SPIRITUAL LIFE AND COGNITIVE THERAPY: TWO PLANES, TWO APPROACHES, AND WHERE THE TWAIN DO MEET

Yes, the Church Fathers are operating at a level that is qualitatively quite different from that of standard cognitive therapy. Yes, the prophetic encounter in the grace of the Holy Spirit can lead to a transfiguration in the believer’s life. Yes, the quality of prayer on the part of the confessor and confessant is what matters most in the mystery. So, why would I pursue this line of cross-correlative research? For the same reason that Fr. Seraphim (Rose) advised young people to read the works of Dickens: to help people reach the point where they can open their hearts to the fathers’ … [Read more...]

Learning How to Read for the Health of the Mind and the Health of the Soul

The intersection of modern bibliotherapy and the ancient rumination on the Law, the Psalter, and the Gospels is found most sharply in one of the main purposes behind both approaches, namely increasing awareness to principles that can be used to navigate one’s way through the many difficulties we encounter in life and that hinder us in our attempt to reach important goals, be they normal functioning in one’s environment (psychology) or union with God (in Holy Orthodoxy). Of course, sacred books can act as conveyors of grace that affect the soul at a qualitatively different level than clinical … [Read more...]

Reason and Speech: Timeless Truth and Secular Echoes

Introduction to Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds Could an ancient mystical path of inner transformation, most rigorously pursued and explored by monks and hermits, possibly bear much resemblance to what now seems to be establishing itself as the standard psychotherapeutic approach to living an effective and rational life? Would they not of necessity lie worlds apart, reflecting two different mindsets, one pre-modern and the other modern and indeed post-modern—one rational and secular, and the other mystical and sacred? As the first century … [Read more...]

What’s the Practical Value?

When I select books that I am going to read, I am usually looking for more than novel discoveries and interesting facts. As a monk and as an American, I want something that works, something that I can apply to my own life, or that I can use to offer consolation for the lives of those around me. I am often searching for practical wisdom such as what you find at the end of Saint John Chrysostom’s homilies, in the correspondence of Saints Barsanuphius and John, or in talks by Elder Paisios. While the first half of Ancient Christian Wisdom deals with theory, the remainder has to do with practice. … [Read more...]

The Importance of Thoughts

So, what’s the book about? In a word, thoughts. The New Testament and the Church Fathers both recognize that a person’s spiritual state is a reflection of the thoughts harbored in the heart. Research in cognitive therapy has verified that psychological states of depression, anxiety, and anger are largely a function of the evaluative thoughts that individuals have about their current situation. Obviously, there is something very similar and something very different going on here. What are the similarities? What are the differences? And what does all this mean? To tease out these issues, I … [Read more...]

Fr. Alexis Trader: Being Christian in a Post-Christian World

The following is the second in a series of four guest posts from Fr. Alexis Trader, a priestmonk and spiritual father of Karakallou Monastery on the Holy Mountain, and author of In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord: An Orthodox Interpretation of the Gifts of the Spirit. Fr. Alexis has recently released a new book and it is about his new book that he now writes. (The first, third, and fourth posts have been/will be posted elsewhere, please see the posting schedule at the end of this post.) Questions Beneath the Question: Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of … [Read more...]

Dr. Bruce Foltz, Professor of Philosophy, Eckerd College

This remarkable volume - which has been characterized as a 'Gray's Anatomy' of the human soul, a twenty-first century successor to William James' 'Varieties of Religious Experience' and his 'Principles of Psychology', and a bilingual dictionary translating between psychology and spirituality, - will not only appeal to a wide range of audiences, but each one will surely find a wealth of ideas and insights far exceeding what could have been expected. Therapists will find the most impressive retrieval of the spiritual depth beneath their science since the work of Carl Jung. Pastoral counselors … [Read more...]

David Solomon, W. P. and H. B. White Director of the Center for Ethics and Culture, Notre Dame University

Father Alexis has innovatively woven together an account of cognitive psychotherapy and of the Christian struggle to realize an authentic spiritual life. This extraordinary volume, which draws on contemporary cognitive psychology and the Christian patristic tradition, is destined to become a popular manual for mental health and the spiritual life. It is easily accessible while maintaining depth of insight. One does not need to be a Christian, much less a believer, to appreciate the power of this book. … [Read more...]

Annette Aronowicz, Department Chair, The Robert F. and Patricia G. Ross Weis Professor of Judaic Studies, and Professor of Religious Studies, Franklin and Marshall College

It is with great pleasure that I read this very erudite and yet beautifully written book. This journey into the modern world of cognitive psychology, accompanied all along by the writings of the church fathers, introduces us to two universes that crisscross and yet do not dissolve into each other. Father Alexis did not embark on this journey for purely theoretical reasons, although he distills theories very nimbly. He is a Christian theologian who wants to use both the resources of his tradition and those of cognitive psychology to make more effective the task of caring for those who suffer. … [Read more...]

The Story Behind Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds

Monks are by nature introspective creatures. We turn inward in prayer in order to meet our Savior. We also try to stay active in mind and body. We turn to serve our brother in love and in so doing we encounter our Lord once again. The union of theoria and praxis, thought and action, makes for a joyous monastic life. Sometimes, however, sincere monastics get bogged down and their lives seem quite different from what is described in the lives of the Saints and books by contemporary luminaries. Critical thoughts take hold of our minds and sluggishness characterizes actions that should be a source … [Read more...]