Science in Christian Perspective



Psychiatry and Religion:
A Miscible Solution

219 Archer Drive
Santa Cruz
California 95060

From: JASA 28 (March 1976): 24-26.

Champions of science and religion have gone round and round over the relevance of the laboratory versus the pulpit. Although such intellectual discussions are frequently divorced from daily experience, the subject of medical care, specifically psychiatry, is an endeavor requiring vital decisions. Since we live in a world historically rooted in religion and continually challenged by the discoveries of modern science, how can two seemingly antagonistic disciplines simultaneously work for man's edification?

Although the distinctions between humans and other creatures in any specific area may appear nebulous, the totality of human existence consisting of biological, social, psychological, and spiritual components distinguishes man from the rest of creation. For centuries, the authority of the Church permeated all aspects of thought. Man was considered primarily from a spiritual standpoint, neglecting both psychological and social needs. Although psychiatry had its roots in the nineteenth century, it was not until the revolutionary postulations of Sigmund Freud that the world took notice.1

Freud hypothesized that the human psyche is composed of instincts (id), conscience (superego), and that which integrates these two with reality (ego). Conflict in any one of these areas leads to emotional illness.2 Since man is instinctively hostile to society, religion was created in order to make life tolerable.3 Freud hoped that science would ultimately replace the illusion of religion enabling individuals to reason intelligently.4

Religion as Psychic Creation

Although eminent psychologists have deviated somewhat from Freud's original proposals, they generally reinforce his supposition that religion is a psychic creation enabling individuals to better cope with the environment. Adler asserted that religion is an expression of man's yearning for the highest ideal. Contemplation of a deity is simply a manifestation of a desire for perfection and superiority.6 Humanists such as Rogers and Fromm accuse religion, and society in general, of corrupting the innate goodness of man. Only through liberating individuals from such maladies will moral men eventually create a synergistic society.8

Deviating somewhat from his colleagues, Jung concluded that Freud's gravest mistake was to view behavior as resulting merely from sexual drives. Since man  is also a religious creature, Jung believed that the in effable thoughts of the collective unconscious must be  expressed through spiritual symbols in order to harmoniously integrate the external and internal needs of man.5

 The Christian position tends to be more pessimistic  towards man's condition. Homo sapiens by nature is
 alienated from a righteous God. The division between self and sacred can only be remedied through an individual's reestablishment of a spiritual relationship with  the divine Trinity (God-Father, Jesus Christ, Holy
 Spirit). God is not a psychic phenomena, but the foundation of existence.


 Several decades heretofore, a vast majority of society considered psychiatry and religion to be antagonistic
disciplines. Today, the fear of both social stigma and contamination of one's spiritual life discourage many from seeking psychiatric consultation. However, pure psychiatric visits should not deal with the nature of  religious beliefs, but with how freely they are expressed.

Psychiatry is concerned with the phenomena of religious experience as an activity of the human psyche. The processes through which thoughts are formulated  and then externalized are the concerns of the physician
The latter strives to clear up the distortions of one's emotional life, enabling the patient to select the values
 he/she desires. The therapist should not interject moral issues, but allow a person to respond freely to personal
 ambitions. Successful analysis will lead to the emergence  of a patient's genuine attitudes and, subsequently, a
 more fulfilled individual.10

 Critics from circles outside of psychiatry have frequently censured its limited view of man. Some consider psychoanalysis to foster egoism, individual ethics, and morality based on self-indulgence.14 Freudians assume that self-analysis alone will lead to the resolution of one's problems. However, this method sometimes may lead not only to greater self-doubt, but the externalization of unconscious attitudes which are unhealthy or distorted in themselves will not lead to greater fulfillment, only more frustration. Although the analyst often prefers to deal strictly with emotional problems, personal involvement demands humanity. The therapist needs to depart from the neutrality of object-orientation characteristic of the scientific method, and temporarily adopt values similar to all partakers in personal interaction.15

