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 versus 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 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
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
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, 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.
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
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
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 upon me.
The technique, too, is simple:
recite the prayer
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
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
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 it.
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
trouble sleeping (called
insomnia in clinical terms), worrying about
not sleeping will only deepen the insomnia. The psychological core of insomnia is
your refusal to surrender yourself to God; it’s a refusal to accept
reality as it is, however painful, and to trust that God will provide
the guidance necessary to help you find your way through the trials and difficulties
Therefore, follow this procedure:
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
But do it by coordinating the prayer with deep, calm, and regular breathing:
Silently, in your mind, say the first part of
the prayer ( Into Your hands, O Lord ) while inhaling deeply, and
then exhale deeply as you say, ( I commend my spirit ).
Make a firm 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 up prematurely. Also, when you awake at times during the night, repeat the
process again until you fall asleep again.
If you feel
fatigued, first think of Christ carrying
the cross and realize that His obedience to His mission
gave Him the strength to continue.
Then 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 more information.
If you have
feelings of extreme worthlessness 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
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
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
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 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 other website.
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.”
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
3. Although it’s important to train yourself to say the
Jesus Prayer as much as possible during waking hours, so as
to trust always in God’s mercy, at night it’s important to train yourself to
surrender constantly to God by saying, “Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend
in the Catholic mystic tradition
How to turn the
of daily life into
for our cultural
The struggle for
psychological and spiritual
about the spiritual depth of