and return to the prayer until you fall asleep. When you awake for brief moments during the night repeat the prayer again until you fall asleep again. If you have to say the prayer a thousand times a night, then so be it.
 

If you feel fatigued, then think of Christ carrying the cross and realize that his obedience to his mission gave him the strength to continue.[3]
 

If you have a loss of appetite or if you overeat, then 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.
 

If you have feelings of extreme worthlessness or guilt, then remind yourself that apart from Christ you are worthless and deserve nothing but condemnation, yet in Christ you are offered mercy and forgiveness even though you don’t deserve it. All you have to do is, with a penitent heart, accept His mercy.

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 Himself 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 lack of interest in usually enjoyable things, then rejoice, for your Christian mission in life is not to enjoy yourself but to proclaim the Gospel at all times by making constant sacrifices for the salvation of other souls. 
 

If you have a depressed mood, then 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.[4]

In this regard, someone wrote to me, “I think you should tell your patients to buy a crucifix, have it blessed, and kiss the wounds on it. I’m not saying a crucifix only, but maybe even a picture of the face of Christ. They could kiss the wounds on His face. I think it would really help them. . . . it helps me enormously. It makes me feel like I would like to kiss everyone because Christ has transplanted some of Himself in me.”

 

Available as a prayer card 

 

 
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.”

Read an excerpt from a sermon
by Saint Cyprian about man’s mortality

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes.

1. On another 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 already understood.

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 has stopped.

3. In the spiritual realm, chronic fatigue can be the result of demonic oppression or parasitism. Note also that chronic fatigue can have a cause in medical conditions such as vitamin deficiency, 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 own website.

4. A depressed mood can have a medical cause in degenerative neurological conditions (such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease); cerebrovascular disease (such as stroke); metabolic conditions (such as vitamin deficiency; e.g. vitamin D3); endocrine conditions (such as hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, hypoparathyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism, hypoadrenocorticism); autoimmune conditions (such as systemic lupus erythematosus); viral or other infections (such as hepatitis, mononucleosis, HIV); certain cancers (such as carcinoma of the pancreas); and environmental factors (such as EMF radiation). See Medical Factors Affecting Psychology from my own website.

 

Books from this website

Healing
 
 
 

Though
Demons
Gloat

 

Anger
&
Forgiveness

 

Falling Families,
Fallen Children

 
 

Disasters
and
Trauma

 

Psychology
from the
Heart

 

 
Psychological healing
in the Catholic mystic tradition

 
True Christian
identity
in confronting
evil

 
How to turn the emotional wounds
of daily life into
psychological growth.

 
The psychological and
spiritual remedy
for our cultural
disintegration

 
The psychological
and spiritual battle
against
evil

 
Collected texts about the spiritual depth of clinical psychology

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