Institute of Christian Psychology
Christian psychological counselling is a relatively new and yet unshaped area of psychology. Its basic distinction lies in its attitude to the God-like personality as an ultimate value and in its special stand on the meaning of life, death and illness. The Orthodox practical psychology is based on the Orthodox ascetic tradition which makes it possible to give an adequate assessment to approaches, strategies and methods existing in modern psychology and, subjecting them to constructive criticism, to use them successfully in the work of an Orthodox specialist.
The need for psychological knowledge in Christian service today is evident since nursing the sick, raising children, helping families and many other aspects of service require psychological knowledge. However, psychology in general and the Russian school of psychology in particular appear to be very far from Christian values.
The charity 'Russian Orthodoxy' established in 2009 an Institute of Christian Psychology (ICP), the first institution of this kind to appear in Russia. Its rector is Andrey Lorgus, a priest and psychologist. The ICP is an academic, scientific and educational establishment which has undertaken to develop the Christian orientation in Russian psychology.
The Institute is called to build a scientific and educational base for developing post-graduate studies. The academic work on the special subject of Psychology is a well-developed area in Russian education. However, the post-graduate education is still to be developed and improved. The establishment of the ICP will make a contribution to this task.
The most important thing however is that the ICP will build a base necessary for supporting the development of the Church's social service of the so essential for society today.
The ICP's educational program is a unique combination of Orthodox spiritual tradition, Christian anthropology and modern scientific psychology.
The Institute's educational work is oriented towards practice; the studies are carried out in the form of lectures and seminars, master-classes, trainings, demonstrations and supervisions. All its syllabuses are works of authorship.
The tasks of the Institute:
In the process of training, students will develop a clear view of the place that Christian practical psychology occupies in the life of the Church, familiarize themselves with the theological and anthropological foundations of the psychological aid, study the theory and practice of the Orthodox spiritually-orientated psychological counselling and increase the range of methods used in individual and group work.
Instruction will be given by Rev. Andrey Lorgus, Rev. Peter Kolomeitsev and a team of qualified psychologists.
Lectures and seminars will deal with the following themes:
The program of re-training is intended for graduates who majored in any discipline other than psychology, pedagogy or medicine and advanced university students who are interested in Christian psychology.
During three terms, the re-trained students will be introduced to the history of psychology, theoretical basics of general, age-specific, social and clinical psychology and study the Christian psychology of personality and a set of disciplines on the psychology of religion and basic Christian anthropology.
Along with lectures, the students will be offered the following:
After graduation, students will be able to apply their new knowledge and skills in social service in hospitals, orphanages and prisons, in volunteer work, in parish communities and Sunday schools and in their own private and family life.
The advanced studies program is intended for psychologists, educators, medics and social workers who have a basic or second higher specialized education.
During two terms, students will be introduced to the theological-anthropological principles of psychological aid, take a course in the theory and practice of Orthodox spiritually-oriented psychological counselling and develop the idea of the place of a Christian psychologist in the life of the Church.
Students will have an opportunity to supplement their knowledge of classical psychology with unique information about Christian psychology and anthropology, which will help them to rethink many things and to look anew at familiar questions and problems.
In the course of training, students will upgrade their professional qualification in Personal Christian Psychology and broaden the range of methods they will use in individual and group work.
The graduates of the educational programs will be granted state-recognized certificates.
At present there is an acute shortage of qualified Christian psychologists and higher education institutions engaged in training new professionals. Therefore one can come across believers who, having no specialized psychological education, still offer psychological counselling as well as professional psychologists who see in faith 'still surviving Oedipus complex'. Both 'specialists' can do harm to people who come to them instead of helping them, the former due to their psychological ignorance and the latter due to their refusal to recognize the importance of spirituality in the life of a human being. This fact should be seriously considered by all those who need psychological aid. One should choose a specialist carefully, making sure that he or she is professionally qualified. It is desirable that a specialist's should be a graduate in psychology or a graduate of a re-training course consisting of at least 700 academic hours and should have at least three years' experience. One's light-headed attitude can aggravate one's grievous psychological condition as it is. Prudence here will do no harm!
Rev. Andrey Lorgus
Main mistakes made in the psychological counselling of people living with HIV
In giving psychological aid to people living with HIV (PLH) and their families, counsellors should take into account all the complexity of their task and avoid making grave mistakes which unfortunately are often committed by volunteers, counsellors and even specialists including medics, social workers and others. It is impossible of course to describe all the situations encountered in practice but we will refer to those which happen most often.
Our Lord makes it clear: Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Lk. 6:37: Mt. 7:1). He Himself forgave the woman sinner who, before meeting Christ, lived in what we call today 'a risk group'. He said to her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more (Jn. 8:11).
Every one is responsible for one's own life, and sometime the errors we commit can have serious consequences for our health. Nobody can relieve a patient of this responsibility. This is sometimes one's own gravest fault. But this guilt comes from one's awareness of one's own responsibility, not from a condemnation pronounced by the other. Anyone who has fallen ill can find oneself in this situation. The task of an aid is to help one to carry this responsibility through one's suffering, without aggravating or depreciating it but rather respecting and acknowledging it without judgment.
