The Psychology of Religion is composed of a variety of different perspectives, which in certain cases proves difficult in determining both the clinical and pastoral implications of a theory. Modern-day psychology has demonstrated possible beneficial results in religious spiritual individuals, however, much of the current research has avoided questioning the “real” presence of the Divine or a Higher Being. Although a century has passed since his undertaking of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud readily settled the question of religion by declaring it a form of mental illness. While Freud’s Psychology of Religion is that religion only exists as a neurosis, his view provides the three clinical implications of hypnotism, free association, and dream analysis, each of which have also remained a source of criticism.
Rather than recognize the beneficial aspects religion and spirituality have to offer, Freud instead likened religion to a mental illness, which could be cured through psychoanalysis. When discussing weaknesses of society in Civilization and its Discontents, Freud remarks “The religions of humanity, too, must be classified as mass-delusions…Needless to say, no one who shares a delusion recognizes it as such.” (“Civilization and its Discontents” 774). Freud felt that his conclusion on religion was logical, yet he relied on paring it to disorders, such as hysteria, in an attempt to gain scientific credibility. Freud also benefitted from the delusion comparison because it offered yet another situation in which his psychoanalytic tools could be used.
While Freud rarely made use of hypnotism, he did not advise against its use on an individual basis as a means of self-analysis. Citing the potential damage resulting from a therapist’s suggestions, Freud notes “I have not practised hypnotism (individual cases excepted) as a therapeutic aim, and hence I return the patients with the advice that he who relies on hypnosis should do it himself.” (“Selected Papers on Hysteria” 108). Although hypnotism did not become a mainstay in Freud’s psychoanalytic methods, he did recommend it as a personal way resolving neuroses, such as religion. Freud’s denouncement of hypnosis proved futile, as Ian Parker explains “Freud himself is still evidently using techniques like ‘hypnotic analysis’…[h]e thought…[his patient’s] new symptom could be cleared up quite quickly since the symptom…” , resulting from his perfected psychoanalytic techniques, “was so fresh” (377). Even though Freud’s adaptation of hypnosis mimicked the pathologic symptoms he readily condemned in Dr. Breuer’s hypnotism, his support of individual hypnotic pursuits remains as a clinical implication of his psychology of religion.
Limited use of hypnotism is not the only clinical implication of Freud’s psychology of religion; the cathartic therapy known as free association is also a key method in curing the religion neurosis. While Freud was adamant about not using suggestive commentary, he still...