St. Ignatius, Psychology & Me

First an introduction: I am a licensed clinical psychologist and a committed Catholic with a strong interest in the ways in which the Christian faith and psychology intersect. As a contributor to In All Things, I hope to explore these ideas and respond to readers questions about my field of study. 

But to begin, let me reflect a little on how St. Ignatius, psychology, (and me) fit together.

The common denominator is gratitude. In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius brings to us this exhortation: "I will call back into my memory the gifts I have received--my creation, redemption, and other gifts particular to myself. I will ponder with deep affection how much Our Lord God has done for me, and how much he has given of me of what he possesses, and consequently how he, the same Lord, desires to give me even his very self, in accordance with his divine design." The Saint travelled from near suicidal despondency to reach this happier way of thinking, and countless Jesuits over centuries have brought the Lord to those who undertake the exercises. Finally in this 21st century, many in the profession of psychology have finally caught up with Ignatius, offering "positive therapy" or "cognitive psychology" in which we learn how to change our feelings by changing our thoughts. Of course it gets much more complicated. But here's how St. Ignatius and psychology connect for me right now.

I received my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Loyola University of Chicago and the skills and integrity I learned there have given me a rewarding career. While working in a treatment program in the inner city with children who endured trauma that would break most of us, I co-wrote Crisis Counseling With Children and Adolescents. As a clinician I have worked with infants, toddlers, school-agers, and adult folks of all ages. There have been other books, two decades as a peritus for annulment tribunals, an appointment as a Disability Examiner for New York State, and many continuing rewards of seeing young people in college and grad school as a professor at Marist College.

When I think of topics for this blog, many thoughts emerge: how therapy and spiritual direction complement each other; canon law and spirituality in annulments; talking to children about tragedies and terrorism; Vatican II and its hopes for special education in Catholic Schools (great talks recently at NCEA Convention in Minnesota); Thomas Merton and his psychoanalysis with Dr. G. Zilboorg; mission of Psychology in Catholic universities; treatments for sexual addiction; spirituality and handicaps; God's gift of psychiatric medicines and their proper use; psychology and peace; and much more. Will I enter the child abuse fray? Maybe. There are important things that have remained unsaid, and I've had the sad decades long experience of making many abuse reports as a mandated reporter.

Good writers, teachers, priests, and parents actively listen. What are some topics you would like mentioned in this blog? Make a response below, or send me an email at ornum@earthlink.net, placing AMERICA in the subject line.

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William Van Ornum

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
David Pasinski
8 years 5 months ago
Thank you. It seems that the much written abuse issues stem from the nexus of: clerical culture and protectionism, the changing views re: paraphilias throughout the years from disease to something else, and the view of sin/contrition/redemption/change of atraction and action... your thoughts?

Also,the continued erosion of the connection between popular uses of faith/religion/spirituality...

The csae against "the book" vs. computer and what does this mean for "The Book"

