Taken from the following Publication:
DEL CORE Pina, Psicologia e vocazione, Quale rapporto? Possibilità e limiti dell’intervento, in CANTELMI T. – PALUZZI S. – LUPARIA E, (in the care of), Gli dei morti sono diventati malattie. Psichiatria, psicologia e teologia in dialogo, Roma, SODEC, Edizioni Romane di cultura 2002.
PSYCHOLOGY AND VOCATION. WHAT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THEM?
POSSIBILITIES AND LIMITS OF THE INTERVENTION
In the context of the cultural debate which we are realizing on the relationship between Psychology and Faith my contribution intends to make a concrete choice of the field: from the religious phenomenon I will consider that particular domain of faith which refers to the reality of ‘vocation’, understood as a call from God and a response of man, as a life project which unifies the persons and orientates them toward existential choices around a priority value: God and the cause of His Kingdom.
We are asked, if and under which conditions the psychological sciences can interact with the theological sciences in the concrete case of the discernment of vocations and of the formative accompaniment of those who choose consecrated life or the priesthood. And also which are the possibilities and the limits of intervention in the face of situations of lack of adaptation and /or of crisis in which consecrated persons can find themselves.
Aware of the complexity of this problem and of the diversity of models of relationship which at epistemological level try to throw light on the question, my reflection begins from its operative implications more than from theoretical ones.
The use of Psychology and of its instruments of analysis and of intervention in the field of vocation, in fact, assumes validity and efficacy only if some conditions are assured. And this in order to avoid unpleasant disadvantages and / or ambiguity, undue exploitation or instrumental use, invasion in the field or dangerous confusion of levels, possible where a correct setting of the relationship between Psychology and Theology, or in a broader way between human sciences and Faith is not permitted.
The problem of the relationship between human sciences and faith is very complex and acts as a decisive and unavoidable background for every discourse on vocation and on vocation discernment.
By now the time is ended for reciprocal ‘condemnations’, but also for the dangerous instrumental use, it seems that in these last years the exigency has become mature to ‘go beyond’ the easy temptation to oppose Psychology to spiritual life, Psychology to vocation, a temptation which for years has played on reciprocal suspicion preventing a profitable collaboration and integration. The need to find points of contact and of convergence always emerges more and more, even in the respect of the diversity of knowledge or learning which specify the individual disciplines in a perspective of interdisciplinary dialogue which tends to overcome every subordination or undue invasion of a science in regard to another. But even today, there are not lacking, in spite of the many intents which have led to results of positive collaboration, perplexity and positions which appear to be ambivalent because they are founded on models of a hierarchical type or of a functional use.
Our horizon of reference in this particular approach to problems of operative order and of application, such as discernment and the vocational psycho diagnosis, has as its central point the conviction that every authentically human experience is substantially ‘open’ to faith and every truly Christian experience is rooted and is incarnated on a genuine human reality. If divergences exist, perhaps, that is linked to the difficulty or incapacity of presenting clearly and openly a correct epistemological framework in which it will be possible, not only to have a ‘peaceful co-existence’ of the theological and psychological disciplines, but also the ‘dialogue’ between them which finds its meeting point on a ‘common ground’: the human person in the face of the call from God with its dynamism, its processes of growth and its difficulties of choice or of response (GROPPO G. 1991, 312 ff). At the basis of all I hold that it is important to start from a dynamic theological model which has as a hermeneutical principle the Incarnation in the line of reciprocal autonomy between the reality of the creature and the action of grace (RAHNER K. 1984 and MOLARI C. 1984 and 1995).
- 1.Which Psychology and which vocation?
It is the basic question which accompanies anyone who takes care of discernment of vocations and /or of the growth in vocation of the candidates to the priesthood and to consecrated life.
In fact, the way in which vocational discernment is carried out and its reliability seem to depend on the conception of “vocation” which constitutes the basis. If vocational discernment includes also a series of human attitudes, intended to grasp the reality and the authenticity of a call, it is important to have a balanced conception of “vocation”. Not all vocation theories in fact, are equally valid. Just as not all the anthropologies of reference in Psychology can favour a correct vision of vocation and consequently a discernment and /or a correct vocation psycho diagnoses.