Judgment therefore does not help to raise a patient's awareness but humiliates him and reveals a helper's feeling of superiority over a weak and suffering patient. It happens that a helper can inwardly take pleasure in condemning the other so that he may feel his own 'righteousness' and assert himself at the expense of the one who did wrong. His soul whispers, 'It's so good to be not like him' (cf. Lk. 18:11), but his voice says, 'the Lord has sent you this for your sins'. There is no aid worse than that which begins with condemnation.
Pity on somebody suggests superiority. The one who shows pity inwardly feels to be better and stronger than the patient, and in this sense pity humiliates, leads to the condemnation of the other and to self-conceit. Our Lord expects us to be merciful, not pitiful. Compassion differs from pity in that it respects the patient, his pain and his suffering. Pity is an attitude of the strong to the weak, the healthy to the ill, the successful to losers. There are no relations of personalities here.
The personalities of a strong one and a weak one cannot be higher or lower in comparison to each other. Sympathy and compassion are relations of those who are equal and who are partners. A helper is a personality coming to another personality to stand by him in joy and sorrow. An illness is not only a suffering but also a chance to change one's life. A helper comes to share in suffering and to encourage a change. But if an illness is seen, even unconsciously, as a fall or punishment, then pity resulting in the humiliation of the other is inevitable.
Pity also means the denial or depreciation of inner resources to an HIV-infected person. A 'poor and unlucky one' is seen as an object who is to be taken care of and relieved from decisions and actions rather than a personality who simply needs support: 'I am sorry for what has happened to you, but I am confident that you will cope with it. I will stand by you'.
A pitiful one is eager to take upon oneself the responsibility for the life and welfare of a 'poor devil'. But to deprive a person of his responsibility is to do him a bad turn. If unexercised, one's muscles become weak and can atrophy. The same happens to responsibility. Every adult is responsible for himself and his life. Even if this responsibility becomes for one too heavy a burden it is better for him to do as much as possible at a given moment. It will enhance his self-respect and preserve his dignity.
Reprimands and lectures
Aid is often viewed as moral salvation, as rectification. Many believe it is sufficient to put a person on the right path, and this means teaching and explaining. Thus lecturing becomes almost the principal task of a helper.
Lecturing is a special affirmation in which there is no dialogue. The one who speaks does not listen to appreciate the feedback, but only 'plays the oracle'. A helper coming only to teach, that is to speak, excludes dialogue and is tuned to himself alone. Then who is the addressee of his help?
A lecturer imagines himself to be superior in intellect to the one he wants to help. He believes he knows how to live and how to believe and what has caused a patient's suffering. But reprimands and lectures normally either annoy the HIV-infected who need support, causing them to refuse communication, or aggravate their poignant feeling of guilt as it is, driving them into depression and despair. Lecturing not only fails to help but can even aggravate PLH's negative emotional and physical condition.
The moral condition of an HIV-infected person can be very grave. Sometimes he or she is stigmatized. If the HIV status was acquired because of a risky behaviour, the patient is aware to a certain extent of the price of his life and the price of his actions. Moral reprimands he receives are turned for him into condemnation and humiliation. It is only a priest who can very delicately talk with PLH about the moral aspect of their condition, normally during Confession. But this talk will have a positive result only if the both sides are ready for it. An HIV-infected person sometimes cannot come to repentance because he cannot accept the diagnosis. Repentance is possible only if the diagnosis is accepted. It is important to remember that repentance is irrelevant if the infection happened through no fault of a person, as in this particular case there is nothing to repent of.
An advice can be useful only if an adviser shares his own experience, knowledge and skills. In this case, advice is the sharing of experience, open dialogue, exchange of information and counselling. Participating in this counselling are two equal individuals. Perhaps the best advice for an HIV-infected person is that given by an equal counsellor.
However, there are parts of life in which advices are inadmissible, such as the feelings of the other ('You should like...', 'You should not be upset by it', 'You should not feel guilty or should not be desperate; You should be sure', 'Do not be afraid, you should be brave'); or his wishes and needs ('Why don't you want to do it, You should force yourself to do it', 'What is it for? Stop this nonsense! You'd better ask for this', 'How can you eat/sleep/rest so much!?'); or his actions ('Do as I tell you', 'If I were you I would...', 'A normal/intelligent person would rather do...'); or his thoughts ('I don't understand how you can think so! It is obvious!'); or his relations ('You should make it up with him, he worried about you so much', 'Why are you cross with him, he didn't want to offend you', 'Why are you friends with her, she has a bad influence on you'). Given in brackets are utterances which represent gross violations of personal boundaries. Our feelings, wishes, needs, thoughts, actions and relations are within our own responsibility and nobody has the right to interfere, even with the best intentions.
By giving advice about what and how to do and how to feel we train a person to let others think for him and can make him so dependent on us that he will not be able to make a single step without our guidance.
