This last week, I felt that I was consumed with stress, homework, obligations, and decisions. Some of the graduate students and I planned to go to the Catholic Psychotherapy Association Conference in Arlington, VA and I felt that it was becoming an impossible feat to get there. I was surprised to see where these obstacles came from, but as one of my friends pointed out that Satan was working very hard to keep us from the good that was the conference. After a long and tiring week, I got into a car full of snack mix, Twizzlers, and Oreos with three of my friends and embarked on the six hour drive to Virginia.
This was my first professional conference. I was very excited and on the morning of the first talks, I honestly could not believe that we actually made it. The theme of the conference was Witness to Hope: Catholic Anthropology as the Foundation for Psychological Practice. The speakers were amazing and the people who attended where warm and welcoming. All of the talks were so different, but I could not help but notice the common denominator, all of the founding fathers of this field tried to stray away from Christianity and religion but failed. One of the speakers, Dr. Nordling had such an interesting take on this topic. He talked about how the Christian virtues were found in the basis of the counseling model.
Another talk that really grabbed my attention was the talk by Dr. Paul Vitz called The Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. Days after hearing this talk, I still find myself thinking about it. Dr. Vitz posed three common causes for atheism. One of the causes of atheism is a relationship with a dysfunctional father, which can consist of fathers who are present and abusive, present and unworthy of respect or fathers who have abandoned their children. This last category includes those whose fathers passed away but the children struggle to understand that their fathers did not have a choice in their death. Dr. Vitz talked about how Freud, Ellis, Niche, Voltaire and many other famous atheists fit this example. In many of these examples, their fathers were not present or they were very close and their fathers passed away when they were young. Due to this lack of a father figure or an appropriate father figure, many of them then see religion as a weakness or cannot come to belief in a God that would take away family members from them. Vitz also talked about women atheist and how, due to women’s need for relationships, often find other idols to worship, such as the author of Abortion as a Sacrament who worshiped the Greek goddess Artemis. He also suggested that the lack of relationship, the ideas of losing the self, the belief that love is a source of pain and that desire is what is wrong with life are some of the reasons that people in our culture are anti-religion.
The second common cause of atheism is autism. When Dr. Vitz started to talk on this point I was very confused. Dr. Vitz stated that people who have autism tend to suffer from lack of relationships. This lack of relationship makes it hard for these people to understand a relationship with God. These people’s atheism is through a lack of understanding and lack of relationships, which is very different from most people’s atheistic believes. Some believe that Einstein was autistic and his belief of God as a non-personal God reflects this belief.
Dr. Vitz stated that the third common cause of atheism is convenience. Many people today do not want to give up their lifestyle and make room for religion. Living morally, abiding by religious laws and making time for worship can make people rethink joining a religion. Most people today are seeking meaning and God but unwilling to adjust their lifestyle and live according to the morals of religion.
I find myself often thinking about society today as a whole as well as my clients and how these three common causes might fit them. I think it is important in counseling to view the person from a holistic point of view, which includes asking them about their spirituality. Having Dr. Vitz’s points, I can now better understand some of my clients.
The conference as a whole gave me such hope for my future in this profession and as a Catholic, which was fitting given the theme of the conference. I truly felt inspired to give more to my clients and to grow more in my faith. The image of Our Lady of Good Counsel, right, was seen all over the conference. It reminds me of the example Mary is to all Catholics and how we should strive to be like her.
We are all children of God, and as a counseling intern, I find it such an honor to love and care for people the way that my degree allows me to. Counselors are called to care for people, help them understand their worth as a person, enjoy their life to the fullest, and help them find their way when times are hard. Pastoral counselors have an added advantage, they are able to meet with people in a religious setting and use the resources of the Church to help their clients. Being able to talk about someone’s personal relationship with God as well as the ability to call the client on in holiness is an amazing privilege that pastoral counselors have.