Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses

by Andrea Elizabeth

Before reading the three volume, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses by Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet, I have had a couple of “live” discussions as to why I have been hesitant to start. This can be boiled down to the traditional boiling down of a person’s lack of progress toward theosis being a problem of vice vs. virtue. I am gluttonous, self-loving, lustful, greedy, angry, fearful, sad, despondent, prideful and vain because I choose these vices over virtue. The therapy is asceticism and grace.

My problem is that psychological conditions are not considered. Abuse and neglect in one’s past is not presented. When I have heard them elsewhere presented, the focus immediately shifts to forgiveness and that’s it. I want a more detailed psychological process. I get this mainly from fiction where a character’s emotional and motivational journey is logically laid out. Cause, effect, intervention, realization, choice to get better or not, difficulties in getting over stuff, etc.

I started reading anyway. I like that the first book starts out saying that virtue is natural and vice is unnatural. It then goes on to say our wills choose the unnatural option, thus we are bad people anyway. Yes, I know this is what the Fathers teach. I love that St. Maximus is quoted so much, but it’s mostly his 4 Centuries on Love, which I have had to put down because it’s all about detachment and I already feel alienated.

However, I do like the desert fathers who alienated themselves in order to fight alone against their passions. I do agree with the method. Maybe my problem is because I am western. Even the British stiff upper lip is largely looked down on nowadays. Compassion, tolerance, and non-discrimination against people with weaknesses is the rage (ha ha) currently.

How I would approach this instead is more individualistic where natural and nurtural causes were more validated. These can include a person’s generational, cultural, familial, ancestral, and traumatic, diseased or bio chemical influences. Metropolitan Jonah is the only one I’ve heard speak on caution when administering asceticism to just anybody. He tells the story of a lady who went psychotic and left the Church because too heavy dose of saying the Jesus Prayer set off a lot of buried and unrealized abuse trauma. There are automatic responses to trauma that are not the person’s will. Such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A person cannot help that he wakes up in the middle of the night with panicky thoughts. The sacraments and many of the prayers can help, but healing will take a long time and the person needs support and encouragement, which I’m not sure would be found in this series. Soldiers feel a lot of guilt already, so being told you are a chooser of vice doesn’t seem the right approach to them in my opinion. My favorite ptsd stories involve the use of service dogs who give the soldier the unconditional love, warmth, sensitivity and companionship that will bring tears to your eyes to watch.