Dr. Richard Ward

The Difference Between a Spiritual Father and a Psychologist

Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos

The spiritual Father, ought to perform his task on the basis of the Orthodox Tradition, it is clearly different from the psychologist, who works on the basis of an anthropocentric view of man and his life The psychologist wants to make people psychologically balanced. The spiritual father aims at man’s deification. The psychologist uses the views of whichever school of psychology he represents. The spiritual father uses the eternal word of God, which was revealed to the prophets, Apostles and saints.

The psychologist believes that illness is due primarily to traumatic experiences in the past, or so-called repressed experiences. The spiritual father is well aware that it is not simply a matter of memories of the past or repressed experiences stored up in the subconscious. A specific faculty of the soul is ill, the nous, which is the eye of the soul. The psychologist employs the method of questioning and listening. He tries to assist the person to become aware of his problem and helps him to mature psychologically. The spiritual father, illumined by the grace of God, locates the problem, which is the darkness of the nous or fantasies, and tries to lead the person to theoria of God by means of the Orthodox method of purification and illumination. The psychologist acts on the human level using thoughts and ideas. The spiritual father acts in a theanthropic way, on both the divine and human level. He uses the therapeutic method, but also sends Gods grace into the sick person’s heart through the Sacraments.

The psychologist thinks that everything happens on a human level, He does not acknowledge the existence of the devil and the energy of the uncreated grace of God. The spiritual father knows the difference between the grace of God, the energy of the devil, and spiritual and physical illness. The psychologist confines himself to making the ill person aware of his problem and enabling him to cope with it. The spiritual father guides the person to repentance, which means his complete transformation. He does not simply lead him to a point of rejecting certain states, but guides him towards the transformation of his passions. It is possible to find other significant differences between, a psychologist and a spiritual father, and the difference between anthropocentric and theocentric psychotherapy.

We accept the views of contemporary psychology and psychotherapy in two cases, as a concession. Firstly, in cases of people whose nervous system has been harmed for various reasons, such as physical or psychological problems. Secondly, in the cases of people who, by choice, have nothing to do with the Church and its Sacraments. I think they can be helped by modern psychology and psychotherapy, so as not to deteriorate further. Psychology can act as a pain-killer to comfort them in the dreadful despair in which they are imprisoned.

But, I repeat, man is created in the image of God and he must reach His likeness. This is, I could say, the final aim and secret entelechy of man. As long as this yearning is not satisfied and a person remains far from God, his suffering increases. Inasmuch as his basic destiny on earth, communion with God, is not fulfilled, no matter how much medicine he takes or how much psychoanalysis he undergoes, he will always be homeless and engaged in a tragic search. We want more than psychological balance; we are looking for fullness of life. We do not simply wish to develop religious feelings, but want our lives to be filled.