‘It is good to talk’ ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ ‘Don’t bottle things up!’: All these phrases sound like good advice and following them at times can be of great benefit. Having a trusted person that you can talk to, who ‘gets it’ and who gives solid advice is a great gift to have. However, these benefits are ultimately based on who you talk to and what advice they give you. This is especially true when it comes to advice on ethical behaviour. We need people around us to help us recognise ourselves clearly as we do not always see or wish to see certain sides of ourselves. This article explores the dangers of psychotherapy, particularly in relation to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and shows why it is often not ‘good to talk’ to psychological professionals, especially those who don’t recognise immoral behaviour for what it is and, as a result, give dangerous and potentially soul destroying advice and guidance.
In a previous article, ‘2+2=4?’, I gave a satirical example of how a psychologist can encourage people to doubt obvious realities. In another article, ‘Validating Emotions’, I spoke about how emotions are important but that the ultimate guide on whether they are ‘valid’ or not is whether they are in accord with reality. This article explores how psychotherapy, especially CBT, can encourage you to stop you thinking in concrete ways about reality, can promote immoral behaviour and can encourage subjectivism and moral relativity.
Psychotherapeutic approaches, e.g. CBT, can be useful if it is used by someone who wishes to direct people towards the truth. They can be harmful weapons in the hands of those who do not believe there is an absolute truth or who are confused about the truth. In the article, ‘2+2=4?’, I used a satirical example to try to highlight this point. But let us take a more concrete example to illustrate what I mean:
A young woman comes into a therapy session saying that she has been feeling really anxious and depressed over the last few months. It soon transpires that she has had an abortion recently. She feels guilty about this, believes that what she has done is wrong and that she should not have done it. She has been raised with some Catholic beliefs. She believes that she may go to hell for what she has done but has not gone to confession about it. She says that she has thoughts about how bad she is and believes she is a murderer. She goes to a psychologist. The psychologist believes abortion is a woman’s right and that society only imposes its biased attitudes and prejudices on women who have had abortions. The psychologist believes that this is what causes most of the feelings of guilt or regret in these women (as the Psychological Society of Ireland and many of its members believe- see here). The psychologist sees this woman’s anxiety and guilt as signs of ‘cognitive distortions’ (see footnote), i.e. they are not in accord with reality. The psychologist tells the woman that she is experiencing the cognitive distortions of ‘heaven’s reward fallacy’, i.e. believing that there is some ‘global force’ that punishes bad behaviour and rewards good behaviour, ‘labelling’, i.e. calling herself ‘bad’ or a ‘murderer’ because of the abortion, ‘emotional reasoning’, i.e. allowing her feelings to strongly influence how she views the truth, ‘shoulds’ fallacy, i.e. imposing rules on herself and feeling bad when she doesn’t live up to them, and ‘black and white’ thinking, i.e. believing that abortion is wrong and not seeing the grey areas. The psychologist outlines how these ‘cognitive distortions’ have manifested themselves, e.g. cultural/social conditioning, living in a patriarchal society, high emotions, etc., and helps her to see that abortion is not murder but ‘healthcare’. The psychologist discourages the guilt that the woman is experiencing and discourages the need for confession. The woman initially feels better as the psychologist seems kind and caring. She also takes comfort in the fact that it is a psychological authority that has told her these things. She comes to believe the words the psychologist has spoken as she does not have a strong foundation in the Catholic faith and has some of her own issues with it. She arranges to see the psychologist again to help her work through these ‘cognitive distortions’.
This is a hypothetical example, but I believe that this is close to the reality for women who seek support from modern psychological services today. The sad thing is that the guilt and anxiety will surface again at some stage and they will appear in all sorts of destructive ways later in the woman’s life. They will continue to fester until the woman is consumed or destroyed by them. This is the sorrowful reality for many people who visit modern psychological services today.
