As society descends into further chaos and madness prevails, many people are looking for cures to for the confusion, anxiety and depression they are experiencing. There are many services and therapies offered to us that promise to restore peace and happiness. One insurance company, which specialises in alternative therapies, even offers insurance for over 200 different types of therapies! This includes such things as rhythmical massage therapy, block clearance therapy, and assemblage point shifting, to name but a few of the strange array of therapies offered to people today. As people and professionals drift further and further away from an accurate understanding of what man is and what he needs for happiness and peace of soul, the range of therapies and the psychotherapeutic market only continue to grow and expand. Now, if used wisely by both the professional and the client, some of these alternative therapies may help people gain some healthy balance in their lives, e.g. vitamin & mineral therapy, nutrition therapy, allergy testing, art therapy, music therapy, animal therapy. Some are dangerous due to their origins, e.g. yoga, tarot/card reading, while with many others, e.g. life coaching, psychosexual counselling, one must be on guard against error and misdirection. There also therapies that offer clever imitations of the real solutions. These are the ones to be really skeptical of.
The Real Cure – The Truth:
Now, it has been pointed out elsewhere how the Catholic Faith is the ultimate solution to the various difficulties we face in this life. The embracing and practicing of the Catholic Faith in all its glory gives our very nature the satisfaction it inherently craves. It means living life in accordance with the truth. This is epitomised by saints who truly lived the Catholic faith. Now, there are many who reject this truth and look for happiness through various other means. This rejection may take place because people have found what they imagine are alternative, more progressive or more enlightened solutions to their problems. The promise of a solution is often packaged as a new therapy or innovative approach. Therefore, let us examine whether these offers are really new or whether they are innovative. Let us analyse three of the latest therapeutic approaches/treatments (mindfulness, cognitive therapy, and relapse prevention) by acknowledging what truth they contain and then ultimately showing where they miss the mark.
Mindfulness is one of the most popular therapeutic fads that people are engaged in. And yes, let us give credit where credit is due – it is true that slowing down and staying present is important. This is especially true today as panic and worrying about the future has taken over many people’s minds. But, let us also recognise that this advice to stay present is not a new idea or concept. It was emphasised by Our Lord almost 2’000 years ago when He said, “Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:34). We have to tackle each day at a time and if we are caught up worrying about the future or lingering in the past, we won’t be able to focus on the here and now. Mindfulness is a clever imitation of an idea that the Catholic Faith has always emphasised. At the same time, it also tries to kick God out of the picture and offer a non-Catholic solution to life’s issues. It promotes hedonistic indulgence in the present rather than a true understanding of why we should try to remain present as emphasised by Jean-Pierre de Caussade in his classic book from the 18th century, ‘Self Abandonment to Divine Providence’:
‘The present moment is always full of infinite treasure, it contains far more than you have the capacity to hold. Faith is the measure; what you find in the present moment will be according to the measure of your faith. Love is also the measure: the more your heart loves, the more it desires, and the more it desires the more it finds. The will of God presents itself at each instant like an immense ocean which the desire of your heart cannot empty, although it will receive of that ocean the measure to which it can expand itself by faith, confidence and love.’
Trying to stay present without this understanding or with a false understanding of why you are trying to do so may lead to temporary relief at the natural level but this will not last long as mindfulness is only a forgery of the real solution. (Note: one way of becoming more present is the practice of mental prayer. A guide for this practice can be found here).
Cognitive therapy is a type of therapy developed by Jewish psychiatrist, Aaron T. Beck. Moving past all its pseudoscientific claims and convoluted language, cognitive therapy is essentially a way of trying to see how thoughts impact on behaviour and one’s sense of happiness. Now, credit should be given where credit is due and here one must acknowledge that examining one’s thoughts and how they impact on one’s behaviour and emotions can be useful. However, truth must be the reference point for analysing one’s thoughts. Cognitive therapy is not so much focused on the truth or the reality of the thoughts that one is having. Rather it is a way of overcoming ‘negative thinking’. What counts as ‘negative thinking’ is interpreted by or, at least, influenced by the professional. This is why cognitive therapy is often used to explain away healthy and natural episodes of anxiety and guilt. God is often also kicked out of the picture or seen as a nuisance in many incidents. (The problems with this subjective approach that is not grounded in reality are outlined further here) Examining our thoughts to see where our mind has wandered to and how it is affecting our behaviour and happiness is not something new or innovative. The Catholic Church has always encouraged us to do so. However, it has done so for a far more noble reason than the reasons cognitive therapists encourage us to do so. The Church asks us to ground ourselves in reality and to check our relationship with Truth Himself. Instead of cognitive therapy the Church encourages a daily examination of conscience. This helps us to acknowledge the faults we have committed during the day. It helps us to see ourselves and our imperfections more clearly. As St. Francis de Sales says in ‘The Devout Life’, ‘An illness is already half cured when the cause is known.’ While the Church sees that guilt and anxiety can help inform us of our wrongdoings she also tells not to be overwhelmed by the failings we see in ourselves and to approach this practice in a peaceful way. This is emphasised by Venerable Liebermann, speaking about how to conduct an examination of conscience:
‘The best course, I believe, to follow, is to put yourself calmly in the presence of God – looking to Him in this work as in all things else. When you feel your heart in tranquillity and calmly united to God, begin to open gently the eyes of your soul on yourself, to see in what you have offended against God. I say – open the eyes of your soul gently, for I believe that there should not be too much anxiety or too much keenness exercised in seeking out your faults. Do not scrutinise too closely your conduct (do not ‘peel your soul’) with an excessive care – in fear that something should escape you, should remain overlooked or forgotten. Above all, do not allow your soul to leave God in the hunt after its fault, but let it remain peacefully in His presence in order to discover them. For that reason it can and ought always to remain like St. John attached to the Lord, casting simply a look on itself and its conduct without leaving God on Whom it rests.
