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Questions and Answers About Psychotherapy |
VERYONE, regardless of heritage, education, or vocation,
must come to terms with his or her own human
imperfections and physical mortality.
To do this, one
must bring ones limitations into consciousness. For some persons this
can be done through the scientific approach of psychology and its clinical
For other persons, this can be done through prayer and religious
many psychotherapy clients find it a great relief to be able to incorporate
religious practices into their psychological treatment. In fact, one only
has to read the mystical writing of Saint John of the Cross, such as the
The Ascent of Mount
Carmel, to understand all of the spiritual and physical benefits
that result from emptying oneself in devout humility before
many psychological schools of thought are atheistic or naively misunderstand
or misinterpret spiritual experiences. And many psychotherapies can become
a religion unto themselves.
for example, in his philosophy of
tried to reduce all
religious impulses to biology and sexuality. If you
think that sounds strange, just walk into any American shopping mall and
you will see, seductively displayed on every shelf, the results of our
cultures wholesale purchase of Freudian biological-sexual atheism.
And then realize that the money we use to pay for all this
seduction has In God We Trust written
all over it. So, we might wonder, who is fooling whom?
all, died of canceroral cancer (in the photo above, note his ever-present
cigar)and not just that, but he died through
a suicide assisted by his physician Schur. What
does this show us except the absolute spiritual emptiness of Freuds
own philosophy? And it shows precisely how a person can
fill the void of the empty
with a cancerous, consuming illness.
back in 1219, during the Fifth Crusade, Saint Francis of Assisi crossed the
battle lines at Damietta in an attempt to convert Malik al-Kamil,
Ayubid Sultan of Egypt, to Christianity. Francis hoped that the Sultans
conversion would put an end to the fighting, but the Sultan did not convert,
and the fighting did not stop. Nor, surprisingly, did the Sultan kill Francis
on the spot. Instead, he was so impressed with Francis genuine spirituality
and lack of interest in materialism that he spared his life and sent him
home to preach to his own people, that he might convert
In the end, Francis
brought about a true conversion in the hearts of only a few. After all, we
might put statues of Saint Francis in our gardens, but how many of us are
willing to follow his example by living chaste lives, trusting completely
in God, free from argumentativeness and hostility, seeking always the good
of others? Well, not manyso anger and violence remain rampant in all
cultures to this day. But think about this a bit. If we truly endorsed the
spiritual values that inspired individuals such as Francis of Assisi, then
maybe there would be some genuine peace in this world.
therapeutically to provide healing for religious persons therefore requires
a respect for
aspirations as well as an astute psychological insight that will neither
minimize psychological problems nor withdraw from them in
What is healing?
Healing may refer
to regaining physical health, and there are many ways to go about it, ranging
from traditional Western scientific medicine to alternative herbal and holistic
methods. But being physically healthy is one thing and having peace of mind
is another thing entirely. Ive seen many persons, for example, who
are careful to practice meditation or yoga on a daily basis and who still
have insecure lives filled with troubled, unstable relationships.
Why? Well, such
persons use their healing practices as a sort of mask, to say to the world,
See? I live a spiritual life! Yet all the while
bitterness and animosity fester in their
mindor mental healthdoesnt come from physical practices.
Nor can you buy it. You can pay a shaman to adjust your energy
fields, you can wear crystals, and you can fill your house with all the
aromatherapy scents in the world, but it wont heal you of the inner
that torment you. These
wounds can be healed only by facing up to their origins and making peace
peace, mind you, is not an easy process. Its a painful
processso painful, in fact, that most persons will do just about anything
to avoid it. And thats why, in order to be truly healed, you have to
face your inner
without hiding behind defenses such as alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, food,
gambling, sex, sports, televisionand on and
on. . . .
process, if you stick with it courageously and faithfully, leads to the form
of healing you can get from
All too often I have heard the Dark Night
mistakenly described as a sort of terrifying and lonely doubt about the very
existence of God. But the Dark Night really has nothing to do with doubt
or despair. The concept of a Dark Night derives from a short poem written
by the great mystic Saint John of the Cross, when he was confined in a tiny,
dark cell in prison for about nine months. In later years, he elaborated
on the meaning of his poem in his mystical treatise called the Dark Night
of the Soul.
