QUESTION: Laudetur Iesus Christus!
In psychiatry there are manuals for diagnosing people and giving them diagnoses. It seems very important for the modern world to have it that way.
In spiritual counseling/direction there are no diagnoses whatsoever. Other methods are used. It must be that way.

It seems to me that spiritual problems are of completely another sort than psychiatric problems. Is this also how you see it?
It seems that people who go to the Church for help with their life often also have psychological problems. Is this actually the case?
It seems that spiritual counseling/direction are of completely another sort than psychological counseling. How then is it different?

ANSWER: There are three things here.  One is "psychiatric illness" which refers to a number of abnormalities of thought, emotion, etc.  In general, these either cannot be cured, or require medical intervention.  Most are probably related to neurochemical changes.   The second area include "neuroses" in Freud's term.  These have to do with disordered thinking.  A child who is constantly through word or action made to feel substandard or inadequate might have such a problem; "magical" thinking an superstition fall into this category as well.  Many sexual disorders are here.  Some addictive behavior is "neurotic".  Neuroses are very troublesome, and difficult to eradicate; but they can be overcome by many counter-behavioral techniques, including classical psychotherapy, behavior modification, "twelve step" programs, and sometimes by sheer will power.  Most of us have a little bit of neurosis and live productive lives.  
Spiritual direction does not "diagnose" because the assumption is that you begin with a normal individual, who is seeking closer union with God. The spiritual director is not supposed to "direct" but rather, tries to determine where a person is on his spiritual journey, and what impediments there still are to spiritual growth.  The assumption is that if these things can be discovered, the person will want to overcome them, whereas with neuroses, the assumption is that the person hangs on to the neurosis because it satisfies some need.  IN spiritual direction, the director converses with the directee, and tries to reflect back to that individual what he sees as a possible area that needs work.  
You are right that there are a lot of people with neuroses that seek help through religious means.  That's why good spiritual directors are trained to recognize (and sometimes treat) people with neuroses.  They are also trained to recognize psychiatric illness a refer those patients to someone competent to care for them.  Hope this helps.  

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QUESTION: Is it difficult for people to distinguish between mortal sin (what needs to be confessed) and what is something that is more of psychological nature?
How do you Catholics know what to confess when distinguishing between these two are so difficult for us humans?
Mortal sin is something very evil. So all those people who go to confession must then have done something really evil (you don't have to confess venial sin)?

When we go to confession, we are hoping to receive God's help to overcome those things we confess; consequently most Catholics who go to confession are confessing venial sins and faults.  It's true that we don't have to confess anything but mortal sins, but in the confessional the priest gives us advice as to how to go about overcoming our habitual sins.  As for confessing mortal sins, the Church makes it clear what a mortal sin is.  It has to be a) a serious matter; b) known by the sinner to be a serious matter; and c) done freely.  The Church teaches, for example, that practicing artificial birth control is a serious matter; but most Catholic couples either have decided it isn't a serious matter, or feel that they have no choice in the matter, so that for them, it isn't a mortal sin.  The point is that a mortal sin represents a choice to disobey God deliberately and without pressure.  Thus for a Catholic to deliberately do something, knowing that it offends God, even if what he chooses to do is not serious; if he believes it is serious, it's a mortal sin.  Hope this helps.  


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Donald Higby


Most any question about Catholic teachings, the structure of the Church, issues related to Catholic teachings on sexuality and marriage; I also know a lot about biblical foundations for Catholic teaching, and apologetics. As a scientist and a deacon, I am conversant with the dialogue between science and religion.


Deacon, 13 years; Religion minor, Catholic University of America. Self study.

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Diaconal Formation, four years (college level courses) Catholic University of America, religion minor, philosophy minor. (AB)

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