Consider, for example, vocation as an interior or exterior determinism, fruit of pressure and cultural and educational conditioning, or value it as the expression of a liberty purely referred to self and not to a gift /project of God; think of vocation as an impulse to self realization without any reference to transcendency or, more specifically, as the realization of the ideal ‘I’, and not instead, of the real ‘I’ in the totality of the person, these are distorted conceptions under the anthropological and theological aspects.
In these past years we have been able to verify how the acquisition of certain psychological, sociological and theological trends seem to move continuously between psychologism and spiritualism. Nevertheless, whether it is the spiritualistic presumption or be precise about the human through the psycologism, both constitute unilateral solutions. The efforts to establish a balance between these two extreme tendencies through the integration between spirituality and Psychology from the depth, no doubt, present themselves both interesting and praiseworthy, but not completely sufficient. In fact, in the effort to integrate spiritual values and psychological notions in a logical and coherent whole, some times superposition or a mixture is verified, which is not always correct from the theoretical point of view and especially from the epistemological one (VERGOTE A. 1985 – FIZZOTTI E. 1992). It is hoped that the reflection in this field can be continued and deepened taking into account the twofold requirement of scientific correctness and of respect of the various religious values, avoiding, above all, the danger of “spiritualising” Psychology or of “psychologizing” theology, in a sort of reciprocal exploitation.
Besides, it is important to question ourselves on the dimensions and theological and anthropological contents of vocation. Which theological model can be the support to the conception of vocation? Theological reflection beginning with Vatican Council II, has made evident the character of dialogue, relationship and the dynamic of vocation, not only of man with God, but also of man with himself, with others, with the Church, with society and culture (DE PIERI S. 1989, 1136).
It is only possible to speak of “vocation” in terms of an essential reference to God, even if vocation takes into account man’s response. Every vocation is the history of an ineffable dialogue between God and man, between the love of God who calls and the freedom of man who responds to God (PDV 36). The call, in fact, is always a personal and historical response. It is a call and a response, indeed “the personal response is an integrating part of religious consecration” (PI 9).
In this sense it implies the building up of the person, because the response to God who calls is mixed up with that long procedure of growth and of formation which makes us become mature men and women. Vocation, then, can only be understood as development (dynamic aspect) and as a project which is gradually discovered and elaborated, in harmony with one’s own proper identity.
In this perspective the close correlation between the vocation response and sane functioning of the personality is understood, between vocational identity and personal identity. The call of God, in fact, is addressed to a creature who is taken up in the totality of all his/her actual resources and potentiality and in all his/her dynamism. Therefore, the present disassociation of vocation – made by certain theories – which extrapolate part of this totality, as for example the ideal of self, to make it coincide with the heart of the vocation, can be dangerous, whether from the theoretical point of view or from the practical-formative one. To identify the realization of vocation with the realization of the ideal “I” does not seem to me to be coherent with the reality of vocational becoming, which usually develops contemporarily with human growth, in the building up of the mature man and woman.
The vocational becoming demands respect of all the resources of the person. Vocation, on the other hand, is never a fulfilled fact. Every authentic choice introduces the person into an experience which obliges her, every day, to rediscover the reasons of her own choice and to remake anew her option. The development itself of life and the maturing of the person coincide with her path of vocational growth.
Therefore, vocation cannot be considered as an emanation or a development of the ideal of self, because this can be hypertrophy, compensative, inconsistent, but above all, because vocation is a reality which exceeds and transcends the person, even though it is grafted in the human dynamisms present in the person. And it can even coincide with the self realization, in so far as this is, essentially, a call to go out of the schema of an existence closed in the circle of human certainties or of immanence: that is rather self transcendence, that is a being orientated toward something which is far beyond one self, toward Someone to be met and loved (FRANKL V. E. 1977, 16).
