The Pope has been quoted in a new book, The Path to Change: Thoughts on Politics and Society, that he sought the help of a psychoanalyst when he was 42 to ‘clarify a few things’, and has found it to be beneficial.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the Pope was known then, was at the time the head of the Jesuit order in Argentina. It is quite common to visit a psychoanalyst in his home country (which was ruled by a military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983) and people openly discuss about it. Psychoanalysis became widely popular in the country in 1960s; however it was less freely talked about during the dictatorship.
According to the book, the Pontiff visited her female psychoanalyst at least once a week to shed light on certain things. The 80-year-old Pope described the psychoanalyst as ‘very good, very professional… but she always remained in her proper place.’ This revelation makes him to be the first Pope in history to have visited a psychoanalyst.
Psychoanalysis was started by Sigmund Freud at the turn of the century. He conceptualised the mind, metaphorically, as an ancient, buried ruin which had to been unearthed much like an archaeologist would unearth the treasures of an ancient civilisation.
In 2003, Peter Fonagy discussed the precarious position of psychoanalysis – a therapeutic approach which historically has defined itself by freedom from constraint and counted treatment length not in terms of number of sessions but in terms of years, in today’s era of empirically validated treatments and brief structured interventions.
In the past, the Vatican expressed an attitude of scepticism towards psychoanalysis but it has recently shown more of an interest in the practice, and says that psychologists can be a useful way of looking at the psychological health of potential priests.
The Vatican’s official status on psychoanalysis in 1952 was expressed in the statement: ‘should psychoanalytic treatment be judged harmful to the spiritual health of the faithful, the Church would not hesitate to take adequate steps to brand it as such.’
Pope Francis said that her Jewish psychoanalyst called him when she was dying for a spiritual dialogue. The Pontiff also shares of his state of mind now: ‘I feel free. Sure, I’m in a cage here at the Vatican, but not spiritually. Nothing makes me afraid.’ The Pope has in the past revealed he struggled with how to use authority in his first roles of leadership as a Jesuit.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He writes for the American Psychological Association and has a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today.