on February 11, 2011
Father Alexis Trader is an American-educated Athonite monk, who, in his own life, already bridges two rather different worlds. His book is a lucid reflection on leading themes taken from Aaron Beck's cognitive therapy, on the one hand, and the writings of Greek Christian monastic masters, on the other - masters whose own concerns with the therapy of the person account for the greater part of the monastic counsels that have come down to us. The author writes with rare fluency and insight on issues that have often proved difficult of access for therapists on either side of this particular instance of the east-west divide, when they have consulted each other. What emerges in this study, out of the author's living experience, is an incisive, compelling and at times, surprising account of the connectedness of the therapy of the soul, both modern and ancient, eastern and western - as other reviewers have rightly noted, all very elegantly-written. The result is an important book from a gifted writer who has obviously spent much of his adult life reflecting on two seemingly incompatible world-views. The author demonstrates where synthesis is possible, and demonstrates the importance of that convergence. This is a book that belongs on the desk of Parish Pastors, therapists both clerical and lay who work with non-parochial communities and institutions, as well as on the desk of those responsible for monastic communities, presumably already well-versed in the work of Christian ascetic therapists down the ages. But, just as importantly, laymen concerned for these "ultimate questions" could not be better-served in pursuing their personal goals than by studying this amazing, sophisticated work. This is an important reflection by a master concerning things that are close both to the heart of historic Christianity, as well as to the main themes of contemporary western cognitive psychology. Father Alexis Trader's book is a rare achievement and cannot be too highly-recommended.
on February 3, 2011
This unique study, which is wonderfully written, has broadened and deepened my knowledge of not only the spiritual teachings and pastoral practices of the Early Church, but also the contemporary theories of the renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Aaron Beck and his school. Although it is more expensive than many popularized works in theology or psychology, it contains an expansive wealth of material and information that could easily fill two or three other lesser volumes. Classic reference works and textbooks are in fact comparably priced. Ancient Christian Wisdom can even be conceived of as three works in one: it provides an excellent introduction to the pastoral practices of the Church Fathers and how they approach the art of spiritual guidance and healing, with vast references and quotes from their original writings; it also presents a complete and reader-friendly introduction to Cognitive Therapy, including its theory and techniques; and most significant of all, it draws surprising connections and also highlights the underlying differences between these two approaches. This third aspect sets it apart from other important resources in either field.
The book is also quite literally a pleasure to read, being written in a style that is both elegant and strikingly clear. It takes the reader on an inspiring journey that spans and bridges the two seemingly contrasting worlds of theology and psychology. At the same time, this is no intimidating esoteric work for specialists only. It's a practical volume useful for anyone open to these two important sources of human understanding. An excellent asset which beautifully inspires and informs, Ancient Christian Wisdom is a major contribution to the fields of pastoral theology and spirituality and will surely impact the ministries and practices of countless pastors and therapists throughout the English-speaking world.
I believe this very innovative book will soon come to be regarded as a groundbreaking study in its field. I highly recommend it as an invaluable tool for every pastor's bookshelf and counselor's office.
on October 12, 2012
This book would appeal to a broad cross section of the population interested in psychology, Eastern Orthodoxy, psychotherapy, the Church Fathers, contemporary mental health care, or Beck's Cognitive Therapy. Each page is densely packed with eye-opening revelations, which draw the reader further into the book and makes it difficult to put down. It is a book that should be read slowly, and in many sittings in order to digest the feast placed before the reader. The Church Fathers knew what is either already being used in modern psychotherapy or is being newly rediscovered and used in cognitive therapy. The language in some areas may get a bit technical, but it is still understandable to the average person. I highly recommend this book to the professional therapist or to anyone pursing spiritual, psychological, or personal development be they Orthodox Christians or of another faith. There is something here for everyone.
on February 6, 2011
I found this work to be a beautiful and useful guide for clinicians and pastoral workers alike who wish to help individuals through a combination of psychological and Christian teachings. Pater Alexios outlines cognitive-behavioral psychotherapeutic approaches and compares and contrasts them to Christian writings for the purpose of assisting individuals who may or may not have previously attempted to use these combined principles for healing of the mind and spirit. It is a moving work which is a pleasure to read for many reasons. It provides concrete examples of how to conceptualize and apply combined Christian and psychological solutions for challenges to the mind and spirit. It is also written in a clear and elegant style. As someone who treats people with mental health problems, I believe that this book is a valuable and unique resource in treating and supporting individuals and families who believe in Christian doctrine and who would also benefit from cognitive-behavioral interventions for their difficulties.
on May 31, 2011
I'm working through this wonderful work (slowly), so I might change my rating -- but I doubt it. This book contains the best finest exposition -- in just a few pages -- of Orthodox Christian anthropology, theology, and worldview I have ever encountered.
