Gerald May cautioned us about the dangers of “psychologizing” the spiritual journey and of “spiritualizing” psychotherapy. For him the two are not opposite sides of the same coin. The same conclusion is evident in this work by a trained historian, psychologist, and theologian of the Orthodox Church.
Prior to entering the monastery, Archbishop Chrysostomos completed a doctorate in psychology at Princeton and taught psychology at the University of California. In several works, he has brought great care and scholarship to the elaboration of a Patristic Psychology, by which he means, “a statement about human cognition, social psychological factors in human behavior, human sexuality, and abnormal psychology”. A Guide to Orthodox Psychotherapy is his fullest expression of that effort.
The text contains four chapters in which the author 1. explores the relationship between the science of psychology and religion; 2. provides a brief overview of Orthodox anthropology and salvation with attention to key problems in understanding within Orthodoxy and between the Eastern and Western Churches; 3. a review of the nature of and controversies around Hesychasm, with a clear statement on the healing intention and power of deification; and 4. articulates an understanding of the relationship between clinical psychotherapy and cure of the soul within an Orthodox way of life.
This book operates on several fronts and would be beneficial to counselors, pastoral counselors, and spiritual directors for several reasons. There is a great need for the delivery of culturally and religiously competent psychotherapy. This text is a useful introduction to counselors who may find themselves working with Orthodox Christians. There is an ongoing need for pastoral theology to positively reconcile theory and practice. This text witnesses to a remarkable personal integration of scholarship and pastoral care. Finally, the work provides a clear statement of the relationship and distinction between the psychological and spiritual lives of Christians. His concerns echo May's fears that a careless counselor or pastoral counselor may uncritically confuse psychological depression and spiritual desolation to the great detriment of the client. He reminds his reader of the need for scientific study of the efficacy of therapeutic interventions. However, to my mind, the author's strongest point regards his understanding of the place of spiritual practices within an overall way of life. The Archbishop Chrysostomos, whose psychological specialty included social psychology, provides a rich understanding of the construction of mental health and spiritual perfection within a particular religious and cultural world. Within the Orthodox tradition, spiritual master and disciple shared a common worldview (including anthropology, history, and theology). It is not self-evident that specific practices could be exported piecemeal and be expected to have the same salutary effects. In the end, if the reader does not expect a detailed practitioner's guide to doing therapy with Orthodox clients, she or he will find it to be highly accessible, informative and thought-provoking.