Why then do we like so much to give such advice and to interfere in the other's soul and life? The explanation is simple: giving advice, we seek to assert ourselves at the expense of the other, forgetting that every one of us carries answers to our personal questions in our inner selves. Only a person himself knows what he feels and why he feels so, when and what he wants something and how much of this something he wants, what action is right for him in a particular situation and what he has to think about all this. He may make mistakes but it will be his own mistakes and his own experience which will teach him to be independent and responsible. Thinking, feeling, wishing and doing things for the other, we only prevent his development as personality. The only thing we can do here to help is to create conditions for a person to learn to listen to himself more attentively and understand himself better, to trust himself rather than the other's opinion, to take decisions according to his own conscience rather than to do it under coercion, and to do what is beneficial for himself rather than according to what is done (for instance, in his circle where drugs are taken). But to learn to create such conditions we ourselves need the advice of priests and professional psychologists who have a considerable experience of spiritual care.
Intimidation is often used in primitive pedagogy. A mother trying to get a child to drop off to sleep as soon as possible, intimidates him into sleep by wolves and witches and then appeals to children's psychologists because the child is afraid of sleeping without light. A clueless teacher intimidates his pupil by failures and sometimes even punishment to press him for a better performance, but we have been aware of the 'effectiveness' of such coercive measures since our schooldays. The intimidation of the HIV-infected into 'commitment to therapy' or a 'right way of life' will inflict additional psychological traumas on them, which is an act of cruelty towards a suffering person who needs help. Intimidation can be counter-productive as it can lead to aversion to therapy, an increase in the amount and frequency of drug use or to despair and depression. Even if you are right and all your arguments are absolutely fair, communication through intimidation can bring to nought all your attempts to establish contacts with a patient. Indeed, the information given in intimidation is used for manipulation of the other ('Do what you are told or else! You will be sorry that you have disobeyed!'), without respect for his freedom and an opportunity for him to make his own choice. It is possible to try to give PLH the necessary information about the consequences of particular actions in a more sparing way. Discussing the strong and weak points of particular actions, it is possible to open up for an HIV-infected person a wide range of opportunities and to consider all possible developments while emphasizing your respect for his any option even if you do not agree with him.
Consolation varies. It is unreasonable to try to console one through giving false hopes and aggravating and depreciating the situation.
Giving false hopes is a consolation in the form of promises of cure: 'HIV is not AIDS. Everything will be all right. You will certainly recover. You will live a hundred years. Your case is special and everything will be different with you'. It is insidious to give hope when you know that this illness cannot be fully cured. Consolation of this kind can push a patient towards ill-considered steps, such as refusal to appeal to specialists, to undergo treatment, to observe special measures in intimate relationships and to abandon a risky way of life (as, indeed, nothing bad has happened).
To give false hopes means to deceive the sick. What do you do it for? Sometimes you are so desperately sorry for a HIV-infected one that you are ready even to lie as long as it relieves his suffering. There is no trap worse than a lie for pity's sake. Perhaps you give a false hope to an HIV-infected person when you feel helpless in the face of his pain. If you are not ready to face a sick person's despair, if you come to helplessly show pity for him, it means you are not ready to help him. The readiness to help is the ability to withstand the suffering of the other, also in a critical situation. What will help you in such situation is the Christian attitude to crisis and suffering as a necessary stage in personal development. Going through a crisis, one gets a chance to learn something very important about oneself and life, of which one was unaware before. When a person experiences a critical point in his life, it is important that he should know that he is not alone, that you will be with him and he can trust you when it becomes more than he can bear. Confidence presupposes honest relationships which give no room false hopes.
Consolation can be such as to aggravate a difficult situation as it is: 'What did you expect? With your way of life it could be even worse,' or 'Life normally consists of sufferings alone, so nothing good has to be expected from it'. These are didactical and moralistic exhortations which make a 'helper' look like a 'prophet', a mentor who condemns and despises an HIV-infected person and has no faith either in personal power or God-given life itself. Consolation of this sort aggravates one's pain and despair rather than helps one to overcome one's distress.
Depreciation is another form of consolation adopted in the so-called common sense practice: 'So what? It's not the most terrible thing in life', or 'Things will come right', 'Take it easy', 'It could have been worse', etc. One's illness and suffering are depreciated in such utterances. The meaning of one's illness and suffering is belittled; one's feelings are ridiculed. Meeting no support and understanding, a sick person is left to face his pain on his own. Depreciation destroys trust between an HIV-infected person and his helper.
The most important thing that distinguishes the Christian psychological approach to man is the attitude to the God-like personality as the ultimate values.
As we can see, the competent psychological aid is a very complicated process which cannot be carried out correctly without special knowledge and with reliance only on common sense. Therefore before starting the volunteer service or counselling and beginning to help PLH and their families, you should undergo training to learn at least some psychological basics in order to avoid doing harm to those who appeal to you for help.
Rev. Andrey Lorgus
|Newsletter||ACT mission||Notice board|