Orthodox Psychotherapy

“Orthodox Psychotherapy” By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
“The term I used in my first book, published in 1986, caused considerable reactions – positive and negative – and thus I have had to explain it on various occasions. I will present some of these explanations here.
orthodox psych hiero
First, the term “psychotherapy” was coined in the West by various psychological, psychoanalytical and psychotherapeutic schools of thought which did not comprehend the soul (“psyche” in Greek) in the same way the Orthodox Tradition does. By “psyche”, modern psychology denotes the set of conscious and unconscious manifestations of experiences and behaviors. In the Orthodox Tradition, however, the term “psyche” denotes the spiritual element of man’s existence, which is in unity with the body and constitutes a hypostasis. I used the term psychotherapy adding the word Orthodox, and as I have explained many times Orthodox psychotherapy has a different anthropology than the anthropology of western psychotherapy.

Second, I associate closely the term “psychotherapy” with the neptic-hesychastic tradition. This is a life described in the works of the Holy Fathers regarding man’s inner life, in watchfulness (“nepsis”) and prayer. Of course, this neptic-hesychastic tradition can also be found in the books of the Old and the New Testament. Thus, the term “Orthodox psychotherapy” is to be understood not as a psychological, emotional and intellectual balance, but as the way for man to know God. In essence, it is the cleansing of the image of God that was darkened due to the original sin, it is the activation of the path to the likeness of God, which constitutes man’s communion with God, namely deification, theosis.

Third, although the discussion is about Orthodox psychotherapy and this refers to the term “psyche”, it is actually used for the cure of the entire person, both body and soul, without, of course, ignoring the medical science. In fact, as we see in the patristic tradition, the soul is closely linked with the body and there are interactions between these two elements of human existence. Therefore, inner peace is related to both the soul and the body.
gregory palamas
It is important to note that the hesychast movement that occurred in the 14th century, as expressed in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, and in the texts of the Councils between 1341-1368, some of which are read on the Sunday of Orthodoxy in the Synodikon, refers not only to the soul but also to the body. Barlaam, the philosopher who expressed western scholasticism, devalued the human body. On the contrary, St. Gregory Palamas demonstrated the great significance of the human body, due among else to the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, and developed theologically the teaching of the Church regarding the deification of the whole person, soul and body.

The entire work of the Church deals with the cure of soul and body. Through the Sacraments, that is, Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Communion, Ordination, Marriage, Unction, Confession, the whole person is blessed, consisting of soul and body.

Fourth, Orthodox psychotherapy does not overlook medical methods for therapy, even modern psychology, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Orthodox psychotherapy aims at man’s deification, while humanistic psychotherapy is interested in man’s psychosomatic balance and his socialization either within the family or within the society. In fact there has to be a cooperation between the Spiritual Father who employs Orthodox psychotherapy and the psychiatrist who is interested in curing illnesses related with the neurological system and psychological imbalances.

I believe that to a great degree the term “Orthodox psychotherapy” refers to psychology, psychotherapy, and neurology. We know that in the past there had been a great divergence between psychotherapy and neurology. Recently, however, it has been realized that these two disciplines have to cooperate, because illnesses of the neurological system affect man’s psychological aspect, and likewise psychological illnesses affect the neurocells, the genes, etc., namely the body itself. Thus, Orthodox psychotherapy relates psychology to neurology, but goes beyond them because, as will be explained later on, Orthodox psychotherapy functions beyond the limits of science, without ignoring it. At the same time it helps both the psychosomatic composition and the socialization of a person.
illness and cure
Compared to the several schools of psychotherapy in the western world, “Orthodox psychotherapy” has more similarities with existential psychology-psychotherapy, as articulated by Viktor Frankl, without being identical to it.
It is in this context that I have employed the term “Orthodox psychotherapy”, and it has been comprehended as such by those who study things in a serious and responsible manner, not irresponsibly. To be fair, I have to mention that in my analysis I was influenced by Fr. John Romanides who taught that Orthodox theology is a therapeutic science and that if Christianity had first appeared in the 20th century it would have been received as a therapeutic science, and in its methodology it would appear to be psychotherapy or neurology.
The title of one of his articles is indeed telling: “Religion is a Neurobiological Illness and Orthodoxy is Its Cure”.

In any case, the term “Orthodox psychotherapy” was accepted by scholars, as demonstrated in the voluminous book titled “Manual of Psychotherapy and Religious Diversity”, published by the American Psychological Society. The book describes therapies offered by religions.
handbook psych rleigion
In a chapter titled “Psychotherapy With Eastern Orthodox Christians”, written by Tony Young, there is extensive reference to the psychotherapy offered by the Orthodox Church and the calming effects deriving from Confession and the Jesus Prayer recited in the heart.

Another important article has been written by Paul Kymissis titled “From Neurobiology to the Uncreated Light”, which discusses the great significance of the Orthodox Tradition for man’s spiritual health.”
An extract from http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2013/03/the-foundations-of-orthodox.html
“His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios (also Ierotheos) serves the Metropolis of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios in the Church of Greece. He has been Metropolitan of Nafpaktos since 1995. He was born Georgios S. Vlachos in Ioannina, Epirus, Greece, in 1945 and graduated from the theological school of the University of Thessaloniki. He was ordained a deacon in 1971, taking the monastic name Hierotheos, followed by his ordination as a priest in 1972. He served at the Archbishop’s House of Offices in Athens, as a preacher and Youth Director. He was consecrated bishop on July 20, 1995, and elected Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios in the same year.
He taught Greek for several semesters and gave lectures on Orthodox ethics to the students of the St. John of Damascus Theological School at the University of the Patriarchate of Antioch, in northern Lebanon.
Already in his youth he was particularly interested in the Fathers of the Church, working for a time in the monastery libraries of Mount Athos, on the recording of the codices. He was especially interested in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas.
The influence of Fr. John Romanidis, the study of the patristic texts and particularly those of the hesychast Fathers of the Philokalia, many years of studying St. Gregory Palamas, association with the monks of the Holy Mountain (Mount Athos), and many years of pastoral experience, all brought him to the realisation that Orthodox theology is a science of the healing of man and that the neptic fathers can help the modern restless man who is disturbed by many internal and existential problems.
Within this framework he has written a multitude of books, the fruit of his pastoral work, among which is Orthodox Psychotherapy. Some of these books have been translated into various languages, such as English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic. With these books he conveys the Orthodox spirit of the Philokalia to the restless and disturbed man of our time. This is why they have aroused so much interest.”

His publications include:
• Hesychia and Theology: The Context for Man’s Healing in the Orthodox Church (2007).
• The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition (1993).
• Life after Death (1996).
• Orthodox Psychotherapy (1994).
• Orthodox Spirituality (1994).
• The Person in the Orthodox Tradition (1999).

See http://thoughtsintrusive.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/writings-of-metropolitan-hierotheos-of-nafpaktos/

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