Orthodox theology is revealed knowledge acquired through the experience of God. Theology shows us what a whole, healed, perfect human person looks like. This is the image given to Sts. Peter, James, and John on Mount Tabor. The Orthodox Way shows us who human beings were intended to be in the beginning, who we are now, and who we can become. By way of experiential revealed theology, not speculative rational philosophy or theorizing, we know the ultimate cause of our problems and the most thorough cure for the healing of the human person.
Secular psychology is quite limited. It is based, not on revelation, but on the observation of fallen humanity (that is, human beings who are afflicted by death and its symptom – the sickness of soul and body). A “normal” person through the perspective of psychology is still a person suffering from sickness, corruption, and death. “Normal” in a secular sense is far from perfection.
While the Orthodox understand human behaviour and the cure of the human person from within the revealed Tradition, which has been passed down and lived through the centuries from generation to generation, secular psychology is constantly observing human behaviour and rationally speculating on causes for behaviours and methods for treatment. While the methods of secular psychology can help people to some degree on a psychological (rational) and emotional level, it can never reach far enough to heal the soul on the spiritual level, where the root cause of sickness lies. The Orthodox Way, on the other hand, penetrates deeply into the soul to cure the entire human person.
Theories of secular psychology cannot be effectively grafted onto the inexhaustible Mystery of the Orthodox Church. The social sciences, including psychology, like the hard sciences, are by nature always open to change. No scientific theory based on human ideas about the created universe should be dogmatised, but all theories, models, and views may be challenged, changed, or discarded in light of new evidence. Revealed divine theology, which remains constant and abides in fullness within the Church, can never be tied to or integrated with humanly-made scientific theories or philosophies that progress and change over time. Secular psychology has nothing to teach the Church, which is the “pillar and ground of truth” and fountain of healing. Orthodox mental health professionals may, however, find helpful techniques developed within secular psychology based on observation of human behaviour that could prove useful when firmly planted in the mind and life of the Orthodox Church, the healing context of the Orthodox Way.
A lay Orthodox mental health professional, dedicated to prayer, can make known the active presence and unconditional love of God to those who seek healing. Some patients will be open to pursuing the deepest healing within the life of the Church, while others may deny the spiritual reality or resist addressing spiritual issues. Even in secular facilities, Orthodox therapists may be permitted to ask clients about their religious/spiritual backgrounds and may endeavour to help the person understand who the true God is while guiding them toward an understanding of God’s love for us. In our society, people (including atheists) tend to have a concept of God based to Western ideologies. A mental health professional can perhaps share parables about the kingdom of heaven from the Holy Gospels and passages from the writings of the Fathers. Hopefully, many Orthodox mental health care centers will be established wherein patients, Orthodox Christians and non-Orthodox people, can receive quality care according to the Orthodox ethos within the context of the life of the Church.
Orthodox mental health professionals who wish to be the offer the best care must pursue their own salvation with humility, prayer, and repentance.
Fr Symeon Kees