Psychology and religion

An article appeared in the Israeli newspaper Mekor Rishon called “Chasidism – a New Psychology?” by Zvi Moses. His bottom line, by way of critiquing Baruch Kahane’s book שבירה ותיקון was that religion can contribute meaning to the field of psychology but we have to be careful of quackery and stay firmly planted within the framework of professional psychology. We can’t allow blending of realms. None of this “Jewish psychology” business, please.

In addition he discussed the common ground he shares with Kahane, namely his agreement that the post-modern age has shaken the foundation of the scientific model of psychology that has looked for one all-encompassing “proven” theory. According to Kahane this breakdown in prior conceptions has thankfully helped dismantle other foundations as well, such as the authority of the therapist and the assumption of professional consensus regarding the direction of therapy.

The article intrigues me because although he quotes Baruch Kahane’s brief mention of logotherapy, he ignores the elephant in the room, namely the deeper logotherapeutic message that would be of greater service to the religious population.

In order to understand the message let’s go back for a moment to the article. Baruch Kahane (according to Moses) lumps logotherapy together with Jung and Kohut. True, he does single out logotherapy when he says “We can find this process also in the humanistic theories and primarily by Viktor Frankl, who have indeed ‘elevated’ the person’s spirit and straightened his stature, but (these theories) were not ripe for an all-encompassing theory of psychotherapy and psychopathology.”

The message of logotherapy is very simple but it’s not so simple to carry out. Life is unconditionally meaningful at every moment. But meaning is something that has to be discovered by the person through the process of fulfilling values in response to the challenges life sets before the person. We are capable of discovering meaning not because of our psyche and not because of our physiological functions but because of our humanity in the higher sense.

What does this do to the equation of psychology and religion and how does it set logotherapy apart in a way that allows it to contribute an essential ingredient to this discussion?

Logotherapy is an accepted professional approach in psychology, yet it departs from the scientific reductionism that fails to recognize the spirit in man. Because it is a psychological approach it does not encroach on religion. At the same time since it is based on the same fundamental principles and assumptions about the nature of man that are assumed by the religious person, it is supportive of the client’s world-view in a way that no other approach can be.

Logotherapy is not meant to be an all-encompassing approach because just as a person is not only made up of drives but also spirit, so a person is not only made up of spirit but also has drives. It is meant to complement and complete what is sorely lacking in other approaches. The difference is that classical psychology does not recognize the spirit/noetic plane of existence while logotherapy does recognize the somatic and psychic plane of existence. As such, it seeks to evoke the will to meaning in the spiritual unconscious.

The way we view a human being determines how we will treat him. In the hands of professional psychologists, logotherapy adds the necessary component that both Moses and Kahane are looking for. In the hands of nonprofessionals logotherapy increases one’s humanity and brings healing – not by merging psychology with religion but by looking at a human being as he is capable of becoming and not just who he seems to be right now.

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