Many people in the Church in France are concerned about the dangers of deviation and manipulation present in certain retreats, meetings or prayer groups that offer “psycho-spiritual” therapies. These practices, coming largely from overseas, raise fundamental questions: Should we recognize boundaries between the spiritual and the psychological? Which ones? On what basis?
Such perplexity and bewilderment invite us to establish reference points that are as clear as possible on a complex, controversial terrain. In this article I intend to show that this is a typical question of the modern era and that, certainly, the spiritual and psychological elements are mixed in the unity of the human person, but today as yesterday, there is a distinction between ways of thinking about spiritual experience, as well as on the level of practice (psychotherapy, spiritual accompaniment and the pastoral dimension in general).
A contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas would undoubtedly not have understood the title of this article. In fact, the term “psychology” in the sense in which we ordinarily use it has only appeared recently. It was first used in the 18th century to define the study of the phenomena of mental life (Leibniz and Wolff), and only in the 19th century was psychology established as a scientific discipline, as a “human science.”