If vocation is inserted in the evolutionary process of the person and, therefore, in her path of maturing, the criteria of discernment and of evaluation have to take into account this progressive becoming which is not identical for all. There are evolutionary stages which should be considered, as for example, the indispensable evolutionary ends so that a person can be called an adult (FONTANA U. – CREMA M. G. 1996).
The vocational becoming, in fact, proceeds hand in hand with the formation of personal identity and with all the vicissitudes and the conflicts which such a growth involves. The recent acquisitions of evolutionary and dynamic Psychology make evident that the vocational project is developed in connection with the definition of self and the project of self and depends – especially during the adolescent age – on the identification with persons, community, environment and life proposals which become models of reference up to the time of conscious assuming of a life choice which is coherent with one’s own life project.
The gratuitous and mysterious call of God normally takes place through mediations, whether individual or communitarian and social, thus the vocation remains subject to the diverse personal or socio cultural conditionings and evolves in relation to the challenges or the appeals of the environment of life, of history and of the culture in which one lives. The way to reach the plenitude of vocational identity is always that to be assumed, in a mature way, the possible difficulties or conditionings of a society which changes, without the fear of facing the changes, trusting that the identity consolidates itself, instead of losing itself, if an attitude of openness and of constant search remains.
- 2.The contribution of Psychology in the domain of vocation
Given the complexity of the situation and the growing fragility of the new generations, it is always more necessary to carry out a cautious or prudent and deep discernment, even using the support of human sciences, in particular Psychology, for a diagnoses of the personality of the candidates.
It is then important to clarify well which relationship exists between discernment and vocational psycho diagnoses. Above all, I believe that the contribution of Psychology and of human Sciences cannot coincide simply with vocational discernment, but it gives a correct presupposition from the point of view of the psychological aspects implied in the complexity of vocation (personal identity, psychological freedom, consistency, balance, affective-sexual integration…). The investigation or search of the Psychologist, in fact, cannot have vocation as its “object” , nor is it his competence to give a judgement on the “truth” of the vocation. The question which should accompany the Psychologist should be: Does this person have or could have a dynamic structure of a sane personality, sufficiently autonomous and mature, such as will allow her to assume the tasks and commitments which come from vocation? His intervention, therefore, consists in describing the dynamism of the personality, in foreseeing the line of development, in making a prognosis of some characteristics which can favour or compromise the psychical balance and eventually in accompanying the process of growth and /or of recovery.
True and proper discernment does not concern the psychologist, but the educators or those who have direct responsibility, the spiritual directors, a person rich in wisdom and prudence, capable of understanding the whole in the history, in the adventure of young people, God’s design.
This is why it is good to distinguish vocational discernment from psycho diagnoses, though with the conviction that the psychological analysis can help the person to discover the dispositions and the counter indications in the vocation and also in his/her vocational growth, on the basis of a verification and realistic knowledge of self. Therefore, it is a question of two different realities, even though they are complementary.
In view of a more careful discernment, sometimes it can be necessary to have a diagnoses of the personality of the subject, not only to eventually clarify those points which cause some perplexity or which are not easily solved through a simple confrontation or the informal knowledge, but above all, to offer to the candidates the elements to understand themselves and to distinguish, in an active way, what can constitute an obstacle to the realization of their call (DEL CORE P. 1996, 109 ff).
Among the contributions which Psychology has offered to the study of vocation, besides that of distinguishing the counter conditions relative to the psychic balance of the candidates, the request to furnish positive indications concerning the dispositions, the interests and the attitudes of the subjects, the analysis of the vocational motivations and the understanding of the cause of “vocational crisis”, but also the help for the restructuring and the recovery of motivations, has always been more and more diffused.
