Recently I attended the Catholic Psychotherapy Association’s annual conference in Washington D.C. It was a place where clinical psychologists and counselors could gather to pray, network, and to learn more about topics concerning the integration of our Catholic faith and our field of study. Many of the speakers were professors at the Institute of the Psychological Sciences, a Catholic graduate school for clinical psychology.
They spoke on many topics, but the main topic they integrated throughout the talks was a Catholic view of the human person. It’s an important issue to be considered for all those involved in the mental health field. The speakers at the conference presented the IPS model of the human person, which incorporates theological and philosophical dimensions. While the psychological perspective was not directly presented in this model, I believe it was interwoven throughout the theological and philosophical dimensions. I have been fascinated about this topic and am still working on a conceptualization of the human person for myself that is useful and accurate. In order to provide holistic counseling of any kind, we need to understand the human person and the context in which we live. I personally like this model and have decided to provide a brief overview of it mixed with some of my thoughts about the main points.
The theological dimension presented in the model is pretty straightforward: we are created, fallen, and redeemed. We are created in the image and likeness of God, giving us our dignity. We are fallen due to the original sin of Adam and Eve. Because of this, we are wounded and truths are easily distorted. And we are redeemed through Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. Because of this, we have a great hope for true happiness and peace in union with God. This dimension is important to keep in mind. The presenters stressed that we have to view the human person in the narrative context of salvation history, as this is the reality in which we live. Our lives, our stories are interconnected.
The philosophical dimension involves a few more categories. The first is that the human person is a personal unity. The body and soul is one entity. Our soul does not inhabit and control our bodies, but they are intricately one. If something affects the body, it automatically affects the soul and vice versa.
We are also fulfilled through virtues and vocation. We have natural inclinations towards virtues, even if we don’t believe in God. Most of us strive to be better versions of ourselves, like being respectful towards others and persevering in difficult situations. We also flourish in our committed vocations, whether that includes a specific career or a state in life. What we do with our lives and how we respond to God’s call gives us meaning.
The human person is naturally relational. We were made for relationships. This is why early attachments are so important and why our family life greatly affects us. If we are created in the image and likeness of God, and the Holy Trinity is a family, then it makes sense that we too are in need of family and relationships, especially a relationship with our Creator.
The human person is a bodily creature as well. We are organic living beings endued with thoughts, emotions, a biological sex, and natural needs such as eating and sleeping. Along with this, we are also rational. We seek the truth and have been given the ability to receive knowledge and discern the good through our senses, perceptions, intellect, and intuition.
And of course we as human beings are volitional and free. We are, for the most part, free to make our own choices; however those choices have consequences and we are responsible for those consequences. We have the capacity to be freed from psychological distress, sin, wounds, and the like. Yet we also experience a freedom for love, justice, and goodness. We have our limits, yes. But we have the freedom to heal from the bad and grow towards the good.
Now, this was just a brief overview of the model. The model itself went into great detail concerning each point and also tried to place these factors into hierarchical levels. And while I agree with all of the points made in the model, I don’t think this model best represents the human person. Maybe that because I’m more of a visual person and this model was merely a list of all of these factors and levels. I also think that these models and conceptualizations should be kept simple. We can always go into more detail about every dimensional factor listed in this model, but if we try to do it all at once, we’re bound to get confused. I am currently trying to come up with my own conceptualization of the human person that incorporates what this model says but integrates it in a way that makes sense to me, which might hopefully be the topic of another blog post.
And to be honest, I don’t think we ever will create a model that best encapsulates the human person in its entirety. This is because the human person is a whole. We are trying to break something down that is already in a “reduced” state so to speak. It’s difficult to talk about the soul apart from our body, our thoughts, our emotions, and our relationships. We can try to break it down, but in reality, all of these factors are working together as one in the context of salvation history. And each person, whether they believe it or not, is oriented toward a common goal: union with God.
Even though a perfect model may never be introduced, I think it’s good that we discuss these topics and dimensions. If we want to be competent counselors, we need to reflect on our own beliefs concerning human anthropology, challenge and/or support these beliefs, and come up with our own way of conceptualizing the human person, granted that this conceptualization is rooted in Truth. The light of the Holy Spirit is very important in this endeavor. He reveals His Truth to us in different ways according to how He made us. But we need to spend time with Him and be open to receive His knowledge.
Come, Holy Spirit!