Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Book Review

Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing
Teachings from the Early Christian East

Jean-Claude Larchet
Angelico Press
ISBN 1 59731 045 X

Photo of book coverThis is a highly readable work on mental disorders according to the early Church Fathers. Because the Fathers believed that man is body, soul and spirit, they also held that mental disorders have their origin in the body, soul or spirit. It is therefore a mistake to ascribe all mental disorders to demonic causes. The Fathers would most certainly have approved of the modern psychiatric practice of treating mental disorders of somatic origin by means of medical therapies.

The author, who has an excellent understanding of modern psychiatry as well as the Church Fathers, rightly observes that we have a great deal to learn from the Fathers. Mental disorders of spiritual origin require to be treated by spiritual means. There is a wonderful examination of the spiritual state known as acedia, a state that is more intense than spiritual boredom and is somewhat akin to states of depression. Acedia is due to an excess of the passions, which leads to a certain passivity of spirit. The remedy lies in spiritual activity and especially fervent prayer and fasting.

More problematic is the opinion in favour of the demonic origin of some mental disorders. This surely requires a great deal of discernment and wisdom. However, the Fathers were well stocked in these gifts. Far more so than some Christian denominations today.

The Fathers can help us understand that mental disorders sometimes require biological, psychological and spiritual remedies. Medication alone is sometimes not enough.

At a time when mindfulness and other techniques are on the rise in the treatment of mental disorders, this work is considerable importance.