Saint John spoke of the Dark
Night as an experience of spiritual purgation in which all physical and
psychological satisfactions are stripped away to leave the soul in the presence
of nothing but the physically invisible (and therefore, to human experience,
dark) and silent workings of divine grace. As unnerving as it is,
it still is a profound experience of spiritual healing, not a questioning
ofor loss offaith.
Now, in so far
as we may focus just on its ultimate psychological, rather than religious,
effects, the Dark Night has some remarkable parallels to
It often happens
that persons entering into psychotherapy truly want to engage in the process
of self-exploration, but they also attempt to avoid certain embarrassing
aspects of their private, inner lives. They want the psychotherapist to like
them, not be disgusted by the ugliness lurking in the shadows of their
personalities. And, above all, they will do almost anything to hide their
raw feelings of
and betrayal resulting from past emotional wounds. I still feel as
if I am being selfish or should be ashamed for having such intense negative
feelings towards people who dont know how to love me. Doesnt
that solidify the fact that I am not worthy of true love? they
And the answer,
in full irony, is that unless they recognize and verbalize those intense
negative feelings (that is, feelings of victimization, hatred, and
anger) they will never get to the place of experiencing
Just as the religious
experience of the Dark Night strips away all human illusion and pretension,
so psychotherapy must strip away everything (especially our
psychological defensiveness) that hides the deepest
ugliness in our hearts. For only by recognizing the intense negative
feelings in his or her own heart can the individual then recognize
selfishness that stains all of humanity. And in the community of sorrowful
understanding will grow the seed of compassion and true love.
enough, this theme of descending into inner darkness has shown up in myth
and art through the ages. Whether in the myths of the heros journey
into the underworld described psychologically by Jung and his followers,
or in Dantes poetic journey through hell as the route to heaven in
his Divine Comedy, or in Tolkiens story of the journey through
the mines of Moria in his Lord of the Rings, the journey begins with
an obstruction too difficult to climb over, encounters the necessity to surrender
control and certainty in the passage through an
abhorrent darkness, and culminates in a final triumph over evil.
And so, if
psychotherapy is to achieve any ultimate success, it must lead you into your
own psychological dark night. And then, if you so will, you can
pass into the real Dark Night of spiritual healing.
Thus there is a deeper level of healing, a spiritual level.
In fact, this aspect of healing points directly to the fact that true
spirituality must have a psychological component. Unlike the pagan worship
offered by the ancient Greeks and Romans merely to appease the vanity of
the godsgods who had no interest at all in the moral behavior of
humanitygenuine spirituality calls a person into a deep psychological
This change comes
from opening your heart to love.
This love, though,
is not what we ordinarily think of as
Love does not come from another personits important to learn
that right away. Love is not about romantic sentiments. Love is not about
sensuality and sexual pleasure. Mystics have known that for ages. True love
is a matter of seeking God more than anything else, more even than your own
And to live in
true love means to do Gods will.
So what is
Gods will? Well, there are a lot of New Age therapists
out there who will tell you that its all about connecting with
divine energy so you can accomplish anything you desire. But
Gods will is a matter of love, and for ages the mystics have been telling
us that loving is about giving, not getting. To do Gods will, therefore,
is to give of yourselfthrough patience, forbearance, mercy, compassion,
and understandingnot to receive personal satisfaction from the world.
In fact, true love means to continue giving even if you receive nothing but
rejection and hatred in return. True love means to refuse to
hatethat is, to wish harm to come
uponanyone, even those who hate you.
To do Gods
will essentially means to turn completely away from
sinthat is, our functional narcissism. It
means to die to yourself, as Saint John of the Cross saysotherwise,
you will be serving nothing but your own narcissistic desires. In psychological
terms, this dying to the self necessitates several
Loving God more than
anything, or anyone, in this world
Treating others with
Putting aside all
aggression and competitive behavior
Renouncing your pride
in order to live in spiritual humility (see
Conducting all of
your interpersonal relationships with psychological
sexual purity by not making others into mere objects
for your personal pleasure
truly seek healing, then, and if you have the courage, accept the active
and passive purgation of the senses in The Dark
Night  and turn from everything in your mind and heart that
misses the point about true love.