just some thoughts
we vnornm
8 years 5 months ago
Dear Dave,
Thank you very much for your thoughts. Many factors, including the ones you mention, are woven into this web. And I agree that in popular settings uses of faith/religion/spirituality often have lost their original meanings; ''erosion'' is a good way to describe this. Thank you very much for responding. bill van ornum
Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 5 months ago
Welcome Dr. Van Ornum!  (can we call you Bill?) I look forward to your contributions.  I was intrigued that you mentioned the therapy sessions that Merton had with Dr. zilboorg.  Might you also explore the relationship that Merton had with Dr. Reza Arasteh, the Persian psychoanalyst who developed and deepened the ideas suggested by the humanistic psychoanalysis of Erich Fromm?  Contrary to Freudian theory, Dr. Arasteh held that adaptation to society, at best, helps a man to live with his illness rather than cure it, particularly if the society is unhealthy.  Merton was reaching for this maturation of the human psyche ("final integration") that is the ultimate goal of many culturally different spiritual traditions.  He distinguishes between neurotic anxiety, which keeps one blocked, and existential anxiety, which is not a symptom of something wrong, but rather a summons to growth and painful development.
we vnornm
8 years 5 months ago
Dear Mr. Mattingly,
There is much to learn from the Church Fathers, and I myself am just starting to scratch the surface of their wisdom. Cassian of Marseilles has some intriguing things to say relating both to depression and acedia-the latter quality which Kathleen Norris has explored so gracefully. Bernard of Clairvaux, who came later than the Fathers but stands firmly in their tradition, wrote of amor carnalis and ratio/discretio, the proper blending of which has not yet been mastered into this 21st century.
Coincidentally, I have been reading Spiritual Friendship by Aelred of Rievaulx' it's lively and thought provoking. And of course we might consider Augustine to be the patron saint of understanding ourselves and how it affects our work, or what's now called countertransference in many circles.
Perhaps, in Ignatius, The Second Method of Praying (Ganss, 252) or The Third Method of of Praying According to Rhythmic Measures (Ganss, 258) include elements of autosuggestion, and I'd be interested in hearing from any retreat masters about this.
amdg, bill van ornum
we vnornm
8 years 5 months ago
Thank you, Beth.
Well you have given me some homework to do here and I will try to find out more about that small cache of letters between Merton and Arasteh that now resides at Bellarmine College. I will also try to review this in Father Shannon's ''Hidden Ground of Love.''
Arestah even became part of mainstream psychology with his work published in ''American Journal of Psychoanalysis'' in the mid-1960s, and I suspect that if Merton were alive today he would be aghast and the diminishing importance of individuals within a variety of nations, ideologies, and philosophies. Same for Fromm. Two of Fromm's books including ''Revolution of Joy,'' and two previously unpublished manuscripts are set to be published in the next year or so. I will try to get this info and note it here in the ''comment'' section within a week or two.
BTW, your blog ''Louie Louie'' (can be referenced here by clicking Beth's name) combines prose, verse, and photos in a lyrical way and I think readers of this blog would enjoy and learn from it. I suspect Merton smiles down at the name of your blog; the song of this name, like some of Merton's writing, was banned (too hot even for Dick Biondi or Cousin Brucie), and I think your blog keeps Merton's spirit alive in yet another place. amdg, bill
8 years 5 months ago
I'm looking forward to your future posts.  I'd be interested in any posts on depression, and also on what psychological helps there may be for people who were abused as kids.  I've really liked the  many books by William Barry SJ, a psychologist and spiritual director.
we vnornm
8 years 5 months ago
Dear Ms. Watson,
Thank you for suggesting discussion of depression as well as "what psychological helps there may be for people who were abused as kids." I suspect nearly every human being has had some experience with depression, as it is an experience that runs from the profoundly debilitating to the common cold "down in the dumps today" variety. There are effective treatments for depression. Depression may frequently accompany the experienced of having been abused as a child. The best place for information on depression is Depression Central supported by Dr. Ivan Goldberg (http://www.psycom.net/depression.central.html). I know Dr. Goldberg and he is one of the finest physicians I have ever met. Most experienced mental health professionals will probably have some experience working with persons who have been abused; however, it is always good to ask a therapist about their experience prior to or at the beginning of treatment. I will keep these topics in mind in the future. Thank your for writing. bill van ornum
we vnornm
8 years 5 months ago
Dear David:
I have reviewed the Mertens dialog and have these initial responses. I am glad to see Joseph Bottums cited as he comes from a different philosophical position than perhaps most who are writing about this. As a young psychologist, i worked in a Catholic agency in the 1980s. One of the children in the program reported that one of the therapists was sexually abusing him. The staff member who heard this went immediately to the director. The director immediately called the state police and an arrest was made. That same morning, the agency released this information to the press. Staff members openly discussed what happened. Procedures such as having windows on all doors were put into place. The perpetrator was convicted of a felony and jailed. The way this was handled had a big impact upon me. I am a believer in using Ockham's Razor and many times I think this tool might be effectively applied to discussions on this topic. Thank you very much for bringing this up. best, bill van ornum
 
Jeff Bagnell
8 years 5 months ago
One topic I'd like to see discussed is whether modern society is "clinicalizing" virtually all human emotions and states of mind, and then proposing medication for most of them.  To what extent is some depression just a normal part of life, in other words, or is it really necessary to medicate it.  I know in some cases it must be, but the other ways of coping, the exercises you mention of St. Ignatius, to me seem equally as valid and probably a healthier way of coping.  I meet so many people in my generation 35-45 who wanted to diagnose everyone as having some major personality disorder, but recourse to religion, faith, God, etc. is hardly or never mentioned.  It is a tad alarming the extent to which psychology has now crowded out all other aspects of our existence as humans.  Wasn't it Jung who said that he had never really healed anyone who did not regain their religious outlook on life?  I think it is one of Merton's books.  Anyway, just my two cents. 
Mona Villarrubia
8 years 5 months ago
Mr. Van Ornum, I would be interested on your thoughts on how the Church could reach out to Catholic victims of clergy abuse who (naturally) feel abandoned by their faith community and often by God, too, but who desperately need help on their healing journey. To use an analogy, someone who is abused by their psychiatrist may naturally lose trust in the whole profession and even in the field itself, but they continue to be in need of psychological care. How is that dealt with in the psychiatric community? And how might the Catholic Church learn from psychiatry?
 
