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Orthodoxy and modern psychology

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Archpriest Vadim Leonov is a doctor of theology, associate professor, vice-rector for scientific and theological work at the Sretensky Theological Seminary, Moscow. The article is based on a report presented by the author of the conference “The place of psychology in spiritual education” at the Orthodox University “St. John the Theologian “on March 22, 2021

Attempts at rapprochement between Orthodoxy and modern psychology seem to me to be a mutual coincidence between two travelers who want to walk together on the same path, but are at a distance from each other – at opposite ends of a large field dotted with beautiful flowers and fragrant herbs.

However, under the cover of the beautiful greenery there are mines, without the disposal of which their rapprochement is impossible. I see my task in this – to mark the explosive topics, as I see them from the position of an Orthodox pastor. It is clear that something else is being seen on the other side, and the relevant work must be done by both sides. Without identifying dangerous “zones” and their “demining”, it is difficult to talk about rapprochement, and in the case of real reckless interaction without prior resolution of existing contradictions, severe injuries cannot be avoided.

So, to list some of the most obvious problematic topics and issues in the field of interaction between Orthodox pastoral care and modern psychology.

Heterogeneity, multiplicity, internal contradiction of psychological teachings

If the question of the interaction between Orthodox pastoral care and psychology is placed in a general plan, it means that in the future Orthodox pastors should interact not with a limited circle of selected psychologists with an Orthodox worldview [1], but with psychology as a science.

If such a task were set with respect to physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, genetics, or any other traditional science, then even despite the discrepancies in our understanding of the world and man, we would generally have a holistic view of church and scientific teaching that we would we could compare, contrast, oppose, build bridges between them, etc. Unfortunately, in the case of psychology, everything is much more complicated. Every bright person in psychology, and there have been and are many of them, tries not only to develop what existed before him, but also to build something fundamentally new: his system, his school, which, after it has already appeared. , began to live his own life along with many other schools. Such endless swarming is observed even within a psychological direction.

Let’s take the story of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. At the beginning, his student Alfred Adler dropped out of it, creating his own psychoanalytic concept, severely condemned by the founder Freud. Then separated Carl Jung, who was actively interested in mythology, spiritualism and occult theories. Subsequent neo-Freudians also set about establishing their own psychoanalytic schools (Erich Fromm, Karen Horne, Eric Bjorn, Harry Sullivan, etc.). This process of swarming, opposition, mutual refutation continues to this day. Modern psychoanalysis in a broad sense – these are more than 20 concepts of mental development of man, and psychotherapeutic methods in psychoanalysis differ as much as the theories themselves.

Therefore, if, for example, the task is set to compare the ascetic teaching of the Church and psychoanalysis, the question arises: with which of the twenty theories of psychoanalysis should we compare? Which one is the most authoritative? No one in the psychoanalytic community knows the answer to this question. But psychoanalysis is only a small part of modern psychology. In its other areas, we also encounter a huge number of contradictory or autonomous theories explaining the same psychological phenomenon in different or even opposite ways. On this basis, many even more contradictory psychological methods are built. Obviously, we cannot build meaningful relationships with all these concepts at once, but if we are crossing bridges with only a few “chosen ones”, then what should be our selection criteria? Where is the truth?

The lack of an effective “immune system” in psychology

In church life and the classical natural sciences, there are internal mechanisms that protect fundamental principles, values, and ideas from distortion. Using these mechanisms, the Church condemns delusions and heresies, rejects heretics and various others for their doctrinal apostasies and moral transgressions.

There are similar mechanisms in the traditional sciences. In them, the unproven claim, the unverifiable experience is rejected, and all attempts to introduce magic or unfounded mysticism into scientific constructions are severely denounced as manifestations of pseudoscience, and their authors as charlatans. It is impossible to imagine a priest who considers himself a colleague of a shaman, or an astronomer who publishes an article in a scientific journal with a professional astrologer.

However, psychology shows great tolerance in this regard. In the famous Internet portal of psychologists www.b17.ru in the list of offered methods of psychological help are listed and hypnotherapy, and NLP, and integrated neuroprogramming, and transpersonal psychotherapy, and many other things that cause from a scientific point of view big questions, and from a Christian point of view they are completely unacceptable. Moreover, a large number of these psychologists (more than 40,000 graduates are registered) openly practice astrology, astropsychology, Vedic astrology, and various types of hypnosis, deal with tarot card predictions and other occult methods. Often all these things go together in a common package of services provided by a certified psychologist. We can see the same diversity and syncretism in every bookstore if we look in the Psychology section. Books on scientific psychology occupy a very modest and inconspicuous place there. Most are books with varying degrees of occultism, magic and unreviewed populism.

Attempts to develop an “immune system” for self-purification and self-defense against charlatanism and unscrupulous people are also made in psychological organizations. But even if such protective mechanisms arise, they work only within local groups and do not have a purifying effect on the psychological community as a whole.

We cannot but acknowledge the high degree of scientific development of some sections of general, age, clinical, pedagogical psychology and clinical psychiatry. However, experts in these fields do not openly distance themselves from all unscientific and even overtly occult methods used by other colleagues, and this is the main sign of an ineffective “immune system”. An occult psychologist rejected in one place can easily find a haven in another without losing his status as a psychologist. Therefore, until the mechanisms of self-purification begin to work effectively, it is not worth opening the gates of the Church to the whole psychological community in its diversity.

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