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Author Topic: Orthodoxy and Psychotherapy  (Read 2129 times) Average Rating: 0
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GabrieltheCelt
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« on: March 04, 2010, 03:50:52 AM »

With book titles such as 'Orthodox Psychotherapy' and 'Illness and Cure of the Soul' (both my Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos) and 'Confronting and Controlling Thoughts According to the Fathers of the Philokalia' by Fr. Anthony Coniaris, there seems to be an aspect of Orthodoxy that converges with the western science of Psychotherapy.   

Psychotherapy, at least understood in the West (where it originated), is concerned with illnesses of the mind such as anxiety, depression, painful relationships, painful emotions, etc. and how to 'cure' these maladies. In short, we might conclude that western Psychotherapy, though immature, fragmented and superficial, might actually play an important role (at least a supplemental role) in the therapeutic traditions of the Ekklesia.

For those who know more about the two traditions, how much can we say Psychotherapy might supplement the Ekklesia and how might it go about doing so? 
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GabrieltheCelt
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« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2010, 04:47:42 PM »

In Christianity, I'm respectful of the idea to 'bear one's cross'.  For example, the Holy Apostle Paul prayed for deliverance from some type of malady (he never says what), but ultimately prays for acceptance and courage to bear it.  Yet the Ekklesia, as is noted in the books mentioned earlier, has a noted system specifically dealing with 'curing' the soul such as attending as many services as possible, fasting, prayer, repentance and most importantly, the Eucharist.   But can these Mysteries (sacraments) and ascesis' address anxieties, depression, low self-esteem and other psychological disorders?  Are these simply crosses to bear or are they hindrances that should be addressed and overcome?
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ms.hoorah
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« Reply #2 on: March 05, 2010, 01:55:42 AM »

^Confession and Psychotherapy by Fr. Antonios Stylianakis
http://users.otenet.gr/~styliant/confession.htm

"Should we wish to make an analogy using spiritual terminology, we would say that psychotherapy aims at the eradication or uprooting of the passions! With the difference being here that the passions are not charged with moral content/meaning, but rather with psychological import. In other words, it’s a matter of knots being untied so as to set the person free."

In confession, one is freed from their sins.  Therapy and prayer can help individuals avoid experiencing situations/behaviors that encouraged them to be "prisoners." 
« Last Edit: March 05, 2010, 02:12:52 AM by ms.hoorah » Logged
ms.hoorah
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« Reply #3 on: March 05, 2010, 02:40:35 AM »

Are these simply crosses to bear or are they hindrances that should be addressed and overcome?
Challenges.... just like all of our other millions of imperfections. Should individuals just accept that their depression/schizophrenia/bipolar disorder /anxiety disorder is their “cross to bear” and therefore, take no action?  No.  Consider that you would never accept a medical disorder such as diabetes as your “cross to bear” and refuse to take action/ your insulin.  You would know that there are severe consequences such as having your legs amputated r/t vascular problems and your life ending prematurely. Severe consequences also occur from untreated psychological disorders.

« Last Edit: March 05, 2010, 02:44:08 AM by ms.hoorah » Logged
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« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2010, 12:01:04 PM »

I admit, I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the mixture of different aspects of human life that you mentioned in those (and many other) books. It's one thing to go to one's priest for advice when it comes to sin, confession of a sin, and basic guidance, but to go to one's priest for mental advice is like going to a Baptist preacher and have him explain the Orthodox understanding of the Sacraments.

 True, there might be an exception or two where a Baptist preacher would be able to give you accurate information, but it's a remote chance at best.

Priest's (or monks) are not psychologists, and I think it can be dangerous to treat them as such. I've heard some horror stories of priests attempting to give psychological advice on the basis that, well they took a one course in introductory psychology in seminary, and they all of a sudden think themselves to be an expert and proceed to dish out (unasked for) advice with sometimes severe physchological and emotional  consequences.

Sadly some of our monks are even worse who NEVER took any form of intro course, and yet they report to be experts in a medical field they have no knowledge about. The fact that many of these books don't even recognize problems as even part of a medical field and merely a problem of "sin" or spirituality is pretty scary.

I've seen some bad things happen when priests
"play therapist", and I've heard and read about really bad cases where people were basically damaged for life. (emotionally that is) Sometimes it works out, if one has a priest either deeply experienced as a counselor, or has a degree in the field, or for some saints, who really have an insight that can help people. But those cases I think are increasingly rare. 1000 years ago, before people recognized certain issues as medical conditions, priests/monks probably were the closest most could ever get to for help in what was then unknown as a medical or psychological condition. of course 1000 years ago we also thought people with autism like symptoms "had a demon" and we used to use leaches to "cure diseases"...just because people centuries ago thought it was a good idea, or even that going to a monastery for help was the best that could be done, doesn't make it a good idea today.
Not that there isn't some connection between body and spirit, because of course we are whole beings and one thing affects another aspect....but all the fasting and prayer and attending dozens of services a week will do nothing if there is an underlying medical cause, which is often the case. I've read some similar books, especially from Mt. Athos and I'm really not comfortable with the lack of medical knowledge on these subjects. Indeed the Church can "cure the soul" and sometimes God heals the body, but the Church cannot heal the body anymore than a medical doctor can "cure the soul". While I respect a lot of these writers and do agree with the "spirit" of what they are often getting at, it's far to easy for most people to confuse things and see the Church and their priest as a way to fix things they just cannot possibly fix. Diabetes, heart disease, or psychological diseases all fit into that category (IMO). But I think the spirit of what these books are trying to say is very much correct. I just wish they'd say it in a somewhat different way.





