The fundamental difference

by Andrea Elizabeth

from Orthodox Interventions by Archimandrite Andrew (Vujisic)

“it should be noted that many reputable contemporary mental health workers and theoreticians view sin as an essential factor in psychological disorders and pathologies, and believe that secular psychology and ideology have dismissed sin as a part of the disease process (Bouton, 2004, Hodges 1987). In modern western culture, labeling actions as sinful is politically incorrect (Bouton 2004). Secular thought has replaced sin with lists of psychological illnesses (Bouton, 2004; Dileo, 2007). For example, self-esteem replaces sinful pride, victim-hood replaces envy, being disadvantaged replaces being greedy, etc. (Backus, 2000).” [pg 62]

Perhaps “sin” has been replaced because its western Calvinistic, totally depraved context causes psychological damage. If sin is “missing the mark” as it is in the east, or “incorrectness”, or “unhealthiness”, we can bring it back into the discussion. Still, I wonder if there is more to be understood about objective cause and effect of external stressors, such as results in post traumatic stress, for example. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is a grieving process, necessary self-defense, and appropriate emotional expressions of pain. It becomes incorrect or sinful if one moves too far toward, or gets stuck in the above list. Additionally, certain types of traumas occurring during certain age groups predispose one to stumble later on in specific ways, which is what I think the Scripture saying Woe unto those who cause these little ones to stumble, means. There is a certain victim syndrome that occurs. Victims probably do consent to envy, over-indulgence in comfort measures and escapism, self-pity, entitlement, and revenge-seeking. And western psychology does have certain corrections for these. I think it’s nice that they validate the pain that they went through and say it wasn’t all their fault, because victims also have a problem with taking too much responsibility for what happened and blaming themselves.

I have heard a few Orthodox teachers talk about the need for some people to see western psychologists. Maybe if there was more of an integration in understanding the Church wouldn’t need to do that as much, because Orthodoxy does have the remedy.