Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Foundations for a Psychotherapy of Virtue: An Integrated Catholic Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Foundations for a Psychotherapy of Virtue: An Integrated Catholic Perspective

Article excerpt

This article discusses the possibility of founding a psychotherapy of virtue on a Roman Catholic anthropology and on an Aristotelian- Thomist virtue theory. We explore the common ground, the diversity, and the therapeutic pathways in a life of virtue. The common ground is rooted in the normativeness of human nature according to cognitive, volitional, emotional, and relational domains, where we find the basic virtue areas identified in the cardinal and theological virtues. The diversity is manifest at the level of human development in which associated virtue strengths and supporting practices are historically and culturally embedded. The therapeutic pathways revisit these levels with a goal of healing. It is argued that the therapeutic process must prioritize attention to emotional wounds to stabilize the foundation for growth in the capacity to become free and responsible agents. In addition, for clients who bring an intention to employ Christian spiritual resources, this psychotherapy concurrently seeks not only symptom reduction and the development of acquired virtue strengths and practices, but also the concomitant development of spiritual ones.

Recent efforts have explicated Catholic anthropological foundations for clinical psychology (Brugger & the faculty of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, 2008), incorporating a positive developmental and therapeutic psychology paradigm in terms of three levels: basic virtues, character strengths, and practices (Titus & Moncher, in press). In this article, we consider a psychology of virtue, which draws from a virtue-tradition with its achievements in philosophical and theoretical psychology (see, e.g., Aristotle, trans 1941; Aquinas, 1270/trans 1981; Hauerwas, 1981; John Paul II, 1998; Mclntyre, 1981; Pinckaers, trns 1995, 2005; Titus, 2006). From within this tradition, we have identified certain anthropological principles relevant to the task of psychotherapy that spring from theological and philosophical sources (Moncher, 2001).

Inasmuch as we take an explicitly CatholicChristian perspective, we differ from other recent efforts to re-appropriate virtue in psychology, both those that assert a non-normative framework and those that take a relativistic approach to moral norms. On the one hand, the positive psychology paradigm of character strengths and virtues has attempted to abstract itself not only from particular religious traditions, but also from moral norms as such (e.g., Seligman, 2002; Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Joseph & Linley 2006; Snyder & Lopez, 2007). For example, Peterson and Seligman (2004) claim their "richer psychological content and greater explanatory power" (p. 88) is descriptive of character strengths, but without normative reference. While seeking moral references for good character in a pre-empirical moral anthropology (through the construal of the nature of virtue and the notion of positive human nature), they distance the inner motivation of the virtues from moral considerations (laws and principles) and from the normativeness of human nature. Such a separation of virtue and ethical sources (moral inclinations, sentiments, law, and principle) renders both psychological guidance and moral agency indecisive. While this approach may give some clues for positive growth, we find that it has not yet succeeded in understanding the role of virtue in psychotherapy (Titus & Moncher, in press; Titus, 2008). On the other hand, others see psychotherapy as moral discourse (e.g., Cushman 1990, 1993) and affirm the necessity of moral borders. Cushman (1993) sees the psychotherapist as a resource in the patient's discernment of moral issues (see also Tjeltveit, 1999), and claims that "It is the job of a psychotherapist to demonstrate the existence of a world constituted by different rules and to encourage patients to be aware of available moral traditions that oppose the moral frame by which they presently shape their lives" (p. …

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