Now, you might
ask, Can this be done without becoming a hermit? Can one continue to
conduct business, or other worldly activities without these narcissistic
desires? Well, yes it can be done. In short, it means that you do
everything you can to develop your talents as fully as possible, but that
you put those talents to use in service to others, not for the sake of your
own personal pleasure, wealth, status, honor, or prestige.
This may sound
a bit ascetic, and it is. But it is not a matter of masochism or self-punishment.
And there is no room in it for
Asceticism actually comes from opening your eyes to see the
of the world around you. Asceticism is grounded in pure love for the very
truth that human vanity obscures and defiles. It simply means that you willingly
surrender all your worldly defenses against your essential
vulnerability in order to face that vulnerability with no protection other
than true love.
True spirituality expressed in religionthat is, faithful
service to God through devout worshiprequires setting aside the
pride we take in the psychological
self, overcoming the defenses we use
to protect our pride, and surrendering to a profound absorption in divine
love that calls us to treat others with kindness, patience, and
forgiveness. Its not an easy process, and
it doesnt work by magicthat is, simply by claiming to believe
there are many persons who dont want to do the hard work of self-denial.
So, sad to say, they take up superficial religious sentiments as an
way to hide their own fears of abandonment and
loneliness. Terrified of their own psychological
darkness, they pervert religion into a desperate attempt to feel
good about themselvesto validate their pride and their
perversions, not to cleanse their hearts and souls
of all that is unholy.
They might act
like pious members of their communities, but deep inside some
of them holds a dark resentment that the world has not given them the recognition
that they secretly crave. And one way or anotherthrough disobedience,
or through sexual
façade crumbles. They talked the talk all right, but they didnt
know the first thing about true love. In fact, they
love all along and were blind to their own blindness.
And so they were
blind to genuine religion.
All of us, in the process of growing from children to adults,
require encouragement, reassurance, appreciation, and approval from others.
Classic psychodynamic theory calls these things
supplies. Yet most of us, as we become adults,
develop an inner sense of confidence and self-esteem which does not depend
There will be
times, however, when it seems that these narcissistic supplies have been
lostwhether through loss of love, or loss of security, or loss of self-esteem
itselfand we will tend to get angry. Normally, the
is directed toward the person responsible for the loss we feel. But it often
happens that this anger also becomes turned against the self. Then that
self-directed anger becomes self-blameand guilt.
So why does anger
get turned toward the self? It might happen out of a perception that you
could have done something to protect yourself from being so vulnerable to
loss, and, having failed to do it, you feel deserving of
It could be that someone from your past treated you like an object for his
or her own pleasure and you have come to believe that you are nothing but garbage.
It could be that the person responsible for the hurt in the first place was
someone loved, and it might feel too psychologically risky to be angry
at such a person. After all, the person might withdraw love
in retaliation. Or it might happen that the hurt was caused by some trauma
or disaster, and, though you might blame God, if youre at all religious
you will feel bad for being angry at God, and so you will blame yourself while
secretly hating God.
So there you
are, trapped in self-hatred, a lonely victim, stuck in anger turned
inwards, right in the middle of
described by Saint John of the Cross, spiritual purgation can afflict
souls with abandonment, supreme poverty, dryness, cold, and sometimes
heat. They find relief in nothing, nor does any thought console them. . .
Although this sounds quite a bit like depression,
there is a big difference.
John of the Cross points out, the oppressive afflictions experienced in purgation
are caused by the very flame of God which imparts His love. Purgation is,
therefore, an act of Gods love, and even though our narcissistic supplies
may be stripped from us as a spiritual process, the purpose of it all is
to bring the souls infirmities to light: they are set before
its eyes to be felt and
there is nothing but darkness, yet it is not seen as darkness or
recognized as darkness. Blind to divine reality, this darkness seems
to be the only reality. For it is impossible to perceive ones
darknesses without the divine light focusing on
In contrast to
depression, in our willingly accepting our spiritual purgation and confronting
our own darknesseshowever oppressing the process may feelwe experience
love, not anger. Nor does spiritual purgation cause us to feel self-hatred,
we feel for our
and inadequacies has nothing to do with blame and, rather than being an obstacle
to our progress, is the first step on the path to divine love.
