The Therapist and the Theologian

by Robert Perry

"The Unhealed Healer" (T-9.V) is a fascinating section. It talks about two different examples of the ego's plan of forgiveness. That plan, in essence, is to believe in the reality of sin and then forgive it. The two examples are the theologian and the psychotherapist. In these examples we can see exactly what the Course is saying forgiveness and healing are not.

The theologian

The theologian condemns himself, saying "I am a miserable sinner" (T-9.V.1:5), and projects this belief onto God. This means he now sees God sharing his belief in his sinfulness. He sees God condemning him, as well as threatening to punish him for his sins. He sees a distant, separate God Who, in His holiness, is far removed from the sinful theologian.

This remote, punitive God, however, is also the theologian's hope for redemption. The theologian hopes that if he can obey God, make sacrifices, do his penance, and effectively placate Him, God will magically remove the sin in him, most probably by forgiving him. This is the solution he has tried to follow himself and the solution he recommends to those who come to him for help. He is an unhealed healer because he is trying to give a sense of being forgiven and absolved that he has not really accepted for himself. He doesn't feel truly forgiven or forgivable. He therefore must recommend a magical solution (a remote God magically erases the sin in you by forgiving it) that "promises" to work but has not yet worked for him.

The psychotherapist

The therapist thinks that the key to discovering who his patient really is lies in interpreting the symbols in the patient's dreams and fantasies. These seem to reveal the underlying patient, who is hidden behind various surface masks. These symbols, however, come from the patient's ego . So thinking that these symbols have revealed the real patient means you have simply equated the patient with his ego. As a result, you now believe in a patient who is not terribly inspiring. He thinks and feels and acts just like an ego. He has destructive thoughts. He is full of aggressive impulses. He attacks as a way of life.

So how do you save this person? In this version of psychotherapy (which sounds Freudian to me), you tell him that, yes, he is full of attack thoughts (which the theologian would have called sinful thoughts), but that these thoughts don't matter. Don 't take them so seriously. No matter how destructive they seem, they won't really have any effect on anything. He's not really going to act on them. He's civilized enough to refrain from acting out his thoughts of violence. So what harm are these thoughts really? He doesn't need to get rid of that crazy id (to use the Freudian terminology). Its wild aggressive impulses can still harmlessly churn around in his mind, because, in spite of them, he can still cope with life and be well-adjusted to his world. Therapy will help him with this. Through it, he will be able to lead a relatively sane existence no matter how many attack thoughts are bubbling in the subterranean chambers of his mind. So what does it matter if they are there?

This message is the magic wand the therapist (at least this brand of therapist) waves over the patient to seemingly remove him from the terrible dilemma of being filled with the darkness of the ego. This magic wand doesn't make the bubbling cauldron inside go away. It just magically confers on it the status of "unimportant." And this does grant the patient a sense of pseudo-forgiveness. The therapist may not see herself as trying to grant forgiveness, but that is what she is trying to do. She is, in effect, telling the patient, " Don 't feel so bad about yourself. Those guilty 'sins' you think you have are no big deal. They're just thoughts, with no real effect. Therefore, you are OK."

The theologian and the therapist

Both the theologian and the therapist follow the ego's plan of forgiveness, which is to see sin as real and then try to forgive it. Both say that, yes, the patient is full of darkness, full of attack or sin. They just say it in different forms. The theologian says the patient is a miserable sinner. The therapist says that the patient is full of destructive impulses. On this essential perspective they agree. Where they differ is in the solution. The theologian says that the solution is to have this darkness mysteriously wiped away by the forgiveness of a distant God. The therapist hopes to make the patient feel forgiven by telling him that his darkness simply doesn't matter, since it has no real effect. Both fall within the ego's plan as described in the previous section, "The Holy Spirit's Plan of Forgiveness" (T-9.IV). They first make the error real (see the patient's attack thoughts as real sins), then hope that a pseudo-forgiveness will make it magically go away, either through the magical erasure of its existence (theologian) or through the magical removal of the importance placed on it (therapist).

The theologian and the therapist, therefore (as a friend recently pointed out to me), function as confessors. In both cases, people go to them to receive absolution for all their dark thoughts and "sinful" impulses. In both cases, this "sinfulness" (to use the theologian's term) is regarded as the person's reality, after which absolution is granted on a basis so spurious that even the person who yearns for it probably leaves unconvinced. Clearly, the theologian and therapist are trying to fill a deeply needed role. We all want to be forgiven for the shameful secrets we have locked away in our inner closet. Their error lies not in trying to fulfill this role, but in failing to truly fulfill it.

Clearly, not all theologians and therapists fit these descriptions. Given that this material was dictated over thirty years ago, these specific descriptions may even be somewhat dated. (I suspect, however, that most newer approaches would still fall squarely within the ego's plan of forgiveness, as we might surmise based on this line from Paragraph 4 of the section: "Some newer forms of the ego's plan are as unhelpful as the older ones, because form does not matter and the content has not changed") The point is not to indict all theology and therapy, but to point out that the ego's approach to healing does take on specific and widely used forms in this world, forms which claim to work but, in the end, are not very healing. In the Course's perspective, the only thing that genuinely heals is some affirmation, on the part of the therapist, that the patient's inner darkness, which seemed so real, was never real in the first place. And in order to genuinely affirm this in the patient, the therapist must have realized it within himself first.

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