About a year ago I was attending “family week” at a treatment facility in Arizona. It was during this period that I realized what a profound impact psychological work can have on a person’s life. Throughout this difficult week a lot of brokenness was healed and a new path forward was finally identified. Instead of flying back to MN I decided to take a road trip. While driving back to my home state, I had a few days to myself for positive reflection.
One of the defining moments of the week for me was during a lecture on trauma. The speaker was quite clearly an atheist and waxed eloquently on how we inherited specific brain functions to deal with trauma from all the way back to our days as fish. While her knowledge of the brain was insightful, her origin story and ancestral lineage was a tad askew. I remember thinking to myself, “this work is much to important to be left to the atheists.”
Atheism wasn’t the only worldview undergirding the approach to psychology. There was a bit of variety. I noticed when spirituality was discussed it was from a distinctively non-materialistic perspective. However, it was a very generic “feelings-based” mysticism where we are all connected in a cosmic New Age drama, and we must submit to a higher power, whatever we decide that may be. When encountering this gnostic spiritualism I remember thinking, “If an erroneous and altogether heretical mysticism could supposedly bring a person inner peace, imagine what the healing power of the Cross could do for people struggling with addiction and mental illness!”
A key aspect of psychology, at least when dealing with addictions and other mental illnesses of varying degrees, is to assist the person to see the world in a correct manner. Part of this perceptual correction is to teach the features of a balanced mental state and to avoid extremes. When the “normal person’s” state of mind was being outlined by a speaker, unbeknownst to them, they were really giving a lecture on what it looks like to live the virtues and to seek the “good” life. Of course, the lecture was couched in a vernacular that was supposed to be entirely scientific, but any person with a background in philosophy could see that what was being taught was nothing more than the ancient practice of the virtues.
All of this led me to ask the question, “If a major part of doing psychology is to assist in correcting a skewed perspective, wouldn’t this perspective also have to be associated with the proper anthropological outlook of the human person to be truly effective?” Instead of thinking of the person as a materialistic embodiment of random mutation and natural selection, shouldn’t people be taught that they are created in the image and likeness of God? And if they are taught a specifically Catholic anthropological perspective on their nature as a human person, shouldn’t we be teaching that their hearts will be restless until they rest in Him, their Creator? Isn’t this the problem of modern man – that the fullness of our being in union with the Triune God through Jesus Christ has been replaced with consumerism and an insatiable obsession with material things? When we try to satisfy our souls with that which can never fill the void of gracelessness, we find ourselves swimming in a sea of deceit and emptiness. This is how the effects of the fall of man and concupiscence can lead to addictions and other mental illnesses. This is, of course, a philosophical and theological perspective on the origins of these issues. The perspective being offered does not replace the science behind understanding depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses or cognitive disorders; rather than replacing the science, the philosophy and theology I am speaking of supplants and completes the authentic scientific realm of psychology.
Scientific treatment of the secondary causes taking place within the material component of the human person is of the utmost importance. However, we are more than our bodily functions, and the whole person must be treated for full healing to take place. It would be a mistake to associate the entirety of the human person with the brain, as some materialists do, and it would be just as mistaken to spiritualize truly serious psychological illnesses like many Christians do. What I am arguing in favor of is to look at the human person as the composite structure of body and soul. To successfully do this will require a herculean effort to create a specifically traditionalist understanding of psychology in an era where modernist confusion is institutionalized.
– Lucas G. Westman