The Bankruptcy of Psychology


I sometimes remark to friends, colleagues, even clients when I feel it appropriate, that psychology is very often more fascinating than helpful. And being a person who desires to offer something actually helpful, I have found myself over the years increasingly bored with the fascination of personality types, psychiatric disorders, and the like.

The study of psychology has, to be sure, been helpful in the management of all kinds of personal, industrial, and organizational difficulties, but finds itself essentially and fundamentally bankrupt to respond to life’s “ultimate concerns”, e.g., real guilt, emptiness, meaninglessness, “twists of fate” and death.  To quote Father Alexis Trader, “For a person who never received a parent’s love, but only abuse, or for someone suffering from real guilt, psychology is ill equipped to supply an answer; only Christ’s love, the possibility of real repentance, and divine forgiveness… can offer what no psychologist can.”

When I meet people at a social gathering and they discover that I am a counselor, they very often begin to jest with others about me being a psychologist.  Honesty compels me to try as best I can to convey the inaccuracy.  Most often I fail via some combination of my  inability to articulate well and the lack of categories (interest?) many people have for grasping the relevance of practical theology and spiritual philosophy to their experience of life.  I’ll keep trying–I believe it a battle worth fighting.

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Jesus Had Anger Issues

What if I told you I knew of a man who spent $10,000 a year on manicuring his fingernails?  If that was the only piece of information you had, you might tend to formulate a certain opinion of the man.  But if you then learned that the man was a world renowned classical guitar player who could only get the sound required by keeping his fingernails exactly a certain way, and that he made several hundred thousand dollars a year practicing his trade, your opinion might change dramatically.

I recently read that James Harrison claims to spend  4 to 6 hundred thousand dollars a year on his body: chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, hyperbaric chambers are among the expenses.  A preposterous number to any of us, until we consider that as a former defensive player of the year for the Pittsburg Steelers, he is accustomed to making several million a year with his body, and if his body breaks down, there goes his income (over 23 million over the previous 4 seasons).

I was recently musing to myself about the human tendency to judge others on too small a sample of their behavior.  I suppose if any of us had seen Jesus flying into a rage when he discovered some people using the Jewish temple system for personal monetary gain instead of what it was intended for, and that was the only information we had about him, we would naturally have thought to ourselves, “that dude has anger issues!”  Most courts these days would have sentenced him to mandatory 12 weeks of anger management classes.  I’ll reserve the topic of when showing anger is appropriate for another post, my only point here is that an important spiritual practice is to assume we don’t know the whole story when we observe someone’s initial behavior.

I would like to sit in on that anger management class with Jesus as a member… that would be interesting.  (not the would ever need it) 😉

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On Male Virility

Erectile Dysfunction

You can’t watch a sporting event these days (which is practically the only television I watch) without being inundated with commercials selling the latest erectile dysfunction drug.  The carefully crafted 60 second collages of men in their 50’s and beyond smiling back at a woman gazing amorously at them appeals to the natural (and sometimes obsessional) desire to enjoy our youthful virility as long as possible.

Too bad there’s not a drug to enhance the virility of the male soul.  But there is an interesting paradox here.  C.S. Lewis once commented about human beings “that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”  It is clear from my observation (and recent research concurs) that the converse is equally true: whatever our souls do affects our bodies.  A man who’s soul gives in to resentment, shame, discouragement, etc., will soon find a limpness in his soul that will be reflected in his posture and other parts of his body.

There is no drug for this, but perhaps there is still medicine to find.  I suspect that the direction to look for medicine of this kind is less toward the pharmacy or even the psychiatrist, and more toward the psychospiritual work that must be chosen to successfully navigate any life stage.

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Kindness vs. Niceness

One of my favorite songs is “Kindness” by David Wilcox (listen here:   Sometimes I will tell a single client or friend (or the man in the mirror) to listen to this song.  Then I ask them to picture themselves singing this song to the person they are dating (or hoping to date), and assess whether they could honestly mean the words they are singing. If not, I suggest they might want to consider whether to continue the relationship.  Of course, a more important exercise would be to turn it around and ask, “Could the person I’m in relationship with sing it to me and feel like it was true?”  And here’s another kicker: the true test of kindness is how I treat another person when that person has disappointed me.  Most of us are nice enough as long as people are acting the way we want them to act, or giving us what we want.  But when someone disappoints us, especially profoundly disappoints us, how do we treat them?  An ancient Chinese proverb says, “You find out what’s in a man by what spills out when you bump into him”.  I’m afraid I have a long way to go in the category of kindness, but I know I desire few things more, both in myself, others, and the world.

Posted in Forgiveness, Love, Relationships | Tagged , , | 2,090 Comments

On Sleepless Nights

It’s 5:14 am… I’ve been awake since 1:47 am.  Fortunately, I”ve not struggled with chronic insomnia, but I have had friends and clients who have for many years (I’ve had my episodes, just not chronic).  This time it’s not something that’s bothering me mentally, spiritually, or relationally, as much as simply physically.  I’ve dealt with chronic lower back pain for 26 years, and yesterday exacerbated the situation trying to workout when my back was clearly not in a mood to do so.  This time I bit the bullet and asked a doctor for help and he kindly prescribed a steroid pack, something I’ve never tried before.  I hope it helps, but the first effect seems to be keeping me awake.

One thing I have learned–letting yourself be frustrated by not being able to get back to sleep only compounds the problem.  I have learned to accept sleepless nights as gifts (I know it sounds strange) instead of grousing about the undesirable state of affairs.  Focus on the positives, like the rare tranquility of the middle of the night, the space to think, pray, or reflect in ways that you are usually too busy or distracted to.  Perhaps it’s a bit of self-manipulation, but I have learned that if I choose to determine to enjoy my awakeness, it is also the most likely way to find myself having gone back to sleep.


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