Understanding Orthodoxy for Mental Health Practitioners + Part 6
[This is a follow up course to Orthodox Christian Spirituality and Cognitive Psychotherapy: An Online Course, that appeared in four parts over the years 2012-2013. This second course is specifically oriented to explain Orthodoxy to mental health practitioners,and serve as a useful resource for Orthodox Clergy and laity as well. Ethically, mental health practitioners should incorporate the spiritual values of their patients in the therapeutic process. The course would serve as an introduction of the Eastern Orthodox ethos and cultural traditions to these professionals.
One of the most frequently questions I am asked as Chairman of the Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling Department of the Antiochian Archdiocese is for a referral to an Orthodox mental health practitioner. Sadly Orthodoxy is not a majority spiritual tradition in North America and Orthodox practitioners are few. So careful questioning by potential patients, family and clergy of a potential practitioner regarding the practitioner's understanding and respect for the spiritual values of their patients is very important. This course is meant to aid in this inquiry.
It also should be noted that this course is an updating and reworking of a recently published chapter: Psychotherapy with members of Eastern Orthodox Churches, (Morelli, 2014).]
You doctors, must take good care of your patients in order to avoid unpleasant situations. You should have a practical mind. Generally speaking, every one of us must take advantage of his mind which is a gift from God.
(Saint Paisios of the Holy Mountain)1
Factors Affecting Human Behavior
Such Church Fathers as St. John of the Ladder and St. Gregory Palamas indicate that continual sin becomes habitual. [Thereby making behavioral patterns less voluntary.] Habits can make the spirit dark. They work by blackening our minds, which guides and inclines people to do things they would not normally think of. (Palmer, 1984-93) The Church Fathers suggest reducing the strength of habits by removing sensory factors and stopping memories [thoughts] as they begin. With repetition, these new techniques become stronger. This is not unlike the 'thought stopping' techniques proposed by Cognitive-behavioral therapists. For the Christian, putting these techniques in a spiritual perspective, as suggested by the Church Fathers, provides added motivation and rationale for the treatment.
Cultural Values in Psychospiritual Therapy
Cultural (and to a lesser extent, spiritual) factors have received increased emphasis in understanding mental disorders and psychological treatment (DSM IV, American Psychiatric Association, 1994; McGoldrick, et. al., 1996). It would be unthinkable for Orthodox Christians not to include spiritual factors in the understanding and treatment (healing) of mental disorders. The Christian spiritual tradition, including the prayers and practice the church, Scripture and the writings of the spiritual Fathers, lends itself to an elegant integration with the Cognitive therapy methods noted above.
While non-religious clinicians will not, of course, employ prayer for and/or with their patients, ethically they are required to include patients' religious values, even merely as a tool for understanding and treatment, as suggested by McGoldrick, et. al. (1996). Christians are committed to do all in Christ's name. Jesus told His followers: "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." (Lk 9: 26) St Paul reminds: ". . . knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Cor 15: 58) Thus, following the advice of McGoldrick et.al., it behooves the clinician to interweave the patient's spiritual value system into treatment.
A clinical caveat for orthodox Christian mental health clinicians
Evidence (science) based clinicians are trained to realize that others are going to follow their set of rules, not the personal set of rules the mental health practitioner may have. As long as the laws of society are not broken and professional ethics are followed it behooves the clinician to respect the patient's values. In emulation of Christ, who for example was asked by the rich young man "Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting? (Mt 19:16), an orthodox mental health clinician can answer straightforwardly what the inquirer must do in accordance with Christ's teachings and His Church's Holy Spirit inspired understanding of His teachings. However, if not related to patient-inquirer psychotherapeutic treatment, such instruction is better done outside of treatment and by an orthodox spiritually oriented person other than the therapist. It should be recalled the young man rejected Christ's counsel and as St. Matthew records: "And when the young man had heard this word, he went away sad: for he had great possessions." (Mt 19: 22) In today's post-Christian secular world, we can extend 'great possessions' to include not only material things, but attachment to alternative lifestyles (LGBT), right to choose (abortion-murder) and multi and same sex marriage, etc. The Christian psychotherapist must always be guided by St. Paul's counsel to the Ephesians (4: 32): "And be ye kind [emphasis mine]one to another; merciful, forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ."
1 Former Elder, now Saint Paisios of the Holy Mountain was officially canonized a saint by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and the Holy Synod on 13 January 2015. (www.omhksea.org/2015/01/ecumenical-patriarchate-officially-entered-elder-paisios-among-the-list-of-saints/) Among the Orthodox, the pathway to sainthood is usually started by the popular acclamation that someone is worthy (Axios!) of sainthood. This was the certainly the case of saintly Elder Paisios. His Feast Day will be on 12 July. My readers may want to pray the Apolytikion and Kontakion of the new saint:
Apolytikion in Tone 1
The offspring of Farasa, and the adornment of Athos, and the imitator of the former righteous, equal in honor, O Paisios let us honor O faithful, the vessel full of graces, who hastens speedily to those who cry out: glory to Him Who gave you strength, glory to Him Who crowned you, glory to Him Who grants through you healings for all.
Kontakion in Plagal Tone 4
The most-famed ascetic of the Holy Mountain, and the newly-enlightened light of the Church, let us praise him with hymns with all our heart, for he leads the faithful towards a perfect life, filling them with rivers of gifts, therefore we cry out: Hail, O Father Paisios.
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