Religious Counseling

The inadequacies of religious counseling have been exposed when dealing with mental illness. The aim of pastoral counseling is to remedy an individual's condition through new religious insights. The counselor and patient are considered to be in an emotional relationship with God as a third party. Mental illness is redressed through a better understanding of self in relationship to others and God.10 According to a survey of ministers concerning their own work, major criticisms were: ineffectiveness of the minister himself (41%),- inconsistencies between actual and ideal religious values (33%); ineffectiveness of religion in helping parishioners with emotional problems(15%); and inconsistencies between religious and scientific values.17 Ministers lack the appropriate training to deal adequately with unconscious disorders. An individual's preoccupation with mystical experiences may not be interpreted as symptoms of schizophrenia. Nor may one's, reliance on church dogma be perceived as an indication of an individual's distrust of his own ability to think. Although the origin of a problem may be spiritual, neglect of the psychological realm may lead to undue frustration.18

Students of human behavior have contributed much to the enrichment of man's spiritual life. Although some claim that religion has neurotic followers tending to be more anxious, less liberal, more authoritarian, less sociable, more concerned with status and appearance, and less concerned with social issues than a non-religious person, these challenges, if nothing else, have instigated a necessary reevaluation of Christian thought and behavior.19 Arnaldo Apolito encourages this "mature religion" which is man-fostering, not limiting; concerned with ultimate worth, not original sin; ethics that are deed-centered, not creed-centered; realistic morality towards sexual behavior; progressionistic, not perfectionistic; centrifugal, not centripetal; and emphasizing man's existence in this world.20 Discoveries concerning human behavior are challenging those religious sects which tend to reduce everything to metaphysical terms. The pulpit is finding it ever more difficult to refute the discoveries of the laboratory.

Science and Religion

Scientists have encouraged ministers to consider other dimensions of the human psyche. Conscious verbalization alone is not sufficient, for man is not just a cognitive being. Both the conscious and unconscious minds create images and symbols. Reason, a product of conscious processes, is an inadequate tool for understanding man completely. Individuals arrive at knowledge through rational choices, and through

Although the origin of a problem may be spiritual, neglect of the psychological realm may lead to undue frustration.

certain "moments of truth" whose genuine meanings rest deep within the unconscious mind.25 Psychiatry assists in the extemalization of thoughts which are frequently inaccessible through religious channels alone.

The prevalence of heated discussions concerning science and religion indicate that their distinctions are not as apparent as those elucidated herein. Disputes will continue to arise as long as both disciplines are assumed to be of similar natures. However from a teleological standpoint, religion seeks to define purpose...or to explain why. Science, including psychiatry, merely explicates the development of processes. Since the terms science and psychiatry connote ends in themselves to some individuals, I prefer to describe these endeavors as the "scientific" and "psychiatric" methods which explicitly refer to processes. Science is neither pro nor con religion, Whenever a psychiatrist communicates spiritually with a patient, he/she is outside the realm of the psychiatric method.

Psychiatrists should acknowledge the reality of spiritual experience in order to deal justly with mental disorders. Freud attempted to reduce religious faith to a psychological creation in Future of an Illusion. However it was not a necessary outcome based on unrefutable "facts", but an epistemological decision. Psyebotherapy cannot be substituted for religious faith except through a metaphysical choice.25

Psychiatry and religion are both concerned with unconscious motives and conflicts, character formation, integrity, and the transformation of destructive im pulses into drives that are beneficial to all.26 Psychiatry deals with the intermediate processes which ultimately lead to the formation of concepts. This scientific endeavor assists individuals in realigning mental faculties, thereby facilitating both social and spiritual communication.


This discussion has attempted to clarify the roles of psychiatry and religion, their relationship, and the contributions of each to the study of human behavior. Characteristic of our world of specialists, fragmented and often futile attempts have been made at cooperation as the wounds of the past continue to plague the memories of today's actors. However, as psychiatrists and ministers begin to recognize the need for more synergistic efforts, the result will not only produce a more realistic appraisal of mental illness, but (more importantly) happier and healthier human beings.