I prefer that one should follow this method even though in this way several faults should escape your examination, rather than that we should search diligently on our own account, and by our own industry discover them all. It ought to suffice for us to have a sincere desire to know all the faults we have committed and to confess them, and our contrition shall be incomparably more perfect by an examen carried out as directed. Nay more, I believe that by this method we shall discover our faults much better and that we shall penetrate more deeply into our interior to know the source of them, for we shall know them by the suggestion of God.’ (Quote taken from ‘My Last Retreat’ by Fr Edward Leen)
Cognitive therapy or examination of conscience? One approach mainly tries to rationalise and justify our vices; the other approach encourages us to humbly face Reality, acknowledge our sins and commit to trying to do better. Cognitive therapy is a pseudoscientific imitation of the real solution. It tries to morph reality to one’s own way of thinking rather than acknowledge that one cannot escape the truth and that it is only by knowing the truth, that you will be free (John 8:32). (For more information on examination of conscience, see ‘Science of the Saints’ by Fr. R. J. Meyer, especially lesson xiii and xiv)
Having worked in the addiction for close to ten years this is a term that is frequently employed and emphasised. It is a type of therapeutic approach to addiction that helps people identify the people, places and things that could trigger old habits and behaviours. Once a person has experienced addiction there needs to be an acknowledgement that they still carry a weakness in this area and they will have to be on guard against the return of old behaviours. This is all reasonable and compatible with physiological and psychological truths. However, again, there is nothing new or spectacular or enlightening about this approach. Our own life experiences and a brief reflection on our own behaviours teach us that we are prone to certain vices. This could be in relation to food, drink, drugs or sex, etc. We know that we need to avoid certain people, places and things to avoid overwhelming temptations. This is also what the Church teaches and emphasises. It knows that we are prone to fall and that the more we engage in certain vices the harder it is for us to kick these destructive habits. As Fr Scupoli in the 16th century said in his classic book, ‘The Spiritual Combat’, ‘[We] are more susceptible to occasions of sin than snow is to fire.’ The Church does not call the approach to destructive habitual behaviours ‘relapse prevention’ but simply calls it ‘avoiding the occasions of sin’. She also emphasises all the seven deadly sins, especially sins of the intellect such as pride, rather than just those sins that are related to the flesh, e.g. gluttony. St Thomas Aquinas teaches us that while sins of the flesh are the most shameful sins we can commit as it makes us like beasts, the sin of pride is the worst type of sin as we boost of goodness that is not ours. This is why somebody who lives what looks like a clean-cut life free from addiction can still be hooked on vice, i.e. pride, as he glorifies himself rather than God. He can still be, and often is, more a slave than the heroin addict living on the street, who at least may maintain some sense of humility due to the circumstances he finds himself in. Relapse prevention mainly emphasises purity in one’s behaviour. The Catholic Faith guides our behaviour as it knows the traps we can fall into but it emphasises purity of one’s heart.
Relapse prevention is a clever imitation of the wise advice to ‘avoid occasions of sin’. It emphasises the need to avoid destructive behaviour but, as it fails to take full account of the nature of man and all that man is called to be, it only provides partial answers and, often, misleading advice. (For advice on how to kick bad habits one of the greatest guides is St Ignatius of Loyola and his spiritual exercises or for advice on how not to develop bad habits in the first place one should check out part IV, ‘Needful Counsels Concerning Some Ordinary Temptations’, of ‘The Devout Life’ by St Francis de Sales).
When God and the wisdom of the Church are kicked out of services they are replaced with approaches that seem reasonable but are flawed, unreliable and doomed to fail as they lack understanding of the reality of man and the impact sin has on his mind. These approaches offer incomplete and distorted cures with the vast majority of its practitioners unaware of man’s end goal. When professionals do not know our true end destination it proves impossible for them to guide people. This is happening across services today. This appears obvious in some cases but not so much in others.
In our world today, there are clever imitations or false cures that appeal somewhat to our reason but also to our desire to justify our own imperfections. Ultimately, due to neglecting or scorning the spiritual help people actually need to regain psychological balance, more focus is put on biological fixes helping Big Pharma make huge profits or leaving the door open for the introduction of draconian regulations and communist government initiatives. Counterfeit approaches that borrow from the real solutions can only cover up the cracks for so long. Ultimately the whole society suffers as a result and chaos ensues. The solutions to this chaos are not to be found in the modern psychotherapeutic fads of our times. When one tries to kick the infinite, i.e. God/Love Himself, out of services, the wounds soon reappear even when efforts are made to bandage them up. The internal wounds are too deep as services lose more and more touch with reality. Today, it does not look like they are changing their disordered course any time soon but only accelerating on their destructive path. At the societal level, these internal wounds will continue to get worse until the majority of people, especially those in authority (see footnote), come back to their senses. Yet, for individuals there is still hope and there are ways and means of gaining peace of soul and happiness. It involves not falling for cheap imitations and the flattery that comes with these offers, but continuously looking for and filling oneself with the real cures. This takes work and effort. The cure may initially taste bitter but with an intellect thirsting for truth, a truly humble and charitable heart, and a good will, you will soon come to taste the sweetness that the world does not know.
Footnote: This refers to government authorities but more importantly Church authorities, many of whom would not agree with what I share above. Key to Church authorities returning to sanity is the Traditional Latin Mass. I have outlined some of what the empirical data says on this matter here.