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Depression and Spiritual Integration: Case Study

LukeNotes, Summer 2022

Father Paul suffered from depression and carried a significant amount of pain from his childhood. His father was abusive— not physically cruel, but always giving him the message that he was not good enough and would never measure up to expectations. As a result, Father Paul always felt like a disappointment. He knew on some level that he was intelligent and capable, but as a child he was not in a position to resist or fight back against his father’s cruel comments. Later, he was sexually abused as a high school student.

Father Paul was angry at God, but that emotion had been stuffed down for so long that it was like something frozen inside of him. Just as he felt defenseless against the male authority figures who abused him, he did not question or resist what seemed like God’s rejection of him, God’s judgment that he had little or no inherent dignity. He fell into depression. For a while, he turned to alcohol to numb the pain, but that left him sadder, discouraged, and more isolated.

Father Paul believed, at least intellectually, in a God who is loving and compassionate, but somehow, he did not feel that applied to him. He came to us for treatment with no real desire to pray, in part because he felt numb and in part because he knew it would mean facing memories and pain he did not want to face. However, he was able to admit that he wanted to cry out to God, “Where were you when those things happened?”

As Father Paul’s depression began to lift and his anger began to thaw, the urge to cry out to God became stronger. He needed encouragement— even permission—to do so, and the reassurance that God’s love is strong enough to hold his anger.

Journaling was easier than conversation with God, at least in the beginning. The physical act of writing helped to move the anger from inside of him to outside of him. His prayer life before he fell into depression was structured: just going through motions and reciting words. He was telling God what he believed God wanted to hear. Compartmentalizing his prayer life was a way of burying the pain. He did not want to bring the pain to God.

However, a healthy, intimate relationship requires authenticity. Gradually, Father Paul was able to give expression to his pain, even saying tearfully at one point when he prayed, “Where were you, God?” When his spiritual integrator said, “When those things happened to you, I think God’s heart was the first to break,” he sobbed, and it was as though floodgates had opened.

The journey of spiritual as well as emotional healing will be ongoing for Father Paul. He recognizes that he can still isolate from God and even lose some of his desire to pray, but he has learned the power of journaling, and he has come to believe—in his heart as well as his mind—that God is there for him.

For confidentiality reasons, names, identifying data, and other details of treatment have been altered.