IDana L. Farnsworth and Francis J. Braceland, Psychiatry, the Clergy, and Pastoral Counseling, p. 3.
2Graharn B. Blaine, Jr., "Schools of Psychotherapy," in Ibid., p. 324.
3Thomas B. Kirsch, "Psychiatry and Religion,"
Journal of Religion and Health, vol. 6 (1), Jan. 1967, p. 75.
4Arnaldo Apolito, "Psychoanalysis and Religion," American Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 30(2), 1970, p. 117.
5Martha Deed, "Attitudes of Four Religiously-Oriented Psycho
therapists," Pastoral Psychology, vol. 20(193), 1969, pp. 39-40.
6AIfred Bronner, "Psychotherapy with Religious Patients," American Journal of Psychotherapy, vol. 18, 1964, p. 475.
Deed, op. cit., p. 41.
81bid., pp. 41-42.
9Samuel Z. Klausner, Psychiatry and Religion, p. 155.
10GIenn E. Whitlock, "Psychotherapy and a Christian Understanding of Man," Pastoral Psychology, Feb. 1967, vol. 18(171), p. 13.
Klausner, op. cit., p. 29.
12"What are the Effects of the Physician's View of Human Nature upon his patients?" The Place of Value Systems in Medical Education: A Symposium of the Academy of Religion and Mental Health, November, 1960, p. 143.
13Apolito, op. cit., p. 120.
141bid., p. 117.
151bid., p. 118.
16Farnsworth and Braceland, op. cit., p. 5.
17KIausner, op. cit~, p. 23.
18Farnsworth and Braceland, op.
cit., p. 5.
19Jack L. Rubins, "Religion, Mental health, and the Psychoanalyst," American Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 30(2), 1970, p. 128.
20Apolito, op. cit., p. 124.
21Whitlock, op. cit., p. 9.
221bid., p. 11.
231bid., p. 12.
241bid., p. 10.
26Farnswortb and Braceland, op. cit., p. 4.
2711enry Enoch Kagen, "God and the Psychiatrist in Psychotherapy," in Journal of Religion and Health, vol. 6(l), Jan. 1967, p. 89.
Apolito, Arnaldo, "Psychoanalysis and Religion," American journal
Psychoanalysis, vol. 30(2), 1970.

Bronner, Alfred, "Psychotherapy with Religious Patients," American Journal of Psychotherapy, vol. 18, 1964.

Deed, Martha, "Attitudes of Four Religiously-Oriented Psychotherapists," Pastoral Psychology, vol. 20(193), 1969.

Farnsworth, Dana L., and Francis Braceland, Psychiatry, the Clergy, and Pastoral Counseling, Institute for Mental Health, St. John's University Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1969.

Gassert, Robert G., and Bernard H. Hall, Psychiatry and Religious Faith, The Viking Press, New York, 1964.

Kirsch, Thomas B., "Psychiatry and Religion," journal of Religion and Health, vol. 6(l), January, 1967.

Klausner, Samuel Z., Psychiatry and Religion, The Free Press of Glencoe, Collier-MacMillan Ltd., London, 1964.

Liebman, Joshua Loth, Psychiatry and Religion, The Beacon Press, Boston, 1948.

Mowrer, 0. Hobart, The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion, D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., Princeton, New Jersey, 1961.

Northridge, W. L., Psychiatrty in Pastoral Practice, Epworth Press, London, 1968.

Rubins, Jack L., "Religion, Mental Health, and the Psychoanalyst, American Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 30(2), 1970.

The Place of Value Systems in Medical Education: A Symposium of the Academy of Religion and Mental Health, "What are the Effects of the Physician's View of Human Nature upon his patients?", November, 1960.

Whitlock, Glenn E., "Psychotherapy and a Christian Understanding of Man," Pastoral Psychology, February, vol. 18, (171), 1967.