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The Couch or the Confessional?

May 31, 2016 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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Life of Christ (Week 8 of 27)

Couches would come back as a symbol of a guiltless world nineteen centuries later. Men would rise from them with their guilt explained away. But such souls would not have the inner joy of the woman, who heard One more than a prophet say to her: 

“Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace.” Luke 7:49

— Life of Christ, Chapter 12, Paragraph 8

The couch. It sounds like a great place to work things out. Most of us can picture in our minds a cartoon, television show or movie where a character sat in therapy, deeply analyzing every aspect of his life as he tried in vain to “fix” all his psychological issues. These scenes make us laugh. But I would like to assert that “the couch” is no laughing matter.

Therapists and therapy have done more to destroy the American family than just about anything but the federal government. We have been taught that everything from conversations to body language must be analyzed for underlying messages, hidden motives, and subconscious desires. And all that micro-analysis has had grave results.

If you’ve ever thought about an argument with your spouse long enough, you know small conflicts have a way of becoming ten times the original problem. An open toilet seat can become about her need for control. Her control issues have something to do with her absentee father and her desperate need for affection. Over time, micro-analysis can corrode the strongest of marriages. While of course there are some solid Christian therapists that approach their clients from a biblical perspective, the fact is that countless couples have been tipped if not driven to the point of divorce as a result of therapy.

Additionally, 7.5% of children in our country are medicated as a result of well-meaning individuals who try to help them navigate the world through the tiny confines of their own heads. And virtually no one can escape unscathed. For through resources like Parent’s Magazine and others, even those parents who haven't yet resorted to any kind of therapy for their children are being taught by “professionals” that self-esteem is paramount and personal feelings trump reality.

Funny – after trying to raise six kids in a hyper “self-esteem-driven” culture, and trusting the “experts” for many years, I recently read that high self-esteem can be as problematic as low self-esteem, depending on how esteem is developed. (Ya think?!) In other words, self-esteem should not be an end in itself.

Sadly, this mistaken “worship” of self-esteem is not as benign as other corrected expert recommendations in the past (red meat, buttereggs, etc.). In the case at hand, the consequences are much more dire. These so-called professionals have been responsible for destroying countless children. After 20 years of building self-esteem in this country, we are now seeing an epidemic of narcissism. Narcissism is essentially self-esteem run amuck. It is defined in psychological terms as an extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration. I wonder how many thousands of well-meaning parents trusted the “experts” and are now aghast at monsters they’ve created. It is frightening. And it has frightening consequences for the soul of the world. In fact, Archbishop Fulton Sheen said in The Cross and the Beatitudes,

Selfishness is the world’s greatest sin; that is why the world hates those who hate it, why it is jealous of those who have more; why it is envious of those who do more; why it dislikes those who refuse to flatter. (p. 6)

and in Love One Another,

The sign of the end of the world will be selfishness. (p. 114)

This is why we should be wary of the couch. The couch does not represent spiritual direction. The couch represents self direction. Psychology has a tendency to draw us into ourselves, as opposed to out toward the world. Or better, up toward God. With psychology, self can become the baseline. Self can become the goal. And self can become the ultimate means of traveling from one to the other. Psychology can cause us to become so wrapped up in our own minds that we are destined to rot from within.

So what should we pursue in lieu of the couch?

Try The Confessional.

The confessional is not a couch. It is not a Catholic version of counseling. It is not merely an opportunity to vent, validate, accuse, or even to share about the most secret corners of the soul. It is not about analyzing or dissecting our thoughts, words deeds or relationships.

In fact, confession is not concerned with self at all, but with union, or reunion with God. It is about our relationship with the Baseline. With the Ultimate Goal. And it is about receiving the Grace of God as a means of traveling from here to there. As opposed to encouraging selfishness, confession is about recognizing the smallness of self and acknowledging its subservience to the greatness of God.

Often people come from therapy sessions claiming they are exhausted, worn out and just plain spent. But ask anyone who comes from making a “good” confession and you will find they are rejuvenated, jubilant and whole.

Ask yourself whether you and/or your children would benefit from the confessional in lieu of the couch. Is sin at the heart of your discontent? Throw open the doors to the confessional and find out. This is not to say that that are no reasons for the couch. Far be it from me to pass judgment any form of therapy or reasons for it. I speak in general terms about observed realities and merely expound on the words of our beloved author. But if you are looking for solace, it’s possible you might find more in the arms of Mother Church than in those of Sigmund Freud:

Tell souls where they are to look for solace; that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy. There the greatest miracles take place [and] are incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to him one's misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no [hope of ] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full. Oh, how miserable are those who do not take advantage of the miracle of God's mercy! (1448) — St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul

And when you’re done? You just may find yourself walking on air:

…when a Catholic comes from Confession, he does truly, by definition, step out again into that dawn of his own beginning and look with new eyes across the world to a Crystal Palace that is really of crystal. — G.K. Chesterton (Autobiography, Ch. 16)

…for like the woman, you will have gained the inner joy born of one more than a prophet who said,

“Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace.” Luke 7:49

Reading Assignment:

Chapters 15-17

Discussion Questions:

1. How do you feel when you come out of the confessional? If you haven't gone to confession lately, consider fitting it into your schedule this week.

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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