 
 
we vnornm
8 years 5 months ago
Dear Jeff:
Your two cents are worth more than at least a few double eagles. Where has all the wisdom of over 3,000 years gone-is our faith tradition irrelevant? Too many seem to think so. Psychology and psychiatry have helped many. But there are sorrows experienced and psychic wounds absorbed that will always be there, always present, and always burdensome. Even expert supportive talk and the best healing medicines do not take away the pain. What has become of that phrase "carrying your cross?" One look at any of the Stations of the Cross will convince anyone of the limits of talk therapy or psychiatric medication. Another enigma I cannot yet explain: some people can be physically sick or psychiatrically impaired....yet spiritually healthy, the latter state perhaps being the most important of all. I miss Merton! amdg, bill
we vnornm
8 years 5 months ago
Dear Ms. Villarrubia:
Your first question is one that many keep asking, and I must defer to those who have already written millions of words to answer your question. Your question about what might the Catholic Church learn from psychiatry and other fields brings to me at least an interesting conclusion and may lead you and others to the same. My profession is psychology. In each state, psychologists are licensed to practice by their state licensing board. This is the same entity that licenses physicians, speech therapists, social workers, etc. When a therapist commits a crime of abuse, the police become involved because a law has been broken. The licensing board can decide to terminate the license to practice. The national professional association can expel the member.
The licensing board and the professional society assume no responsibility other than to discipline or de-license the professional. They provide no counseling for complainants. They provide no remuneration for trauma suffered. Here is the process in New York State: (http://www.op.nysed.gov/opdbroc.htm) If a complainant (this term is used, not victim) seeks financial damages, they must retain counsel and bring action of malpractice. In many cases this will be an extremely adversarial process as the insurance company is there to protect the professional.
I will leave it to you and others to connect the dots. Will the Church learn from professional societies? Perhaps a fairer question to ask is, ''What can these other entities learn from the Church?''
Sadly, healing remains elusive for far too many people who have been abused by priests, and in other positions of authority. Thanks for brining up what is a difficult and gut-wrenching subject. sincerely, bill van ornum
Jeff Bagnell
8 years 5 months ago
"The common denominator is gratitude. In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius brings to us this exhortation: "I will call back into my memory the gifts I have received-my creation, redemption, and other gifts particular to myself. I will ponder with deep affection how much Our Lord God has done for me, and how much he has given of me of what he possesses, and consequently how he, the same Lord, desires to give me even his very self, in accordance with his divine design." The Saint travelled from near suicidal despondency to reach this happier way of thinking, and countless Jesuits over centuries have brought the Lord to those who undertake the exercises. Finally in this 21st century, many in the profession of psychology have finally caught up with Ignatius, offering "positive therapy" or "cognitive psychology" in which we learn how to change our feelings by changing our thoughts."
This is such a welcome synthesis of faith and psychology.  Just reading it made me feel like something I've been trying to express has now been expressed.  Psychology disintegrated from faith and the needs of the soul seems so rampant now; I think you will do a huge service by writing on this.   Thanks for you reply, especially the carry your cross observation; I couldn't agree more.  I'm sure Mary and the saints had mind-bending suffering to endure and they did it only with the medication of faith.   
 
Kay Satterfield
8 years 5 months ago
Recently someone I know compared the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to a 12 step program.  St. Ignatius was given a real gift that he shared.  He was way ahead of his time.  You mentioned how important having the habit of gratitude helps in warding off depression.  I would like you to comment on the role that faith can play in psychological healing.  Thank you.
Francis Perry Azah
8 years 5 months ago
Dr. William Van Ornum, your write-up is a wonderful beginning. The various issues/aspects you put forward to work on will be very interesting. The other areas put across by others who posted their comments also would be great, if only you can have some time to touch on them.

