by Thomas Pfister, LPC, CSAC, NCC
When compared with the number of non-religious therapists, very few Catholic therapists are practicing today. Therefore, the question arises for every individual contemplating entering therapy. “Why should I take the time and energy required to find a Catholic therapist?”
This is admittedly a very practical question. Perhaps more Catholics have asked a similar question when it comes to seeking an obstetrician; many soon-to-be parents often go out of their way to drive distances to see a Catholic doctor.
In both situations, a Catholic professional views the world quite differently than those who share the same profession but different views on God and faith. Contemporary psychology advertises itself as focusing on the human person and as being “holistic” in practice. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, both of these assertions are far from true.
Understand the Importance of Body and Soul
Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his writings in the Summa Theologiæ, explains that the material body and human soul are in a substantial union comprising the human person (ST I: 76:1). There is no separation between the body and soul, hence the substantial union, meaning that therapeutic approaches that address one and not the other can only be half-effective, at best. Therefore—in taking into account the teaching of Saint Thomas and the whole history of the Catholic Church—in order to be holistic in approach, a therapist must address both the body and soul of the individual in order to address the entirety of the human person. Secular therapists address the material and psychological component of man, but fail to incorporate the existence of the rational soul.
As Saint Thomas indicates elsewhere in the Summa, the soul is the life principle of the body. Healing the body without addressing that which gives it life and that which exercises its powers through it cannot be said to have been truly healed. This is analogous to covering a wound caused by an infection with a bandage and ignoring the fact that you also have to address the infection itself if you want to truly heal the individual.
A Catholic therapist will address both the material body and the soul of the individual by incorporating a Catholic anthropological understanding and viewpoint of the human person. They will not only bandage the wound, but will give the patient antibiotics to heal the infection. This constitutes a true holistic healing approach.
Incorporate Divine Assistance
Catholic therapists can incorporate spiritual reading and prayer in their sessions, provide faith-focused techniques for the individual to utilize in their daily lives, provide insight focused on God and faith, and can even pray for their clients and their families outside of sessions. Unfortunately, this is not something a therapist who is not Catholic can provide for their clients. This isn’t done to be malicious, it’s just outside of their purview as non-Catholic professionals.
Just as Catholic obstetricians bring faith, prayer and the teachings of the Church into their practices while caring for both the body and soul of the mother and the entirety of the human person within the womb, Catholic therapists do the same in caring for the mental and psychological health of their patients.
As Catholics, our faith is foundational to our lives, giving it transcending purpose and meaning. It also gives meaning to the sufferings for which we seek therapy in the first place. Whether in a medical clinic or therapy office, we cannot truly receive healing without the Divine Physician. This is why we should take the time and energy, and endure the drive, to find a Catholic therapist.