Monday, September 7, 2009

Psychiatrist, Theologian Dr. Paul Ungar Challenges Chaotic Society

By Brian Welter

People in modern societies are usually “accepting of Christian civilization, including rights, freedom and progress, which reflect Jesus' teachings. They need a tangible experience of God, and can have such in the Roman Catholic Church through the sacraments. This is not a hyper-emotional or ecstatic or irrational experience. There is no self-reduction.”

Vancouver resident Dr. Paul Ungar sounded optimistic in his analysis of postmodern culture in a recent interview. “The Catholic Church,” he explained, “is ascending, trying to grow spiritually. It's about not giving up freedom and responsibility and sinking into a crowd. It's not about giving up my personality.”

He asks the reader in his Preface to The Mystery of Christian Faith, “What may be the reason behind widespread agnosticism, religious indifference, apathy, and loss of interest in God, which prevail in our time like never before in history?”

The book had a long germinating time. After saving a patient left comatose following a suicide attempt, Dr. Ungar “expected him [the patient] to say, 'Thank you for saving my life.' Instead, the patient asked: 'Why must I live?'”

The doctor had no satisfactory answer, and the patient, after his discharge, successfully killed himself. Dr. Ungar wrote that he “was left haunted by the thought: 'If I only knew how to respond.'”
Following this experience, Dr. Ungar specialized in psychiatry, earned a Master’s degree in psychodynamic therapy and a Ph.D. in existential psychotherapy. He found that medicine, psychology and philosophy failed to provide a satisfactory answer to the question ”Why must we live?” Only trust in God could provide a solid answer. Dr. Ungar then resolved to study theology, and earned a graduate degree in this discipline.

Dr. Ungar brought his family to Vancouver in 1991 and taught at Trinity Western University for many years. Currently in private practice, he encounters the spiritual and psychological results of secularism.

He agrees with his teacher Viktor Frankl: “'Everyone is as strong as his or her ideals.' Abandoning ideals, especially turning away from the ultimate ideal – God - is what theology refers to as sin. Psychologically, it leads to a sense of guilt, which is often the cause of depression and the loss of inner peace, self-regard, optimism and joy.”

Rather than a loss of the sense of sin resulting from post-Christian values, people often come to Dr. Ungar's practice grappling with too much guilt.

Many psychological problems, in other words, arise from spiritual problems. Depression, for instance, arises with the gap between “how I am and how I ought to be.” The doctor remarked that, “Tormented by suppressed guilt, modern religiously apathetic people turn to the flourishing ‘confessor industry’ of counsellors, psychologists, or psychiatrists.”

Dr. Ungar urged people to adopt the religious solution, whereby “I have to accept myself even if I am depressed because I am a temple of the Holy Spirit. If I am not religious, I may hate myself because of my depression.”

Dr. Ungar concluded: “psychology and theology are often interconnected. As Frankl noted, the goal of psychology is to achieve mental health. However, as its by-product, psychotherapy often facilitates one’s way towards the ultimate truth - God. Conversely, the purpose of the clergy is to promote the salvation of souls, but as 'side-effect' of doing so, they also foster mental health.”

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