Thirty years ago, Philip Rieff wrote a book arguing the widespread need for private therapy exists today mainly because community has broken down. In societies where there are strong communities, Rieff contends, there is much less need for private therapy. People can more easily live with or work out their problems through and within the community.
If Rieff is right, the answer for at least some problems for which we seek professional therapy today is fuller participation in community life : including church life : rather than private therapy. We need the therapy of community experiences.
What does this mean? How does community heal and strengthen us? Community, that is, life beyond our private selves and private intimacies, is therapeutic because it draws us outside of ourselves, gives us a steadying rhythm of life, helps us feel ordinary and connects us with resources beyond our private helplessness.
Simply put, to participate healthily within community and family takes us beyond the pathology and fragility we so often sense within the recesses of our own souls. Community steadies us. It contains a rhythm and regularity that is calming. Participation in community gives us clearly defined things to do, regular stopping places and events to structure and steady us. This is a commodity that no therapeutic couch can provide.
Of course we need to make a distinction between involvement in community and simply burying oneself in work and distractions. We are advised here not to run away from painful inner issues, but to recognize that working through these issues healthily depends in great part upon the communal relationships we have fashioned in our lives.
The rhythm of community, especially of a faith community : its constant interaction, its regularity, its sacred stories related to make our lives more meaningful, its common prayer and common meal : helps steady the unsteady, order the chaotic, firm up the fragile and give us a sense of being ordinary in the best sense of that word. There is a healing and wholeness that comes only from participation in community life and worship.
Frequent Eucharist, common prayer and song, regular community meetings and voluntarily accepted responsibilities within the faith community not only nurture the soul. They keep us sane and steady in a world that often is neither. Private therapy may sometimes be helpful in supplementing this, but life in the faith community : with its weekly and seasonal rhythms and demands : can help provide a steadiness that is simply not available on a therapist's couch. Never has been. Never will be.