Updated: May 3
I for one am grateful for Christ-centered therapists. Who else can care for us like a pastor, attune to us like a parent, and help unblock passageways in us that frustrate love? I was honored to address the Catholic Association of Psychotherapists last week, more to give thanks for the help I have received from these healers than a tribute to my therapeutic skills.
Sadly, many Christians eschew ‘therapy’ as godless, Freudian nonsense. Carl Trueman’s remarkable ‘The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self’ would seem to support such a stab at the Viennese instigator of modern psychology; Trueman places Freud smack dab at center of his case for how sexual identity became politicized, resulting in our tongue-tied response to ‘gender identities’.
Trueman cites two interpreters of Freud—Reich and Marcuse—who endowed the good doctor’s take on child development with Marx’s mandate of ‘the little guy’ to overthrow economic oppressors. That meant shucking the middle class and its silly moral structures like monogamy. Trueman claims this intellectual ‘marriage’ of Freud and Marx empowers our transgender meltdown today. Another story.
While most therapists today would refuse much of Freud’s orthodoxy, especially his oversexed take on our development, all good healers of the soul are sourced in his genius: that man gave sight and language to our deepest conflicts, complex habits of the heart. In the light of loving non-judgmental caregivers, we can begin to see and feel what we must, disentangle from false attachments, and begin to make good hard choices to grow in love. Instead of being driven by demons, we take the wheel. To me, this is pure gift--Divine Mercy. Given a robust vision of who God made us to become, a sound psychotherapist is a gift from heaven.
In the right hands, aspects of Freud that appear cursed become our cure. Caring and godly post-Freudian interpreters (move over Reich and Marcuse, make way for Laura Haynes, Elizabeth Moberly, Joseph Nicolosi and many more) have labored for decades to reclaim Freud from genital fixation and apply his grasp of defense mechanisms to why we stop receiving (and growing from) the love we need. Rather than eroticize our reality, able neo-Freudians help us find the solid ground of the emotional needs underlying sexual development.
This paradox matters: Freud’s eroticization of reality gives way to understanding real blocks to apprehending the love we need. Therapy becomes a ‘corrective emotional experience’ that liberates us from our genital fixations and help us to direct our energies constructively.
Most helpful to me in looking at the source of same-sex attraction and the continuum of gender dysphoria. Here unmet, emotional needs mask as ‘gender identities.’ Moberly writes: ‘Defensive detachment…is seen as causative of both transsexualism and homosexuality. In both instances, the normal process of receiving love from, and hence identifying with, a parental love source of the same-sex, has been blocked by trauma, especially in the earliest years of life. The resulting psychodynamic structures of transsexualism and homosexuality is that of same-sex ambivalence…so-called ‘homosexual’ love actually marks the attempt to resume the normal developmental process, and thereby to fulfill unmet needs for same-sex love and identification’ (The Psychology of Self and Other).
Therapy becomes a blessed arm of identifying this detachment and securing a necessary attachment through which real needs for love and identification are met. Hail trusted healers who help us to transform our deserts of false sexualizing into gardens of fruitful relationships.
Rather than demonize Freud, we separate wheat from chaff and rightly honor him and his astute interpreters.