Orthodox Psychotherapy

When it comes to healing the addict, the Orthodox Church provides the most comprehensive and complete approach available to mankind. Unlike the Western approach to healing which largely places the addict in the hands of a doctor or therapist who may rely primarily on medications to bring about healing, the Church believes that all forms of healing begin with God and it is in God’s hands that we must place ourselves first and then bring other methods into the mix.

As Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, Abbot of the Birth of the Theotokos Monastery in Nafpaktos, Greece, writes in his work, The Science of Spiritual Medicine: Orthodox Psychotherapy in Action: “The whole therapeutic method of the Orthodox Church is not aimed simply at making human beings morally and socially balanced, but at reestablishing their relationship with God and one another. This comes about through the healing of the soul’s wounds and the cure of the passions through the Sacraments and the Church’s ascetic practice.”

Orthodox psychotherapy focuses primarily on the need to reestablish and to be reconciled to God first, and then with our neighbor and ourselves. This is in keeping with the first commandment given to us by our Lord: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and will all thy mind” (MATTHEW 22:37). When our relationship to God is healed, our minds and hearts are likewise healed because the mind mirrors and reflects the inner condition of the heart.

The Church Fathers describe the soul as the nous, or eye of the heart, in which the purpose is to ‘see’ God and to have communion with Him. This is only possible when our soul has undergone transformation and purification and we become free of the darkness of worldly influences that bombard us constantly. The Fathers also refer to two other parts of the human soul, the intelligent function and the irascible function.

Intelligent function refers to intelligence that does not come from intellectual knowledge of God, but rather it is a knowledge that comes from the heart of the mysteries of God. Irascible function refers to a willingness to abide by the Lord’s Commandments, to know right from wrong and to understand God’s will for us. All of the soul’s functions became dysfunctional after man’s fall from God. This caused us to fall out of harmony with both God and our neighbor. Treatment methods found in the Orthodox Church are designed to remove the sins and obstacles from our hearts, which keep us from experiencing the fullness of intimacy with our loving God.

Saint Gregory Palamas referred to one of the three functions of the soul as appetitive, meaning to have a longing, hunger and thirst for God. All addictions have their roots in the dysfunction of the soul’s appetitive function. We sin by choosing to fill the void and meet this need with created things, rather than receiving from, and being satisfied with, the living water and manna (food), which can only be provided by Almighty God. We must all come to terms with this insatiable desire and our futile attempts to fill the void in our souls with any number of created things. Our persistent wrong choices only create more separation from God and others, deepen our unsatisfied hunger and thirst, and lead to self-destructive behaviors (addictions).