And it is also
a step to real prayer and a step away from common, popular
prayer which in effect says to God, I didnt study
for this test, so please help me pass it anyway. Real prayer depends
on your being able to recognize the depths of your own helplessness and
vulnerability and to embrace divine grace honestly and openly through a life
of humble obedience and genuine
In the end,
its the only path away from being a victim.
Whenever we are hurt, for whatever reason, some part of
ususually a child-like partcries out, Stop, or Ill
die! Then, through the tears, a desire for some form of recognition
and compensation takes shape. A piece of food, a piece of candy, a piece
of moneywhatever it might bebrings the teary, blurred world back
into focus. Death fades away and life resumes.
way it works for children.
piece of something does not heal the threat of death and disintegration.
It only hides it.
In fact, all
the pieces of the world that we use as identifications to construct
are, in the end, nothing but illusions. Thats why
is nothing but the shocking and painful awareness of what we already know
but prefer to hide. The trauma that has brought us just inches from death
shows us with shocking clarity that all our defenses against
death are just empty
Therefore, even as adults,
there will always be a child-like
of us who seeks some recognition of our pain and some compensationsome
piece of the world, or, in Shakespeares terms, a pound of
flesh for any hurt we suffer.
If we get
caught in feelings of victimization, then, we will always be trying to tell
others what to do. This can happen openly through argumentativeness,
aggression, and it can happen in subtle, unconscious
ways, such as sarcasm, cynicism, and passive
aggressiveness. And when others dont do what we want them to do,
then we feel even more victimized. It all becomes a vicious
So, as long as
we desire any piece of the worldwhether it be money,
prestige or anything elsein exchange for our hurt, we will remain hurt
and angry victims.
some souls are so caught in feelings of victimization that they will send
themselves right to hell in a futile attempt to show the world
how mean and unfairlyso they believethey have been treated. In
psychological language, this is called
Truly, the concept
of masochism is not a pleasant issue to examine. For the most part, itís hidden
in cultural shadow, though in the darkest parts of our culture itís glorified
as a defiant lifestyle. Only in psychotherapy that is not stifled by political
correctness is it ever dealt with in a spiritually honest and open manner.
If you look back
on your life honestly, you will likely see how often you have gotten involved
with bad situations. This doesnt mean that you want to be
mistreated; it just indicates that people most often choose what is known
over what is unknown. If you have grown up knowing abuse and humiliation,
even though abuse and humiliation are not pleasant they are known
and predictable, and in that sense theyre comfortable. And
thats masochism in a nutshell: preferring (desiring) humiliation
unconsciously because its more comfortable than facing
the unknown with true personal responsibility.
This brings us
to the technical psychological distinction between desire (unconscious)
and want (conscious). As odd as it sounds, you can very well desire
something you dont even want. And the fact is that unless you resolve
this aspect of your unconscious, you will continue to do unpleasant things.
The unconscious urge for self-punishment and humiliation will continue to
lead you into bad situations, even if consciously you dont want them
And what is the
deepest motivation for all this unconsciously self-inflicted pain? Its
the veiled hope that you can make yourself feel loved. Thats
rightits the hope that others, in seeing how much you are willing
to suffer abuse, will somehow be made to acknowledge you. Then, in seeing
yourself reflected in their loving appreciation, you will have the satisfaction
of feeling loved. At least, thats the hope. But it rarely happens that
way. The more you try to make yourself loved, the more others despise you.
of feeling loved reveals the difference between
To live in humility is to live always in total confidence of Gods
love, protection, and guidance and therefore to have no concern for yourself
when others insult youor praise you. Secure in Gods love, you
dont have to base your identity on whether or not others acknowledge
you. In masochism, on the other hand, you invite others to insult
you because, as a psychological defense against the pain of deep emotional
wounds, you take unconscious pleasure in being demeaned in the secret hope
that you will somehow, someday, earn someones admiration for your
willingness to endure painful
So as long as
you continue to say, Stop, or Ill die! you will remain
trapped in victimization. So long as you continue to hoard pieces of the
world as a way to protect yourself from the fear of your own brokenness,
you will remain broken and victimized. Only by accepting the spiritual and
psychological death of your worldly identity can
you step outside the
Only when you stop desiring to get anything from the world, and only
when you start
to the world what you dont really havepure, divine
lovewill you stop feeling victimized. Only by breaking bread and giving
it away can you multiply it.
a soul is wounded by other wounds of miseries and sins or whether it is healthy,
this cautery of love immediately effects a wound of love in the one it touches,
and those wounds deriving from other causes become wounds of
In other words,
when the flame of divine love touches us, its purgation is a sort of wounding
that purifies everything in the souland even old wounds of victimization,
along with their desire for revenge and compensation, are transformed into
the wound of pure love itself. Such is the mystical peace of
healing through love. And that, in the end, is Gods will.
