Cognitive versus Spiritual Therapy



In my life I have recognized my own mental dysfunctions and have sought various therapies, both academic and spiritual, to help me overcome them. In this article, I look at both approaches.

Academic Research

As I reviewed academic research, two cognitive therapies really resonated. The first was from M.E.P. Seligman, Learned Optimism. Summarized, outlook is important because pessimists tend to be less happy, productive, successful and healthy than optimists.

The optimistic me:

  • Regards bad events as merely temporary setbacks, and good events as being lasting, permanent parts of my life. [Permanence]
  • Regards bad events are setbacks for only a few parts of my life – the exception, not the rule. Good events are universals, improving all aspects of my life. [Pervasiveness]
  • Does not accept responsibility for bad events and external forces (office politics, fate, luck, etc.) I cannot control and links good events to internal behaviors I can control. [Personal]
  • Thinks about positive explanations, assumptions and attributions to strengthen them. The more time I devote to the positive, the more habitual and powerful those patterns of thought become. [Rumination]

The second is from J.M. Schwartz. Brain Lock.  Summarized, this is the science of physically rewiring your brain to the point of seeing the changes on a CAT scan:

  1. Recognize. Recognize when my thoughts, impressions and feelings are slipping out of reality into the negative, sick area of my brain. I desire to get off that path because it brings feeling and actions that hurt me and others.
  2. Reattribute. Have mental arguments with these negative thoughts, impressions and feelings. Remember experiences which contradict them until you believe the negative thoughts are lies. Automatically discard mental garbage before it can harm you.
  3. Refocus. Once back in touch with reality, stay there. When negative thoughts intrude, distract yourself (TV, computer games, music, etc.) or replace them with positive thoughts and actions.  Over time, the dysfunctional neural pathways will atrophy as you ignore them,
  4. Revalue. Value and actively enjoy positive thought and feelings. This will allow your positive mental processes to become smooth and powerful as they are frequently used

These formulas work well, but they have to be memorized and followed like a diet.  In contrast, reading the scriptures has taught me the following:


As a child of God I was sent here with the spiritual gifts, physical strength and mental abilities I need – a sort of divine tool kit. These power tools run on humility, faith, hope, charity and other virtues. Because this tool kit was customized for me, I know that I can succeed with it, come what may, unless I burn out the tools following my lusts and favorite sins or throw them away. [Personal] My mission, my call, my personal destiny is to become my best self with God’s help. [Recognize]

I am born with a divided mind and heart which I must reconcile. I have a spiritual, divine side and a carnal and sinful side – one of them will eventually overwhelm the other.  As Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is within you” (Luke 17:21). That is also where the kingdom of hell is. If I focus my mind and fill my life with loving, edifying spiritual thoughts and actions, I will slowly shape my own little personal heaven full of abiding peace, joy and love. If I focus my mind and fill my life with selfish, sinful thoughts and actions, I will slowly shape a personal hell full of temporary pleasures, egotistical thrills, and broken relationships. [Refocus, Revalue, Rumination]  What I build now I must live in later, so I must take care.

Life will be full of hardships, from physical challenges to mental problems to spiritual despair. Worse yet, I am a talented self-deceiver, rationalizing that evil is good and good is evil. Often these trials and tribulations will be beyond my control, and some I will create through self-destructive attitudes and actions, but that does not matter [Reattribute]. If I stay close to God, I will receive the strength I need to bear them, the comfort I need to endure them, and the guidance I need to escape or overcome them. Through the power of Christ’s atonement I can be healed, inside and out. Afterwards I will be tougher, wiser and better than I was before – my weaknesses will become my strengths. [Pervasiveness]  All I need to do is try to be truly sincere, so God will bless me as soon as I am ready to accept it.  Trials and suffering do not matter – they are always temporary – but how I allow them to change me can last forever. [Permanence]

Most importantly, to find myself I must lose myself, and pay it forward. God loves me, and hopes I will share that love with others; He inspires me and hopes I will help Him teach others; He comforts me and hopes I will help Him comfort others; He heals me and hopes I will help Him heal others; he lifts me and hopes I will help Him lift others. And then the transcendence happens – the more I love the more love I receive, the more I teach, the more I learn, the more I comfort the more I am comforted, the more I heal the more I am healed, the more I lift, the more I am lifted.  As I learn to fully accept the power of Christ’s atonement into my life, this cycle of edification and magnification continues until I am so full of love and light, heaven is not that far away after all.  (Every therapeutic principle mentioned above)

So you tell me, which is more compelling – the formula or the scriptures?  The scriptures reinforce what the experts tell me, and there is so much more to the scriptures – I’ve just scratched the surface.

I’m grateful that both cognitive and spiritual therapies can help me become my best, happiest self.




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