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Spiritualizing: Case Studies

LukeNotes, Spring 2022

Case Study | Sister Sarah

Sister Sarah suffers from scrupulosity, a religious form of obsessive compulsive disorder. She has difficulty holding down a job because she believes that if she does not do a “proper” hour of adoration after daily Mass, she cannot leave the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. When her counselor tries to broach the subject, she says that to leave earlier would be to cooperate with the devil.

Her high score on psychological avoidance on the Spiritual Bypass Scale suggests that she is avoiding an underlying emotional issue, which keeps her in this obsessive thought and compulsive behavior pattern by referencing the Blessed Sacrament and the devil. Her high score on spiritualizing indicates that she is exaggerating the spiritual significance of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Trying to “resolve” the spiritual issues serves only to avoid addressing the psychological problem. It is helpful for the spiritual director and clinician to work together in developing treatment goals.

Case Study | Father Henry

Father Henry has been asked to undergo counseling because a woman in the parish accused him of being “too friendly.” He denies the accusation, and while agreeing to counseling, does not want to explore the issue of celibacy with his clinician, with whom he would prefer to focus only on boundary skills. He would prefer to discuss celibacy only with his spiritual director, because the topic can arise in the context of prayer.

His moderate score on psychological avoidance suggests that he is sidestepping an important emotional and relational issue by insisting that it is only spiritual in nature. A moderate score on spiritualizing indicates that he considers personal prayer as the sole arena for growing in the virtue of celibate chastity.

In this case, a discussion with both spiritual director and clinician can emphasize the necessity of integral work on the issue of celibate chastity. Father Henry needs to discover what human formation issues underlie his struggles and distinguish these from any spiritual formation issues to take full advantage of both spiritual and psychological resources.

Case Study | Father John

Father John has been suffering from depression for several years. His personal physician has recommended medication and therapy, but John will not hear of it, saying he needs to spend more time in prayer. He will often go on retreats and spends a great deal of time reading the Scriptures and praying, but his depression persists. He has tried working with spiritual directors but felt discouraged when they suggested he see a professional counselor.

His high score on psychological avoidance indicates that he is avoiding the exploration of possible psychological or psychiatric factors by insisting that his struggles are spiritual in nature.

A moderate score on spiritualizing suggests that he wants to focus on personal prayer as the solution to feelings of depression.

As in the case of Father Henry, developing an integrated treatment plan with both his spiritual director and clinician will help Father John to take full advantage of both spiritual and psychological resources.

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