The approach to the field of psychology strikes me as exactly right: avoiding the extremes of outright condemnation (which would be very easy given the great hostility to religious belief present in much of psychology) and uncritical acceptance which too willingly compromises Christian beliefs in the face of the 'science' of psychology. I found the following paragraph particularly enlightening (pp. 39-40, endnotes omitted):
'That "theoretical formulations that are built on non-Christian or even anti-Christian presuppositions still have the capacity to generate verified and verifiable observations of human nature that had never before been suggested by Scripture" need not be a vexed question. A theory can be a methodologically useful tool with predictive power without being metaphysically or even empirically true. Ptolemy's successful predictions of eclipses and the flat-earth model used by engineers are good examples of models that may be methodologically useful, but are factually quite mistaken. Technically speaking, "scientific theories are neither true nor false, but rather more or less useful for explanatory and predictive purposes." In other words, the use of methodological naturalism and materialism for practical reasons does not require a commitment to the truth-value of their metaphysical counterparts.'
In my experience, many (most?) therapists will be reluctant to consider this material -- which would be a shame and a disservice to Christian clients. I strongly recommend Christians in therapy read this book to learn how therapy can be useful without compromising one's beliefs.
on May 16, 2013
I found out about this book during a Benedictine Lenten retreat about inner or the "Jesus" prayer. The author Fr Alexis Trader, an Eastern Orthodox Priest, writes about the history, development, methodology, & pro & cons of unifying & contrasting ancient Christian Patriistic writings about watching inner thoughts compared with Aaron Beck's Cognitive Therapy. How ancient monastic wisdom through spiritual insight came close to the same conclusions centuries before modern psychological techniques did through scientific methodology. How we as Christians should keep our hearts close to our Spirtual heritage & know how some forms of modern psychology can help us to focus on our interpretation of our thoughts before they turn into wrong action or reaction. The book contains some Orthodox monastic words that might seem puzzling for a general reader, but the Index in the back section of the book will help. What is really needed in this book is a Glossary. Great for almost anyone to discover how to "Watch" over one's thoughts & grow spiritually as well as for pastoral & council work.
Another hard to put down book, I read it in a week.
In fact I am going to buy a 2nd copy because I gave away my 1st.
on March 30, 2011
Up until the present time, the only book on psychology that I have read and believed to capture the human condition, was a book by Victor Frankl. Most books on psychology, including those from a Christian perspective, have left me grossly underwhelmed. Fr. Alexis' book, however, is riviting. It is not always an easy read, but is accessible to a layman such as myself, and well worth the effort. Father examines the benefits of a scientifically based cognitive approach to understanding and healing the human psyche. However, because of his both intellectual and spiritual immersion in the Fathers, he is able to also delineate the limitations of, and dangers of a purely scientific approach. The book should be of benefit to anyone interested in psychology & counseling and spirituality & the teachings of the Church Fathers.
It may only be a slight exaggeration to say that Father does for psychology what St. Justin Martyr and St. John Damascene did for philosophy. A must read, especially, I would think, for confessors and Christian counselors.
on March 29, 2011
As a longtime friend of Father Alexis and having read the work in the dissertation manuscript form, I would like to see his book get the attention it so richly deserves. Especially at this time of upheaval and turmoil, I think the world needs this kind of wisdom.
Father Alexios brings an incredible and vast knowledge of the early church fathers, pastoral counseling and modern psychotherapy. He makes accessible wisdom that many of us have had to dig out from individual volumes, sometimes having to be specially ordered and sometimes out of print.
Now a Roman Catholic, having been a lifelong Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, I believe the offerings in this book transcend the differences in our various traditions. We share the historical early Church fathers, even though those treasures are seemingly not readily available to most church-going Western Christians without a strong academic grounding in the Faith. This book is a bridge to bring those riches into the West, into our midst, as well as being a powerful study of the approaches of both Eastern Orthodox spiritual counseling and Western style psychotherapy. But one does not need to be an academic or a psychology specialist to benefit from reading this book.
Any priest who hears confessions should appreciate the insights and experience Father Alexios brings to his discussion of confession. Pastoral counselors and Christian psychotherapists will value his knitting together of Christian wisdom with modern therapeutic approaches. For those of us who are not professionally involved, it is simply enlightening and enriching reading!
on January 20, 2014
As an Orthodox Catholic Christian and a cognitive therapist, I am very pleased with this book. I have not finished it yet, but anticipate the final pages to be as satisfying as the beginning. Fr Trader has put into words the beliefs that guided me during my professional career, while deepening my Orthodox Christian faith and grounding in the Holy Fathers.
on June 6, 2013
This book so far has not disapointed me. The weath of information that is contained can only enhance my clinical skills (CBT) as well as religous knowledge.