CBT is useful but only in the hands of those who have an accurate understanding of what a human being is and what the purpose of life is. It can be used to encourage people to reflect on whether they are interpreting a situation, their behaviour or their thoughts accurately. The bedrock for this interpretation is reality. If someone’s thoughts or emotions are not aligned with reality then this can cause serious psychological and emotional difficulties. This is why it is essential that a professional that uses CBT has a firm grounding in and an accurate understanding of reality. In the hands of a professional who is detached from reality (and there are many of them operating in the world today) CBT will be toxic and corruptive. Instead of encouraging people to deal with and face reality, they will encourage them to run away from it by telling their clients that they have cognitive distortions or telling their clients that they can not see reality as accurately as they can. As Fr Ripperger notes, ‘Psychology has caused an enormous amount of damage by preventing people from appropriating their problems. This occurs when someone commits a horrific act which later affects them mentally. The psychologist comes to knowledge of it but tries to assure the person that he is ‘OK’ and that he should not concern himself with it. Often this is done in order to avoid causing emotional disturbances. The problem is that it is a denial of reality and denying reality has never helped any mental patient.’ (‘Introduction to the Science of Mental Health’, p. 96)
Overall, one must be very careful about the professionals you decide to confide in. Psychological professionals are trained to empathise with you and gain your trust. They also hold a position of authority which can encourage people to take the nonsense they speak seriously and follow what they say or advise. This is especially true if they have a few letters after their name. Although they lack wisdom, they are usually of high intellect and they are able to use convoluted and ‘sophisticated’ arguments citing evidence and science to convince you that they are right and you are wrong. Some also have the power to take away your rights, put you on compulsory treatment orders or contact other services, e.g. social services, if you persist in your ‘cognitive distortions’. Some people may respond that it is only humble to not trust your own judgement too much and sometimes we must follow the advice of authorities and those that know better than us. This is true in some instances and it takes prudence to understand when one should and should not follow the voice of authority. However, one must remember that humility is a ‘willingness to live in accordance with the truth’ (‘Introduction to the Science of Mental Health’, p. 292). If you know that what the psychological professional is saying is false or you do not believe it to be true, it is not humble to follow their advice as it is not humble to live one’s life in accordance with falsehood or error. Be on guard. Follow what common sense and the Faith tells you. As Our Lord says, ‘Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and gentle as doves’ (Matthew 10:16)
One last note: If you are somebody who believes that there are absolute truths and believes in Catholic dogmas, e.g. people either go to heaven or hell when they die, people who die in mortal sin go to hell, or even if you believe that there are scientific facts, e.g. there are only two sexes, abortion is the murder of an innocent human being, be very careful going to any psychotherapist or psychologist today. They will likely see these beliefs as some form of ‘cognitive distortion’, e.g. black and white thinking, a fallacy of fairness, a ‘should’ mentality, an ‘always being right’ mentality, etc. Due to the training they have had and the lies and falsehoods they have been exposed to and accepted, e.g. the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) and its members promoting abortion and homosexual behaviour, it will be highly likely that they will work at ways of ‘helping’ you to see things more clearly, i.e. their way or the ‘new’, ‘liberal’, ‘enlightened’ way. Be on alert to this. Ground yourself in the truth and stand firm in it. In these times where it is hard to trust figures in authoritative positions, Professor Charles A Dubray’s words are particularly salient: ‘It is necessary to learn how to use one’s own reason and to practice the difficult art of criticism so as to distinguish truth from falsity, and thus to become able to steer one’s own mental life, to think for oneself, and no longer depend too exclusively on the thinking of others.’ (‘Introductory Philosophy’, p. 5)
May God bless you in your endeavours to ‘distinguish truth from falsity’.
Footnote: The cognitive distortions listed above are a selection from the article, ’15 Common Cognitive Distortions’ from one of the most popular and influential websites for psychological advice, psychcentral.com. Overall, this article pushes subjectivism and moral relativism as the right way to think.