The dialogue between psychoanalysis and Orthodox

Yiouli Eptakoli’s interview with Rev’d. Fr. Dr. Vassilios Thermos.

What can religion offer in psychoanalysis? And what can psychoanalysis offer to religion? The Institute of Historical Research of the National Research Foundation, within the framework of the research program “Science and Orthodoxy around the World”, organizes a December 1st conference on “Psychoanalysis and Orthodox Theology“. It is part of the 3rd International Conference of the Program entitled “The relationship between science and Orthodox Christianity: past-present-future” (29/11/11) and will bring to Athens important psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, theologians, researchers and philosophers.

For decades polarization has shaped relations between psychoanalysis and Christianity, psychoanalysts and theologians. However, recent research has revealed a growing interest from modern-day orthodox theologians, thinkers and mental health practitioners – who are often also clergy – to psychoanalytic theory and therapeutic practice as a means of anthropological understanding, pastoral care, but also the interpretation of religion and spirituality as a manifestation of civilization.

The conference will explore important topics of theological anthropology such as the concept of the soul, the distinction between mental and spiritual development, passions, emotions management. The aim of the organizers is to find areas of convergence and synergy. We contacted Professor Vasilos Thermos, associate professor at the Athens Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens – a psychiatrist of children and adolescents, to talk about the profits from the dialogue of religion and psychoanalysis.

What expectations do you have from this workshop?

This is the biggest attempt ever made in our country. Look, from all schools of psychotherapy psychoanalysis appeared the closest to the quests of theology about the “inward man”. Despite the fact that initially most of the psychoanalysts were atheists, and Freud psychoanalytically documented atheism and degraded religiousness, nevertheless psychoanalysis and theology continued to be constantly chosen along the way. Indeed, in some European countries we also had psychoanalysts who were Catholic clergy or Protestant pastors. The theoretical dialogue has never stopped through books, articles, conferences, where there are signs promising a mutual fertilization of the two sites. (Some previous attempts can be found in the volume “Healing” from the Armos publications).

We want psychoanalysts and clergy to better understand each other so that in theory both the fermentation and in practice the representatives of both sites can cooperate and communicate. There are people who are in psychoanalytic therapy and at the same time are faithful, have a spiritual. Are the two actors able to communicate and to be interviewed? That’s what we want to explore. It unifies both Freud’s wording that man must be able to love and work. But love in theology is understood to be something much larger than a more libidous transformation of libido (which is indeed), it is the “eternal invasion of the ephemeral”, as Marilyn Robinson was aptly attributed.

Do you think psychoanalysis has lost ground that religion has gained?

In the mental health framework, psychoanalysis has gone somewhat marginally compared to the past, because it is a lengthy and costly process, and other shorter therapies have occurred. Nevertheless, society keeps a keen interest in psychoanalysis, since it has always maintained bridges with literature, sociology, history, politics.

I would also say that there has been a shift in religion in general in recent years, but it is not always healthy. Modernity was hostile to faith with atheism and rationality, but at least it was still the truth. Postmodernism, though more religion-friendly, has a major flaw. Because of its moral relativity she is indifferent to the truth. The question, “what is true?”, “What is true?” Does not make sense for the postmodern climate. What is often heard today is “It does not matter what you think, you do well and you believe it helps you to be calm, if it helps you to find meaning in your life. It does not matter if what you believe is true. ” In this setting, religious belief can be a tautology,

However, psychoanalysis and theology have become more interactive and dialectical in recent years. Previously, there were polarizations, because a combat atheism characterized psychoanalysis, but also because the ecclesiastical space felt some self-sufficiency. Psychoanalysis has become more humble, whereas theology, in a world that is so complex, begins to understand that it can not speak to the modern man with a language that is not his own.

Are the two spaces seen in the same way as humans?

No, but there are some common things. For example, both sites agree on the influence of the unconscious, that man is not just what it looks like. Both spaces converge to an optimism for man, that man can change. Both agree on the importance of the relationship, that man is formed through the Other, as well as the role of the imaginary in this process. In addition, as they struggle for maturity, they are allies in the fight against the pathological narcissism and consumerism that plague our time. The psychoanalysis accepts, theoretically, that there is mature faith (while Freud considered every religion immature). However, I have the impression that he still maintains the new embarrassment when he is unable to understand how it is possible for a person to be related to God’s face without himself underestimating himself or inactivating his powers. Another difference is that the goal of psychoanalysis is to resolve internal conflicts in a way that no longer produces symptoms, while theology aims to transform man in a way that is not “out of this world.” Often, however, his psychological treatment facilitates and opens the way for spiritual development. whereas theology aims at transforming man in a way that is not “out of this world”. Often, however, his psychological treatment facilitates and opens the way for spiritual development. whereas theology aims at transforming man in a way that is not “out of this world”. Often, however, his psychological treatment facilitates and opens the way for spiritual development.

The current man in Greece has anger, anger, is violent, able to resort even to self-justice. What interpretation do you give to what is happening in Greek society?

My firm position is that the Greek mentality has been built on an incomplete internalisation of the law. I mean the psychoanalytic law, which has a direct effect on the relationship with the conventional law. We keep the law so we do not have problems with it, but we have not conquered it internally. It is a permanent endemic problem, but now the wrath is gigantic and its expression is liberated due to the crisis. And the collapse can also lead to self-justice.

Is there a serious cause for concern?

I think yes. And let’s not only focus on the phenomena of self-justice. It is disturbing that there is anger mixed with grief. Many who prefer to walk the way of anger do it so that they do not dive into depression. Another sad element is the loss of hope. But I really think we can change as a people and that only then does it hope that the state will change.

Unfortunately, in recent years we have gone a long way and I refer to measures that have a key symbolic meaning. Because when a government takes back measures to rehabilitate universities, restoring lawlessness, it sends a message to society, respectively. When you introduce anti-smoking remedies and moderate them afterwards, you again send a wrong message to society. But Lacan has taught us that the law is closely linked to the acceptance of the shortage. We need to be trained in the fact that lack is a structural element of mankind, not something that sadly is imposed by political circumstances, domestic and international. Then utopian fantasy inevitably generates violence.

The Greek and foreign participants

The workshop will take place on 1 December 2018 at the National Research Foundation (amphitheater “Leonidas Zervas”), with an opening time of 9 am. Work will be done in English, with simultaneous translation in Greek. Dr. Evdokia Delli, Researcher, Academy of Athens, Dr. Athanasios Alexandridis, Psychopathic psychiatrist, Dr Steven-John M. Harris, Psychologist, Center for Depth Psychology, Prof. Nikolaos Loudovikos, Professor, Higher Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki, Muse, Psychologist – Clergy-in-Kairos Training and Pastoral Program Director, Pastoral Institute, Columbus, GA, USA, Dr. Dimitrios Kyriazis, Psychiatrist – Child Psychiatrist – Psychoanalyst, Vassilios Thermos, Associate Professor, Athens Superior Ecclesiastical Academy – Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist , Dr. Petar Yevremov psychologist, professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Belgrade,