How Can Psychological Knowledge Assist Spiritual Life?

The use of psychology in the service of pastoral practice started with Protestants, later affected Catholics as well, and now has been “legalized” among Orthodox. It has been a result of the awareness of the complications that contemporary souls present, and thus of the need to recruit any available human knowledge to understand it.

A delicate balance is required here: if we reject psychological knowledge we turn to fundamentalism, if we overestimate it we are prone to secularization. From the very beginning the Church has had to pave the “royal path,” avoiding extremes; this contemporary case makes an excellent example. Scientific knowledge has to be respected critically, namely, by casting away aspects that are incompatible with our faith. But this endeavor is tough: we have to be quite honest and allow psychology to change the way we believe and practice towards healthier versions.

We will work on examples that may be helpful for priests. The groups will elaborate on:

a) What psychological training should a spiritual father receive? Are theological studies adequate for understanding the majority of people coming for guidance or confession? What modifications are suggested? What kind of continuous training is necessary?

b) Pathological characters in the parish and how to handle them. How do personality disorders affect spiritual life and interpersonal relationships in the parish? What are the traps for the priest? What is the most appropriate way to face them?

c) Promoting the self-knowledge of the priest. How is self-knowledge promoted? How do selective readings facilitate it? What is the role of marriage and parish life in revealing hidden traits?