By Elena Wu
The field of Psychology didn’t just emerge from a secular perspective; it was birthed from a strongly anti-theistic point-of-view. Sigmund Freud, the father of Psychology, believed that religion was merely an instrument for the “uneducated and oppressed” who may commit murder if not told that God would forbid it. In fact, he asserted that religious training truncated one’s intellect because it curbed our ability to question. In Freud’s book, The Future of an Illusion (1927), he “hope[d] that in the future, science will go beyond religion, and reason will replace faith in God”
As such, it’s no surprise that professionals working in the field of psychology and mental health today consider themselves far less religious and spiritual than the national population. After surveying 1500 full-time college professors, Gross and Simmons (2009) discovered that 50% of psychology professors do not believe in God and another 11% are agnostic – making them the least religious out of an already-liberal group. Further, when you compare these percentages to the national population, the difference is striking. According to Pew Research, in 2014 only 22% of Americans considered themselves atheist or agnostic.
These figures are telling us that the majority of professionals responsible for treating mental illnesses are non-theistic. However, these conditions (i.e., depression, anxiety, suicide) often require addressing existential concerns. If we were to seek professional help today, chances are we will encounter a therapist that believes religion - or a belief in something sacred - is a weakness. Yet as Christians, we know that this is far from our experiences with God. How can the Gospel possibly shed light in this field?
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned to appreciate as I come to know God more, it’s that His power and truths cannot be hidden. About 30 years ago, a small group of researchers embarked on a journey to measure spirituality and its effect on physical and mental health. After three decades, the field of psychology cannot deny that there is a positive correlation between religion/spirituality and a host of physical and mental health factors.
In fact, research has substantiated that a negative relationship exists between religion/spirituality and some of the most pervasive mental health disorders: depression, suicide, anxiety, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse. Even MRI scans are revealing that spiritual beliefs can change the makeup of our brain. Children who believe in God have more activity in specific regions of their brain that are known for resilience and having the ability to hope - both of which are critical factors for predicting outcome in individuals enduring suffering. As the number of scientific findings continues to increase, a once non-theistic field is having to reconsider the importance of the role of spirituality.
Although Freud and many of his colleagues wanted to stamp out religion through the use of scientific reasoning and methods, God was able to enter through psychology’s front door – through scientific experiments. No matter how anti-theistic an industry or community may seem, let this be an example of the omnipresence and omnipotence of God and His Truth.