Bringing Christ into therapy

A friend of mine works in grief therapy. The other day, she was describing to me a new technique she has learned to help patients coping with trauma.

To help me understand the method, my friend described a recent session with a patient. During treatment, the patient in this case came face-to-face with what he described as a demon.

Now, at this point in our conversation, I’m sitting on the edge of my seat. Whether this was a manifestation of a demon or not, I was anxious to hear how my friend guided this man through such an intense encounter.

Ultimately, the man physically attacked the demon-figure, woke up and went away exhausted.

I was moved by my friend’s compassion for this patient.  But, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that something was missing from the equation: Christ.

My friend’s secular approach to therapy can liberate people – but, can it be a full liberation without Christ?

I brought my question to Aaron Stratman in Lincoln, Nebraska. Stratman is director of clinical services and internship training for Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska. He specializes in pediatric and integrative psychology. Here’s what he had to say:

“I think (a purely psychological approach) can result in symptom reduction…But, whether or not something more positive than that, where a person reaches that idea of the fullness of their dignity and their personhood, that might be something where an integrated approach might be a little bit better than a psychological approach.

“(It’s) the difference between symptom reduction and full human flourishing; there must be that distinction. For a person with psychosis manifesting; they would respond to some kind of medication to have less psychosis. Would the medication or the therapy then try to build their flourishing in the human condition? Or would they just be satisfied with reducing the psychosis?”

I then asked Stratman how a Catholic approach differs from a strictly psychological approach.

“…(N)ot only must (Catholic psychologists/therapists) know the psychological principles and theories that are applicable in each setting, but we also have to have this paralleled education on spiritual, theological and philosophical knowledge…in order to help the flourishing part of the human person.

“Though, we make sure that we use professional due diligence as well as spiritual and theological due diligence; in order to treat the whole of the person…It’s a nice position to have because it allows us a lot more flexibility than, say, your average psychologist might have when they’re kind of pinned down to only psychological theory.”

Therapists and psychologists interested in learning more about integrating their faith into their practice can think about attending the Catholic Psychotherapy Association’s upcoming conference in November.