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Mickey
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« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2010, 12:28:12 PM »

With book titles such as 'Orthodox Psychotherapy' and 'Illness and Cure of the Soul' (both my Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos) and 'Confronting and Controlling Thoughts According to the Fathers of the Philokalia' by Fr. Anthony Coniaris, there seems to be an aspect of Orthodoxy that converges with the western science of Psychotherapy.  

I have read the first book that you reference. It is superb. It is thoroughly Orthodox. And it is not referring to psychotherapy in the manner (western mindset) that you are thinking.  Have you read the book? I recommend this reading for every Orthodox Christian.
« Last Edit: March 05, 2010, 12:37:47 PM by Mickey » Logged
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« Reply #6 on: March 05, 2010, 12:35:08 PM »

I just wish they'd say it in a somewhat different way.
I take your point (great post by the way). I think a lot of the problem with books like "Illness and Cure of the Soul" is that much is "lost in translation". When Metropolitan Hierotheos is talking about "psychotherapy", he is literally talking about "psychotherapy" ("soul therapy"). He's not talking about dealing with what we would consider an AXis I or Axis II diagnosis, although there are some commonalities. For instance, the Orthodox understanding of plani touches on things like denial, delusions etc.
But I think overall you are right in that being a Priest or monk does not automatically make one a Spiritual Father, which is why I like the fact that there is at least one level of "screening" for who can be a Spiritual Father in my Church in that a Priest or monk must be recognised as a Spiritual Father by the Bishop before they can hear Confession and give Spiritual guidance.
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« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2010, 12:44:14 PM »

We have some mental health/addictions specialists on this forum. Do y'all think that we sometimes put behavioral disorders in the same pot with psychological disorders that are caused by medical factors? It seems to me that just going to Church and trying to do the Lord's Will may help some people to quit smoking or to stop abusing alcohol and drugs. Others may benefit from 12 step programs, professional counseling, medication-assisted therapy, or a combination of faith-based, professional counseling, and medication-assisted therapies. I don't think that there is a one-size fits all approach in behavioral disorders. In contrast, it seems to me that serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, should be addressed by physicians.

I am not insinuating that the Lord cannot perform a miracle or that our Holy Unction sacrament is ineffectual. I am saying the Lord is behind the cure through His instruments: researchers, doctors, nurses, and even Doctor House. It seems to me that insisting on any given modality (faith-based or science-based only) degrades Him and His Creation.
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ms.hoorah
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« Reply #8 on: March 05, 2010, 02:39:15 PM »

Do y'all think that we sometimes put behavioral disorders in the same pot with psychological disorders that are caused by medical factors?
Yes, because the etiology of some behavioral disorders is a medical problem which is sometimes combined with psychosocial factors.  The etiology of behavioral disorders occasionally are changed to medical disorders because new research has provided more accurate information.
Ex:  Hyperactivity can by caused by prenatal alcohol exposure/syphilis/genetic disorders/brain injuries/ and more.  Yes, the hyperactive and annoying behavior of those kids in Walmart may not have been caused by the parenting skills of their hyperactive and annoying parents.
Ex: Compulsive gambling is linked to nerve cell disruptions in the brain and psychosocial factors.  This is why a few people in New Jersey can still recognize an ambulance even though it has flashing lights and a siren.
Behavioral problems may be "put into the pot" with medical disorders because many develop into medical problems or become sources of other medical problems over time.
Ex:  Withdrawal from alcohol or drugs can cause arrhythmias, elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure, seizures, psychosis, and sometimes death.
 
Edit-Just joking about Jersey, Handmaiden.  Cape May is one of my favorite places. Smiley
« Last Edit: March 05, 2010, 02:50:39 PM by ms.hoorah » Logged
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« Reply #9 on: March 05, 2010, 05:34:25 PM »

We have some mental health/addictions specialists on this forum. Do y'all think that we sometimes put behavioral disorders in the same pot with psychological disorders that are caused by medical factors?
It depends on what you mean by "medical factors". For instance, learned behaviour actually causes synapsing in the brain, that is, when you learn something you are actually "changing the anatomy" of the way your brain is wired. A good example of this is Obbsessive-Compulsive Disorder which often starts as a learned behaviour in children (around 10 years of age). They get stuck in cyclical ways of thinking because their brains become "short circuited" as a result of what they have learned. The same goes for addictive behaviours like drugs, alcohol and gambling. They too can create short "short cuircuits" to the pleasure centre in their brain as a result of their learned behaviour. Sometimes learning different ways of thinking and behaving can work if the new "hard wiring" hasn't gone too far, sometimes medication is needed, and sometimes the whole brain needs to be "re-booted" to break the cycle of thinking-emoting-behaving (which is what electro-convulsive therapy does).
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« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2010, 01:42:53 AM »

It really depends on what type of problem you have.

I have severe anxiety disorders/migraines/seizure problems that can be cured only by heavy meds as far as I know...nothing else worked.

And then, one of my cats died of the food poisoning in '06 and I cried nonstop for about a month.

Different problems. The latter would be helped a lot by a priest (before it became learned behavior). The former would probably not change a lot.

Just saying. I will put it on my to-read list, though Smiley
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« Reply #11 on: December 25, 2010, 03:44:48 AM »

It depends on what type of problem a person has. The best solution that I knew when talking about behavioral disorder is to send the teen to a wilderness therapy. Wilderness therapy could help in reducing or removing various emotional and behavioral disorders of teens and adults. You would be able to help your friend or your teens if they encounter such problems. Such problems are not easy to mend..
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