A major aspect of these approaches is an exaggerated focus on demonic activity. For a much more thorough explanation on the topic, I will point the reader to the work of Cardinal Suenens and his text on the subject, Renewal and the Powers of Darkness, in particular Chapters 10-11, which offers great clarity to the theological and psychological dangers in popular deliverance practices. Yes, I do believe it is right to not ignore this topic and remind people that the devil is real, but many of the supposed remedies offered through deliverance prayers are superstition and tend to increase people’s fear of the devil. It also further complicates the presenting issues by drawing attention away from the real problems and fixates on demonic activity. The irony is that this is what the devil wants: attention on himself and not the Lord. The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis does a wonderful job of exposing the many tricks and temptations used by devils in attempt to lure us away from the Lord.
Furthermore, many of the “family tree” healing prayers ignore the grace of baptism, where in the rite there is an exorcism prayer. Yes, if a person is genuinely possessed, all bets are off and the exorcist must examine any possibility as to why the possession has occurred, but full possessions are rare. Most of us are fine when imploring Ignatian discernment of spirits principles that focus on real solutions, real growth in human virtue, and not just quick-fix prayers. I know that there is a place for deliverance prayers, but I believe that the approaches in question lead to fear and fixation on spiritual activities at the negation of natural methods to healing. For example, one can certainly claim that certain sins are generational (i.e.: my dad’s dad was alcoholic, which affected my dad, which in turn affected the way he fathered me…), but the solution is to deal with the actual issue of alcoholism through recovery and an appeal to mercy. To be overly distracted with some ‘plaguing demon’ on the family tree unnecessarily complicates the issue. Moreover, in prematurely jumping to the supernatural realm, this family would not focus its attention on the real solutions to the problem. Yet, if by chance there was plaguing demon tormenting this individual, the required solution is more than what can be accomplished by lay people and this person would need a well-trained priest.
I hope that you can see a thread throughout this post…there are major problems when an environment becomes overly spiritualized and ignores the gift of human reason, the complexities of the human condition, and makes debased claims about preternatural matters. There usually are no quick fixes to our emotional problems and anyone who claims to have one is promoting a potentially damaging situation. Nothing can substitute the arduous path of healing and growth; unless it is a genuine miracle from the Lord.
Certainly, we cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater and state that prayer has no room in counseling. I pray with each of my clients who are open to it. Also, I try to be docile to the Spirit and hope that he is present in my sessions. However, my assertion stands that these fundamentalist approaches to ‘healing prayer’ negate the full operations of the Holy Spirit in the life of the counselee and counselor. Yes, the Holy Spirit guides me as a counselor; but when I sit in the counseling room, He uses all things to help me help my client: my temperament, clinical training, experience, expertise, books I have read, prayer, therapeutic interventions, personal maturity, active listening skills, and reason. All things are at his disposal…including the patience, effort, and redemptive suffering of the person seeking help.
I discourage anyone reading these types of conferences until there is greater clarity on these methods and approaches by the Church. Instead, try to find well-trained Catholic clinicians in your area by contacting your parish, diocesan family life office, online databases such as wellcatholic.com and catholictherapists.com, or through the Catholic Psychotherapy Association.
Please leave respectful comments below. I wrote this in charity and I expect the same in return. I believe there is real dialogue that needs to occur on these topics and may the Lord guide us to better understand his ways.
For your reference, here is the pdf of the full critique: Sacasa – Healing Prayer Critique