Inner Healing Prayer: Theological, Psychological, and Practical Concerns

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in healing methods that are overly based on spiritual practices. As a Catholic psychotherapist, I felt that it was time to begin a discussion regarding these approaches and how they fit within an authentically Catholic model of psychological healing. While I recognize that there are slight variations in these approaches, I wish to comment on concerns regarding Inner Healing Prayer as a counseling theory and the ways these “prayers” are generally taught and practiced.

The reason for this series of posts is not to speak ill against anyone who incorporates these methods into their counseling practice, but rather this is a humble attempt to articulate and clarify the errors in this approach to healing, while honoring what is good. Moreover, this is not a blanket criticism against the Charismatic Renewal, since many of these approaches are born out of Charismatic spirituality. My hope is that these posts simply offer clarity and begin a much-needed discussion on their role in Catholic life today.

Let me start by saying that there are more organic ways of integrating our Faith into counseling than what is offered by Inner Healing Prayer or any other version of overly spiritualized healing methods. What is presently being offered is another iteration of the same line of thought that has been around for some time. I am not the first to speak against these approaches, nor will I be the last. In general, I discourage these practices because the risk far outweighs the reward and I have seen these approaches hurt many people.

As a former recipient of Inner Healing Prayer and as a one who used to incorporate it into my practice, I understand the attraction. It seemingly offers a quick solution to people’s problems through simple prayers. As one who works with people’s emotions all day long, believe me, I sincerely wish that I had a quick fix to life’s problems, but there usually is not one available. As the saying goes, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.” This applies to our spiritual lives as well. I will further explore this quick-fix mentality later in the posts.

However, knowing that people come to these healing events with many hurts/wounds and are looking for solutions, claiming to offer quick fixes through ‘healing prayers’ often lead to emotional manipulation and spiritual abuse. Over the years, I have wanted to use softer language regarding this practice, like “it lacks balance” or “it is off a bit,” but as I grow through my reflection and study, I am convinced that what is going on is manipulation of people’s emotions. To make matters worse, it is done in the name of the “Holy Spirit” or branded as Authentically Catholic; which is spiritual abuse, because it deeply wounds people and confuses their spirituality and relationship with Our Lord. I encourage each of you reading these posts to encounter in a fresh light the great spiritual masters of our Faith: St Benedict of Nursia, St Gregory the Great, St Ignatius of Loyola, St John of the Cross, or even modern powerhouses like St John Paul II (JPII) and Benedict XVI. In doing so with an open heart and mind you will see that this brand of “prayer” does not fit within any of those rich spiritual traditions.

Let me explain why I make these claims by examining some of the major areas of concern found in these practices: 1) presumption that all of life’s problems are rooted in some wound from the past and that true healing can only occur by unlocking that traumatic memory, 2) emotion is the single greatest gauge used to determine the presence of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life, 3) supposed formulization and expectation of miracles, 4) exaggerated attention drawn to demonic activity.

I will further expand on the four areas of concern over the next few blog posts.

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