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JPII and St. Nicholas

Monday, February 3, 2014

JPII vs. Freudian/Jungian Psychology

I have often wondered, after taking a more or less triumphalistic attitude toward Wojtyla: “are there any dangers with his philosophy? Can it be misinterpreted or subject to miscommunication?” I wager that it can, and the evidence I have comes from humanistic psychology.

A contemporary of Carl Rogers, Dr. William Coulson, admits to the disastrous effects of what he and Rogers coined as “nondirective psychotherapy”[1]. Essentially, this form of counseling relies on the individual to, in my understanding: “feel his/her way through the vicissitudes of life with utmost trust in self-fulfilling desires”. The term “nondirective” means precisely that, “no direction given”—a kind of existential self-arbitration in the name of Jungian Individuation, etc. In summary, this way of thinking about the person can result in the denial of original sin, or its effects on the baptized person, namely concupiscence. Here, JPII is very controversial in suggesting that concupiscence can be overcome in a redeemed man. Not that his faith in the redemption of Christ is fallacious, but its interpretation by the likes of Christopher West and others can be questionable.

Rogers and Coulson visited a number of west coast convents in the 1960s, with permission to further their research with TFN (or therapy for normals)[2], after having “successfully” implemented the nondirective psychotherapy on neurotic patients in Chicago. They formed “encounter” groups with upwards of 560 nuns, encouraging them to “refrain from spouting doctrine and tell them how they really felt about who they are”. As a result, Dr. Coulson admits to the dissolution of entire orders under his “nondirective” influence[3].

As a Catholic graduate of Notre Dame, Dr. Coulson’s confession about the dangers of psychotherapy adds invaluable wisdom to the understanding of Wojtyla today. His research tempers any extreme trends toward subjectivism or overemphasis on immanence as a means to fulfill personal desires. Likewise, he points to the authority of the Catholic Church, and the prominence of Christ as her source of authority. Throughout the writings of JPII I have found this same reference to the authority of the Church, and only those seeking to liberalize him fail to see the references.

As I have written before about solipsism being both subjectivist and objectivist in the thought of JPII, I believe that Dr. Coulson’s assessment of the results of his research may be interpreted to fall more on the objectivist side of the spectrum. That being said, it is necessary to be fully aware of the dangers of both extremes: too much emphasis on subjectivity and too much emphasis on objectivity.

The term that fans of JPII seem to have adopted to avoid such extremes is “intersubjectivity”. This is a fitting and respectful term for interpersonal activity and experience, so long as it is not confused with other psychotherapeutic terminology: Jungian collective unconscious, Freudian id, etc. Why do I make such a distinction? Mainly due to the fact that I believe this other psychobabble to be at the root of a system employed by Rogers and (formerly) Coulson to supplant the Biblical and Ecclesial understanding of the makeup of the human person.

For example, I recently read a commentary by a psychologist on Dante’s Inferno which borrowed from Jung[4], “if you consider the Inferno, as Dr. C. G. Jung believed, ‘hell represents, among every culture, the disturbing aspect of the collective unconscious,’ since it speaks of the trials and travails of humanity as a collective whole”. A number of alarming ideas present themselves from this psychological worldview, which, ironically, negates evil instead of recognizing it as such.

What do I mean by that exactly? Just as when Rogers and Coulson’s experiments resulted in the denial of the influence of original sin and concupiscence on their subjects, so too, the Jungian and Freudian worldview can deceive an individual into thinking that he/she is the source of goodness, creative power, archetypal destiny, etc. And, unfortunately, this way of seeing can encompass both the objective and subjective realms, such that “collective unconscious” is common to all people and at the same time intersubjective. All of a sudden, the common hermeneutic of psychotherapy can be strictly based on personal libido, on unconscious urges, and in a word: the desires of the flesh.

So, that brings me to a diagram constructed for the sake of illustrating the differences between the ecclesial vision of the human person vs. the Freudian and Jungian understanding:

Ecclesial/Biblical:                          Freudian:                         Jungian:

Flesh[5]                                       Id                                    Collective Unconscious

Body                                           Ego                                  Self

Soul                                            Superego                          Individualized self

Thus, we have the three visions of the human person. Over time, the first two have been shown to be somewhat compatible in intellectual discourse. Wojtyla and other Church leaders have employed Freudian terminology for half a century. However, I have tried to argue that by themselves, the Freudian and Jungian views of the human person are Godless—or even worse, self-idolatrous. Not to mention that they turn God’s creation of man as a psychosomatic unity (body and soul) into just “mind” or psychological being. Therefore, the ecclesial vision of man is healthier and more holistic, even though it identifies the inclinations of the flesh as evil.

Returning to the quote about Dante’s Inferno, then, we see that the Jungian vision of man exposes itself as pantheistic. Even to the point of including hell in the self-idolatrous make up of the human person. More alarming than that, I understand Jung’s vision to be verging on the annihilation of distinction between human persons, turning “intersubjectivity” into “primordial soup”—where one person’s “mind” is indecipherable from the next. Hell is excused as that which we all have in common, but are unwilling to venture into without the courage of Jesus, Dante, or Aeneas. Furthermore, we dare not call it evil lest one of our collectively unconscious comrades might actually go there.
Coulson says this about the willingness of the sisters to be duped into "encounter groups" which were geared toward exploiting their weaknesses and 'misery' as celibates:
Making one's own rules is not compatible with community life, or even with the Catholic faith, and it wasn't long before values-free therapy groups were causing conflicts with religious orders...It is not the case that we didn't believe in institutions, we believed only in our own. So, it was stupid for the Church to allow this to happen because it was inviting the enemy in. We were the Trojan horse. (Sisters in Crisis, Ann Carey, Ignatius Press, 2010)

In conclusion, I stand with the repentant Coulson in regard to the inadequacy of psychotherapy to solve the problems and sins of man. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said that the Church has the truest and most time-tested understanding of the human person, and Coulson’s interview agrees: “psychologists don’t know what they are doing when it comes to the inner depth of the human person; and one would think that the Catholic Church, with 2000 years’ experience, does know”[6].


[1] Dr. William Coulson. “Story of a Repentant Psychologist”. EWTN, Manassas VA, 2010. http://www.ewtn.com/library/

[2] Ibid. See also http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kathyschiffer/2012/04/william-coulson-and-the-lcwr-we-overcame-their-traditions-and-their-faith/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dr. Carole Brooks Platt. http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2013/09/30/fall-sweeps/. See also http://www.carolebrooksplatt.com/

[5] *In using the term ‘flesh’, I refer to that in man which is a result of original sin, is subject to concupiscence (if baptized), and rebellion against the Triune God. Note: The Church has always emphasized the importance of virtue in determining the overall well-being of a person (see my posts on Virgil and Dante). Only since the introduction of Rogers and Coulson's (based on Jung and Freud's) research to the modern era has "self-esteem" replaced virtue as the measure of excellence.

[6] Dr. William Coulson. “Story of a Repentant Psychologist”. EWTN, Manassas VA, 2010. http://www.ewtn.com/library/

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