"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Will My Viennese Couch Fit in Your Egyptian Cell?

I know some Eastern Christians who are unduly suspicious, and occasionally contemptuous, of psychology. Some of that suspicion is justified, but some is not. Reading Nina Coltart's wonderful book Slouching Towards Bethlehem: And Further Psychoanalytic Explorations would be especially helpful here in many ways. Psychoanalytic therapy, especially in its classically Freudian variants, has of course been notoriously hostile to "religion" but Coltart, who was director of the London Clinic of Psychoanalysis and vice-president of the British Psychoanalytical Society, was a wonderful exception, openly drawing convincing links between faith (she abandoned the Anglicanism of her childhood to become a Buddhist, but without ignoring or disdaining the benefits and wisdom of a Christian upbringing) and psychoanalytic practice.

Some have attempted to integrate psychology and theology in a Western context but attempts to do that in the Christian East remain few--until now, with the advent of two important works: Stephen Muse, When Hearts Become Flame: An Eastern Orthodox Approach to the dia-Logos of Pastoral Counseling (Orthodox Research Institute, 2011).

Muse, himself a clinician, is editor of an earlier collection on healing in Orthodoxy. 

About this book, which carries a slew of laudatory reviews, the publisher tells us:
When Hearts Become Flame takes its point of departure and return from reflection on the question, "What Makes Counseling Pastoral?" to show that it involves participation of all three aspects of our human nature in dialogue with others in such a way that as in Emmaus, Christ, the Logos, appears 'between' us. It is not enough to be emotionally warm or conceptually accurate or physically energetic. The human person is an integrated presence of all three turned toward trialogue with God, self and others. Taking my cues from Jesus' formulation of the heart of the law, it is clear that an Orthodox approach to pastoral care and counseling cannot be focused solely on the intrapsychic and individual person. Nor can social justice proceed cut off from the wellspring of contemplative life in Christ, as Thomas Merton observed, without burning out or becoming the evil that we fight against. There is both a private inner discernment and ascetical struggle in dialogue with God and an existential and communal outward dimension which involves fellowship in confronting justice issues in society that contribute to the sickness and wellbeing of people. These two domains must be considered together as mutually influencing one another in a circular causality. Given the burgeoning field of counseling and psychotherapy and the growing interest in its spiritual dimensions, the time is ripe for interdisciplinary Orthodox dialogue between priests and practitioners, monastics, theologians and scientists as well as with mental health professionals outside Orthodoxy. The field of pastoral counseling has been largely Protestants and Roman Catholics, who, since the founding of AAPC, have contributed half a century's worth of valuable reflections on the integration of theology and psychology in service to suff ering persons. There is a great deal we can share with one another to know Christ more fully and learn how to serve better and celebrate human potential when it is in co-creative partnership with God to help alleviate human suffering.
The second work, which Peeters has recently drawn to my attention, is Alexis Trader, Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Becks Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds (Peeters, 2011), 370pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck's Cognitive Therapy details a colorful journey deep into two seemingly disparate worlds united by a common insight into the way our thinking influences our emotions, behaviors, and ultimately our lives. In this innovative study about mental and spiritual health, readers are not only provided with a thorough introduction to the elegant theory and practical techniques of cognitive therapy, they are also initiated into the perennial teachings of ascetics and monks in the Greek-speaking East and Latin-speaking West whose powerful writings not only anticipated many contemporary findings, but also suggest unexplored pathways and breathtaking vistas for human growth and development. This groundbreaking interdisciplinary volume in the art of pastoral counseling, patristic studies, and the interface between psychology and theology will be a coveted addition to the working libraries of pastors and psychologists alike. In addition, it is ideal as a textbook for seminary classes in pastoral theology and pastoral counseling, as well as for graduate courses in psychology dealing with the relationship between psychological models and religious worldviews.
Further details, including the table of contents, are available here.

I look forward to seeing both of these reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.


  1. Archbishop Chrysostomos of the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies has written a book review on Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck's Cognitive Therapy appearing in Orthodox Tradition, Volume XXVIII, Number 2 (June, 2011) and posted at


  2. Dr. Bruce Foltz, professor of philosophy at Eckerd College, has also written a fuller review on the Eighth Day Books Blog for Aug. 28 2011. The link is blog.eighthdaybooks.com/


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