Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mental health and Christian compassion.

When I was taking a course on Confession and Absolution, one of the texts I used as an ancillary to the official text was the Reverend Francis George Belton's 1916 A Manual for Confessors. Within this fine book was an extended discussion of the "treatments" that flowed from the work of Sigmund Freud (all the rage up until the 1950s). The coverage of Freud was excellent, and prescient--Belton insisted that the Christian priest not succumb to the theories of Freud, for they lacked any objective evidence behind them. This is one of my favorite quotes from Father Belton: "Any system of body or mind healing should be based upon sound scientific principles. The issues at stake are too grave to admit of loose empirical treatment."

Why I am addressing this? Because, lamentably, I continue to find priests and professors still enthralled by the idiotic notions of Sigmund Freud. Even those who now willingly admit that his system has no scientific merit will still say "He was a great thinker!" or (even worse) "He may have been writing fiction, but it was a fiction that spoke great truths!" The trouble is, Freud told his readers, and his patients, that he was speaking truth and fact, not mere rhetoric or fiction. And, in truth, study after study has shown his system of "treatment" to be, at its very best, completely useless. At its worst, when it was applied to people suffering from conditions like autism, it made people worse and ruined lives.

Nowadays the threat may still come from the quackery of Freud, but it may also come from New Age gurus or other fad therapies. When Christian clergy counsel people with behavioral or mental problems, and when they choose to refer people to mental or behavioral health professionals let us keep in mind the words of Father Belton: "The issues at stake are too grave to admit of loose empirical treatment."


Drew Collins said...

Very interesting! Having come from a Reformed/Presbyterian background I had read (and still do read) with great benefit the works of the Rev. Dr. Jay Adams (a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and a graduate of Reformed Episcopal Seminary). It sounds as if Dr. Adams continued Fr. Belton's contemproary critique of Freud!

I'll have to get a copy of Fr. Belton's book.

J. Gordon Anderson said...

My favorite part about Belton was how to hear confessions and counsel young people who "work in factories". Talk about dated! Nowadays you'd have to go to China or India to do that. Still, Belton is a good book in many other ways.

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Although I can't think of any offhand, I know there are some Anglican texts from that period that grovel a bit and say such things as "Christian theology teaches the same truths as the modern discoveries of Freud"! Now that's dating the text in a horrible way. I like to see authors that saw the Emperor's New Clothes for what they were--now they are vindicated by history.

Drew, Belton is very Anglo-Catholic, but I don't think he crosses the line into Romanism. I've seen other Anglican texts on confession that do, bringing in Purgatory and everthing else in order to justify some idea they got from Rome (or that they assume needs Roman support to keep it standing).

Another good Anglican book is "The Ministry of Absolution." I'll have to check the author.

"Dootz" said...

As a Christian who was hospitalized twice with bipolar disorder (Feb, Mar 1995) and finally treated properly by a secular-minded psychiatrist (who at least appreciated people of faith), let me endorse those mental health professionals who base their treatment on good science, whatever their beliefs are!

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...


Anonymous said...

Where did you take a class in Confession and Absolution? More importantly (for me), could you suggest a reading list from the course for those of us whose seminary training did not delve too deeply into such things?



Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Father Brad,

I'll e-mail you the reading list. Also, I may be able to e-mail you some of the texts as well--they're in pdf format.

The Belton text was not among the assigned books, but I used it as a supplemental.

Anonymous said...

The problem with "good science" is that so few have any idea of the real scientific method and the necessity of having ideas proved by verifiable experiments which will give the same results each time. Freud was a mythologist whose myths please the modern psyche.

I had a friend many years ago whose father was a psychiatrist who got results and generally in a very short time. He consistently said the very same things about Freud and his theories which our author has said, albeit a bit gentler. I think people embraced Freud as they embraced Darwin because they wanted to enjoy their sins without thinking of them as such. The new morality was the old immorality but with a new intellectual justification.