“Did You Know” is excerpted from a South Bend history professor’s book, Changed by Grace.
This week’s segment is from his chapter titled Psychotherapy and Religion: John Wesley was the earliest English-speaking author whom I have read who used the term “psychotherapy.” He left the word in the original Greek as psyches therapeia, which meant the “healing of souls.” This was the central task of all real spirituality, and both he and Jonathan Edwards believed that theologians needed to take seriously the findings of modern psychology. It should be said that throughout the middle ages and early modern period, the healing of souls (cura animarum, the cure of souls in Latin) had been the province of the ordained clergy alone. It was not until the time of Sigmund Freud and William James, at the end of the nineteenth century, that serious attempts were made to develop a totally secular version of psychotherapy. In the attempt to give an equivalent prestige to the new secular psychological methods, the Freudians hitched their wagon to the M.D.’s and the medical profession, while those who followed James’ approach linked their methods to the new secular Ph.D. program that began to appear in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. The modern American university degree called the Ph.D. or “doctor of philosophy” was developed at John Hopkins University during the period and rapidly began being offered at universities all over the United States, finally replacing the medieval master’s degree the standard advanced graduate degree in numerous academic fields. It is important to note this, because the M.D. psychiatrists, the Ph.D. psychologists, and the M.S.W. psychotherapists propagandized so effectively in the twentieth century for their right to also engage in the cure of souls, that many modern people assume that the psychological disciplines are inherently “secular” studies, and that religion has no “right” to discuss psychotherapeutic issues. So we have people arguing, on that false presupposition, that Alcoholics Anonymous must be either spiritual or totally psychologically orientated, one from the other. Those who recognize the importance of the spiritual parts of the twelve step program can then be misled into believing that any discussion of the psychological components of alcoholism and alcoholic ways of thinking is a sell out of A.A.’s “purely spiritual” program. This is a real tragedy, because what A.A. did in fact was to restore the original Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Reformation understanding that the healing of the psyche (the Greek and New Testament word for soul) was an essentially spiritual discipline, and that the attempt to create psychotherapies on atheistic assumptions invariably ended up castrating the discipline and rendering it mostly ineffective. William James and Carl Jung, both of whom recognized the need to maintain the linkage between psychotherapy and spirituality, were far wiser than Sigmund Freud in this regard. That was why the early A.A. leaders turned to William James and Carl Jung as models, along with another good psychologist of that period whose name is less well known today but who was an important figure during that era, Ernest M. Ligon, author of the Psychology of Christian Personality, a book which was on the recommended reading list which was handed out to newcomers in the Akron, Ohio A.A. program. Dr. Bob, Sister Ignatia, and other early Akron leaders all recognized the need for good spirituality and psychology. It is a total falsification of early A.A. history to create the illusion of a dichotomy between a spiritually based program and a psychological one. And not to mention it was the New York people like Bill Wilson, Marty Mann and Fitz Mayo who saw visions and heard heavenly voices. To be continued…
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