This blog came out of a conversation on Linked-In (as many of my conversations seem to these days.It is a fascinating place to hang out with like-minded people.) I mentioned that I found many parallels between psychotherapy and religion. I was invited to take this further. This blog is a partial answer to that invitation.The precise roots of the word “Religion” are contested-which sets the tone for all subsequent matters dealing with religion! One sense is that religion is concerned with the respect for what is sacred. Another element is that religion binds fast. I don’t see too much there that puts it at odds with psychotherapy whose roots are in the healing of the soul or mind.
Religion and psychotherapy both reverence the sacred-although religion wants to copyright this experience. (So, mind you, can psychotherapy!) But at best both disciplines value the sacred. I certainly know the experience of standing on Holy ground whether I am sitting with a patient who is exploring something delicate and precious to them.Or if I am standing in a cathedral or simply walking in the woods.There is that sense of awe that leaves me wanting to hold my breath.
Equally both religion and psychotherapy can bind fast in a destructive way. Our insurance policies still have a clause that calls something an act of God. Usually something destructive that nobody foresaw or understood. Change” an act of God” for “the unconscious” and I doubt the insurance companies would quibble. We can attribute all manner of ills to the unconscious and leave our patents with nowhere to go because, like God, we impute the presence of unconscious processes from what we see and hear from our patients. (I would be hard put to point to the location of the unconscious.. But no more could I point to the location of God. Both are acts of faith And both are ways of talking about processes we don’t fully understand but which we feel need some kind of explanation. Both concepts can be binding in a punitive way. We can bind with ideas of Sin. We bind with ideas of the unconscious Both can be used to control others.
Equally, both can be used to bind in a healing fashion . We speak of binding a wound to stop infection and promote healing. Religion and therapy can also work this way.
I have encountered therapists who seems bent of punishing their patients and colleagues for unknown unconscious issues that are inhibiting their growth. I have met priests and pastors who castigate their congregation for their sins-known and unknown. (It is fascinating to see how often the difficulties both therapist and priest impute to their flocks resemble their own difficulties!)