Thursday, March 08, 2012

Prayer Therapy

Thursday, March 8, 2012 -- Week of 2 Lent
Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy, Priest, 1929
Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 953)
Psalms [70], 71 (morning)        74 (evening)
Genesis 42:29-38
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Mark 4:21-34

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

This is a repeat post from a couple of years ago.  I remembered writing it when the same train of thought came back to me today.  The "prayer therapy" method is so powerful that I though it was worth repeating.

"The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how."  (Mark 8:26)

Some thirty years ago I was taught a method called "prayer therapy."  A woman who served as a spiritual director and as a psychotherapist taught the method.

First you think of some habit, behavior, sin or flaw that troubles or traps you.  Name the problem.

Then you ask yourself, what is the corresponding virtue which would counteract this problem?  If the problem is chronic anxiety, the virtue would be faith or trust.  If the problem is sexual sin, the virtue would be faithfulness or chastity.  (noting the reading today from 1 Corinthans)  If the problem is anger, the virtue would be peace or maybe forgiveness.  The old language of virtue and vice helps define the problem and solution.

Then you establish a bed-time routine.  Take five minutes as you are preparing for bed.  Stretch or listen to some quiet music or pray peacefully for that five minutes, letting go of the day and becoming more relaxed.  As you conclude the five minutes of relaxing, establish your consciousness of God's Spirit with you.  Be aware and grateful for God's presence.

Then spend five minutes in conscious, mental prayer.  Ask the Holy Spirit to remove from you the vice that you have identified, and ask the Holy Spirit to give you the gift of the virtue you have identified.  You may articulate the petition in a prayer sentence -- "Loving and gracious Holy Spirit, remove from me the vice of anxiety, and give to me the gift of divine trust."  You might say that phrase over and over, gently, trying to remain focused on the intent of your prayer.  Stay with it for five minutes. 

Then spend five minutes just resting in God, without much thought or busyness.

Close with the Lord's Prayer, or with a grateful acknowledgment of God; commend yourself to God for the night, and go to sleep.  Do this every night for two weeks.  The teacher encouraged us to set up a short list of vices and virtues to use for our practice, and to continue it for a couple of months, then see what happens. 

According to the teacher who gave me this method of prayer therapy, the method has been clinically tested and found to be remarkably transforming.  In a trial experiment, three sets of volunteers were given a set of standard psychological tests to measure their baseline sense of emotional health.  Then one group engaged in a period of one-on-one depth psychology with a qualified therapist, another group used the prayer therapy, and another group had no plan.  After a period of time the volunteers re-took the psychological tests.  The group that went to therapy showed significant improvement in their measurements; the group that practiced the prayer therapy had even more significant improvement; and there was no change in the group that had no plan.

There is something powerful about offering to God our souls and psyches as we begin to sleep, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us in the night, letting our subconscious heal through prayer and suggestion.  The kingdom of God grows as we "scatter seed... and sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how."



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