So you begin the process of spiritual healing by listening
Explore your pain and
Face up to the terror of your inner
Find strength in your
Overcome your fear
of losing your identity by giving it up willingly. With devotion and discipline,
you will discover the ability to give up your
those who have hurt you, and give of yourself in pure love. And then you
will be on the path of life and healing.
If, then, I am
seen or found on the common,
you will say that I am lost;
that, stricken by love,
I lost myself, and was found.
of the Cross,
The Spiritual Canticle,
The Poem, Stanzas 28-29
Psychology from the
The Spiritual Depth of Clinical Psychology
A collection of
texts from the writings of
Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
Overstretching ones material
resources can result in a loss of faith or an uncertainty about ones
spiritual commitment or direction.
Psychological assistance may be needed
with smoking cessation, pain
management, and other health problems.
Unresolved family-of-origin difficulties
can disrupt personal relationships and generate conflict within
may have to be supplemented with psychological intervention in order to resolve
mental health problems such as mood disorders and anxiety
It may be helpful to examine ones
sexual desires and needs for love
in the context of making a commitment to religious values. Furthermore, the
failure to understand true love can lead to sexual scandal or
pedophilia (child sexual abuse).
A feeling of confusion and a resistance
to losing a life-long identity can occur because
of a forced retirement from full time work.
Well, I mean
psychological terrorism. That
is, many individuals may vocally advocate radical changes in morality and
lawall in an unconscious attempt to heal their
own unresolved psychological wounds.
Vulnerability and bitterness resulting
from abuse by trusted others may feel like a betrayal by God. Multiple
may lead to victim
depression, and a secret
Administrative responsibilities can
become overwhelming, and, if chronic, can result in Burnout. But
is nothing more than the effect of clinging to a personal
identity, not living in true
humility, and failing to trust completely in
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St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel. In
The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez
(Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991).
2. St. John of the
Cross, The Dark Night. In The Collected Works of St. John of
the Cross, trans. K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez
(Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991).
3. St. John of the
Cross, The Living Flame of Love. In The Collected
Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez
(Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991). See 1. 20 (pp. 648649).
4. St. John of the
Cross, The Living Flame of Love. In The Collected
Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez
(Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991). See 1. 21 (p. 649).
5. St. John of the
The Living Flame of Love. In The Collected
Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez
(Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991). See 1. 22 (p. 650).
6. William Shakespeare,
The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene III.
7. Note carefully,
though, that giving does not refer to the mere sharing of material
objects or wealth; it refers to the expression of profound emotional qualities
such as patience, forbearance, compassion, mercy, and understanding, which
are themselves an expression of divine love.
8. St. John of the
The Living Flame of Love. In The Collected Works of St.
John of the Cross, trans. K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez (Washington,
DC: ICS Publications, 1991). See 2. 7 (p. 660).
Pastoral Counseling / Spiritual
In San Francisco?
Atheism, Humanism, & Secularism offers discussions
and debates about these topics.
Theology and Spirituality Topical Index Page includes
topics on Angels and Demons (e.g., Angels, Demons, and Evil);
Anthropology (e.g., Soul, and Sin); Eschatology (e.g., Heaven,
includes topics on Morality, Absolutes, and Relativism;
Ethical Issues; and The Good and Virtuous Life.
Psychology of Atheism offers some interesting psychology (but
leads to no real answers).
Related pages within A Guide to Psychology
and its Practice:
Revenge, and Forgiveness
Deathand the Seduction
The Psychology of
Questions and Answers
Trauma and PTSD
INDEX of all subjects
on this website
to Psychology and its Practice
Copyright © 1997-2013 Raymond
Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
All material on this website is
copyrighted. You may copy or print selections for your private, personal
Any other reproduction or distribution without my
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