Most often when we talk about abuse, we limit ourselves to only sexual abuse and its effects on the victim and sometimes the family; the role of the Church in the healing process of these victims. How about physical and emotional abuse and neglect, and their impact on the psychological and spiritual development of the victim and also society at large?

Another aspect to look at would be: Is there any relationship between psychology and the depletion of the natural environment? Has the Church Fathers had any comment on these issues? These and other areas I am looking forward to read from you.
we vnornm
8 years 5 months ago
Dear Jeff:
Thank you again for your insights. bill van ornum
we vnornm
8 years 5 months ago
Dear Ms. Satterfield:
Thank you for reading the blog and writing. A Jesuit friend once told me that one of the founders of AA received spiritual direction from a Jesuit priest, so it appears that there is a direct link in AA and in other groups to Jesuit spirituality. Faith and healing will indeed be a good topic to explore. best, bill van ornum
we vnornm
8 years 5 months ago
Dear Father Perry:
Thank you for your thoughtful suggestions. Of the many ways people are mistreated, I suspect neglect is one that in many ways is invisible to others. Yet neglect is incredibly powerful, being ostracized from a group is one of the most potent punishments that can be dished out. Are there persons in the pews next to us who suffer from neglect outside of Church, and then find themselves in a similar environment?
Many of the things written about in magazines involve major trends and issues, important to reflect on, but at the same time so vast in scope that any one person lacks direct control. Not true of those neglected persons around us, each of us can influence their lives. Therapists often hear heartbreaking stories of neglect and loneliness. Psychology and the environment? Good topic, but I will have to do some homework. amdg, bill van ornum
Cliff Kirchmer
8 years 5 months ago
I have been inspired by the writings and recordings (audio and video) of Anthony de Mello, S.J. (1931-1987).  As his biography in Wikipedia states, he was a Jesuit priest and psychotherpist who became widely known for his books on spirituality.  I would be interested in reading an article that provided insite into how the principles of psychology and psychotherapy are incorporated into his teachings on spirituality.
Cliff Kirchmer
8 years 5 months ago
Correction to previous comment - It should be "insight", not "insite".
we vnornm
8 years 5 months ago
Dear Mr. Kirchmer:
 
I will do some reading on Fr. de Mello. I have a peripheral awareness that he is considered a man of integrity who stood up to great forces pressing against him. Please, no need to let us know about "insight". We're not a tabloid and we're not going to allow the grammar police. It's okay if I make a mistake to let me know right here or at my email address. Besides, the English language changes, and is changing. For the scholars among you I recommend H.L. Mencken "The English Language." Blots, like chats among friends or folks together in the coffee shop, have a certain level of informality and tolerance-the message and the connection is the most important thing. Of course, articles, books, etc. are different. I suspect that our young people are leading us into shorthand forms of English that may even help us communicate more quickly: can u c this? Anyway, IMHO. And as always, best wishes and amdg. bill
 
 
 
 
 
 
8 years 4 months ago
In regards to the article on child maltreatment whehter it be physical or sexual in nature, I know that it does not need to happen. The major problem we have in America especially, is the mistreatment and abuse of minorities and women by men over the past several centuries. For too long women and minorities were not even citizens. They were either slaves or chattle. Therefore they were denied the right to higher education and the right to their own person, freedom, dignity, and identity. This coupled with poor values and cultural imperatives, have helped to bring about physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual, social, and psychological abuse. Get rid of these problems and ammend this country's laws so that equity for all is in place and you will elimiate the other problems. I do not beleive there is treatment for sexual abuse. The person who continually behaves in this manner unfortunately, needs to be eliminated.
we vnornm
8 years 4 months ago
Dear Mr./Ms. Ranger:
Thank you very much for your comments. There are many laws needing amendment and a need for new laws, too. Unfortunately changes in peoples hearts do not follow with changes in the law, there continues to be prejudice against African Americans despite all the laws enacted. Because it is hidden in hearts, it is hard to confront, and there is alot of work to be done amdg. bill van ornum
 
 
 
CHRIS SINNAPPAN
7 years 7 months ago
I am very interested to discuss spirituality and helping those with emotional and mental illness. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I often find that there are certain situations that only God and prayer can help. I would like to hear your views on medication and psychology. I look forward to hearing more from you.

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