Gregory Popcak on Religion, Psychology, & Seven Longings
Date: July 5th, 2015

Religion and psychology are often posed in contradistinction to one another, with the former focusing on faith and the later on science.  Nonetheless, faith-based mental health and relationship counseling exists and can be very effective.  To discuss this general topic, we invite Dr. Gregory Popcak, founder of Pastoral Solutions Institute and author of numerous books (see below), to talk about his work and how spirituality informs psychology and vice versa.

We begin our conversation with Greg’s personal background, noting a strong religious upbringing and then his educational trajectory that eventually landed him a Ph.D. in psychology.  Tony inquires how he was steered in this professional direction and whether or not studying psychology ever challenged some of his religious beliefs.  Dr. Popcak notes that while there has been some tension between religion and psychology, particularly with efforts of early advocates of behaviorism seeing this scientific endeavor as a substitute for religion, there has been a reconciling of these two seemingly diverse approaches to mental and relational health.  Tony notes that clergy have long been a source of personal counseling for individuals, and Greg adds that recent studies in the field — mentioning Ken Pargament, in particular — have shown how a spiritual approach to counseling has numerous benefits for patients.  Tony probes whether the tension between religion and psychology also emanates from those in the pews who argue that the answer to mental health issues is simply to “just get Jesus” and leave modern psychology out of it.

Dr. Popcak also discusses how and why he founded Pastoral Solutions Institute, and what it does.  Here, the discussion winds through a number of different topics including Tony’s perception that people are becoming more anxiety-ridden over time. Greg also notes that he is seeing more individuals with these issues and advances his thoughts on why this might be happening with greater frequency.  We also bring up the topic of tele-counseling.  Greg’s institute does a significant amount of tele-counseling, in addition to in-person visits, and he covers the various benefits and drawbacks of this approach.

The last half of the interview focuses on Dr. Popcak’s new book, Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.  Tony starts off by reading the opening paragraph of that work, which he notes may sound a bit controversial and blasphemous.  In that passage, Dr. Popcak wonders what if “you had become a god [small g] overnight.”  While working to become “a god” (not the God) seems rather megalomaniacal, Greg explains how this has a theological basis dating back to 2 Peter 1:4, and was a theme discussed by the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and C.S. Lewis. We then walk through what the “seven longings of the human heart” are and how they are set in opposition to the seven deadly sins.  While not covering all seven in detail, Tony asks Greg how he would counsel someone on the issue of dignity, set against the sin of envy, noting that academics like himself often struggle greatly with this one.  We also talk about how kindness plays into all of this and how grace has shown itself to have measurable empirical impacts in the realm of brain activity.  Greg finishes off with some reflections on what he has learned over the years of practicing faith-based psychology.  Recorded: June 29, 2015.


Gregory Popcak’s bio at Pastoral Solutions Institute.

Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, by Gregory Popcak.

For Better, Forever: A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, by Gregory Popcak.

Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising almost Perfect Kids, by Gregory Popcak and Lisa Popcak.

The Life God Wants You to Have: Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail, by Gregory Popcak.

Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving, by Gregory Popcak.

More2Life Radio at Ave Maria Radio.

Faith on the Couch blog at Patheos.

The Psychology of Religion and Coping, by Ken Pargament (mentioned in podcast).


Rob Moll on Religion and the Brain.

Jeff Levin on Judaism and Health.

Jeff Levin on Religion and Health.

Justin Barrett on the Naturalness of Religious Belief.

Carolyn Warner on Religion & Generosity.

Bradley Wright on SoulPulse.

Rod Stark on How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists.

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