Prayer and Pyschotherapy

Prayer, especially meditative prayer, can focus us away from our problems and onto God (our solution) and His power to heal and restore us. Praying the rosary is particularly effective. As we meditate on the important events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, we become aware of how these events relate to and impact us in our trials and sufferings. We can grasp the joyful mysteries of our own lives from which we often feel disconnected, gain strength in our sufferings and trials, and gain hope in the glory that awaits us as we work through the pain and sadness that has brought us to therapy in the first place. Prayer transports us, not just in theory, but reality into the presence of God, who surrounds and upholds us through our trials and triumphs in life.

But what about those who do not believe, or have trouble trusting in the reality of grace through prayer? What of those who are so hurt and broken that the very concept of a loving Lord, who is there and listening is too foreign for them to conceive and believe? Well, here is where the rubber meets the road. Here is where objective truth really shines in all its glory.

You see, so many of us believe that effective prayer depends somehow on us. If we believe enough, or say the right prayer or novena, we can make things happen. Thanks to so many pernicious New Age concepts that have infiltrated Catholic practice in recent years, many have come to believe in a ‘god within,” or ‘positive thought energy,” or similar ideas that shift the power from the Triune God to this lesser god that dwells within. Although at first glance, it appears attractive to have a god that we in essence can control, the result of such thinking has had disastrous consequences in actual practice, especially in therapy.

The paramount feeling that most clients express upon entering therapy is that their lives feel out of control. Those who have been abused or traumatized indeed had no control in the past and desperately seek ways and means to gain a healthy sense of control and boundaries in their lives. Here is where New Age concepts fall flat, for what can be more frightening for a person trying to work through trauma than the thought that he or she is ultimately responsible for effecting their own healing? Being introduced to the truth of the Triune God, inviting Jesus in as Lord and Healer and transferring their dependence onto Him is the only thing that leads to true liberation and ultimate joy. The success of those twelve-step recovery programs that confess Jesus Christ as Lord bears out this truth.

Through the gift of our Catholic faith, we find the means instituted by Jesus Christ Himself to lead us into this relationship with Him, and to deepen our knowledge of Him and His presence in our lives. Through the sacraments we find, through ordinary things, visible signs of God’s presence and, most importantly, we receive the grace we need to overcome our sins and their effects upon us, as well as the effects of the sins of others against us. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation we focus upon our own sins, confess them and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. This empowers us to overcome these sins and sinful tendencies and, with the grace we have received, to change the only one we have any control over to begin with-ourselves.

Through the reception of the Holy Eucharist, we receive Jesus Christ Himself to dwell within us and give us the grace and the power to conquer our bad habits, to forgive from our hearts through His power, and to increase in holiness, the only true road to freedom and real happiness. The best part of all is, though faith certainly plays an important role, even if we have no faith in prayer or any real understanding of God and the sacraments, it is the obedient use of these very means that builds our faith and understanding. We should take to heart the last recorded words of Our Lady at the marriage feast at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you,” (John 2:5). You will be amazed at the results.

Source: “The Role of Prayer and the Sacraments in Psychotherapy”  by Allison Ricciardi


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