In today’s world, it seems every person can agree on one common goal, freedom; freedom from distress, freedom from illness, freedom from oppression, freedom from anything that keeps a person from being fully alive. The field of psychotherapy holds this “freedom from” at its core; it is not those individuals that feel satisfied with their sense of freedom that come into therapy, no, it is those among us that feel their freedom is being oppressed by their current conditions and circumstances in life. The goal of the therapeutic relationship is to aid clients “identify goals and potential solutions to problems which cause emotional turmoil; seek to improve communication and coping skills; strengthen self-esteem; and promote behavior change and optimal mental health” (ACA, 2013). In so many words, the goal is to aid them in reestablishing their freedom to be fully present in the human experience. At this point you may be questioning the title of this article, “Catholics and Dependent Personality Disorder… A diagnosis of the devout” allow me to expand.
As Catholics, or any person with a deep faith tradition, a common problem when seeking out mental health services is finding a counselor that will understand you not only as an entity compiled of mind and body but mind, body and spirit. Pastoral counseling recognizes the full person as mind, body and spirit in one entity. Pastoral counseling seeks to enhance the personal freedom of each client, not by means produced only by the client but produced by the faithful dependence found in their relationship with God. Pastoral counselors not only have psychological theories to guide their work with clients but the Truth in Christ’s Bride, the Church. By informing their work with the Truth of God they are able to help clients gain the freedom they so dearly desire; this is not exterior freedom that leaves man in an eternal search for happiness where none can be found but the interior freedom that has God as its guarantee.
In order to expand on this (within the space of this blog), I refer to Jacques Philippe’s Interior Freedom (2002), which has been of much inspiration to me. Philippe writes, “Although the idea of freedom can be viewed as a meeting point between Christianity and present-day culture, it also appears paradoxically to be the point at which they are furthest apart. For modern man, to be free often means throwing off all constraint and all authority – “Neither God nor master.” For Christianity, on the other hand, freedom can only be found by submitting to God, in the “obedience of faith” that St. Paul speaks of. True freedom is not so much something man wins for himself; it is a free gift from God, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, received in the measure in which we place ourselves in a relationship of loving dependence on our Creator and Savior. This is where the Gospel paradox is most apparent: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, people who wish to preserve and defend their own freedom at any cost will lose it, but those willing to “lose” it by leaving it trustingly in God’s hands will save it” (p.14). If you are like me you may be as blown away as I was when I first read this…and that is only page 14!
So what do Philippe’s words have to do with Pastoral Counseling? Great question. Pastoral counseling not only seeks to aid the person become well again but aids them to live more fully in the Truth. Pastoral counseling not only takes on the role of psycho-educator but religious-educator as well. While the religious education is not held at the core and as sole purpose, it is used as needed and as yet another tool to help clients gain their freedom. The role of the pastoral counselor in the therapeutic relationship is the same as any other therapist, to walk with the person on their path and shine a light on areas they perhaps do not see or need help seeing clearly in order to move forward. We do not tell them which path to take but give them the tools to make informed decisions. And with the Holy Spirit guiding us and informing our work as the true Counselor, I am reminded of Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Food for thought: “We gain possession of our interior freedom in exact proportion to our growth in faith, hope, and love” (Philippe, 2002, p. 10).