In the past twenty years, in fact, from a prevailing psycho diagnoses phase, aimed at understanding positive indications and counter indications in view of the verification of the suitability to religious life, we have passed to the psycho dynamic and social phase in which we question ourselves concerning the motivations and on the psychological conditions and dispositions of the person (GODIN A. 1975, 13). At present it has been possible to observe the passage from a phase of diffidence / rejection to another of emphasis, from stressing the selective or therapeutic function to the pedagogical and preventive one. These two last dimensions are sufficiently shared at the level of formative practice, but should be better strengthened and qualified. It can no longer be accepted that the function of Psychology can be reduced simply to the curative or amending dimension such as medicine could be. Nor much less to a function of mere selection of the candidates. Psychology touches the deep dimensions of the human person and is considered as an instrument for development and of growth, as a help in education (DEL CORE P. 1998).
There are still some basic questions which must be clarified: Can we speak of “diagnoses of vocation” beginning from the instruments of human sciences and, in particular, of Psychology? And how to place ourselves before those, the many, who do not recognize the positive contribution of human sciences? Perhaps, the question is not well presented in its terms knowing that the use of Psychology, as a positive science, for the study of vocation is rather limited. Therefore, it is necessary to define clearly what is understood by Psychological diagnoses of vocation and above all, define the object better.
Vocational Psycho diagnoses may be defined as the psychological diagnose of the personality of those called. It is placed as a scientific method of knowledge and of intervention on the psychic of the subjects, on the structure and dynamics of the personality, with particular reference to the attitudes and to the motivations requested to realize the religious vocation in a determinate Charism. The purpose, then, is of cognitive, nosological type, but also pedagogical and therapeutic.
It is a question, in other words, of a contribution of an objective and deep clarification of the person, in the effort to understand the conscious and the unconscious aspects of the personality. It proposes the following objectives:
- the ascertainment of the basic suitability with the indication of eventual counter indications;
- the knowledge of the structure and dynamics of the personality for a mature vocational response;
- the indication of itineraries to be followed for formation, the support, the recovery, the cure.
While discernment is a complex operation, carried out by several (subject, Church-Institute, experts), Psycho diagnosis is like a “concrete moment” in the broadest process of vocational discernment, and cannot be separated from Psycho therapy as an eventual ending moment of support, of restructuring of self or of recovery.
That is considered as a subsidiary help or contribution for a deeper reading of personal reality and of the dispositions of the one called. Vocational psycho diagnoses is not an end in itself. It would have no sense if it was not oriented to formation.
Recourse of Psychology cannot limit itself to sporadic interventions in cases of manifest or apparent pathology, or simply in view of a more or less successful “distraction” of the candidates, but it is used and always inserted more in the formative structure to begin and to support a path of vocational growth in view of an always more mature, convinced and personal response to God’s call.
The psychological evaluation of the personality of the candidates to religious life or to the priesthood, presents itself quite complex and problematic, not only because to discern the vocational becoming which has authentic potentialities is very delicate, but also because it is not always clear which are the psychological premises apt to furnish or provide previsions of a positive or negative result. Frequently, frameworks of adequate theoretical reference are lacking, but also complete and serious studies on consecrated life in its dynamics and historical-psychological implications.
The criteria and the objective parameters of reference, which are generalized, concerning the judgement of personal maturity required are not clear and shared.
- 4.A series of problems which are still open
The perspectives which are opened for Psychology in the field of the study of vocation and of vocational discernment are multiple, especially in the direction of a closer connection with formation, but the problems which are still open are not lacking. I mention some among the more essential:
- vThe problem of maturity / immaturity is always more frequent for those who have to reflect or who have to carry out the discernment and /or the accompaniment. Which maturity or level of maturation is required from the one who asks to enter religious life?
It is not a question evidently of establishing criteria of maturity a priori, but it is necessary to ask ourselves which are the stages of evolution demanded from the various ages or formative phases and which are the tasks of development of this maturity in becoming. But it is important nevertheless, to establish a “minimum common denominator”, as for example: the absence of pathology, the commitment of openness toward values, the capacity of adaptation and of autonomy, the adherence to self and to what is real. We are also asked which could be the goals of evolution which are congenial to a correct becoming, well adapted and functional for a call to priestly and religious life.
It is necessary above all, to make an analysis of the ‘practicability’, that is to evaluate the capacity of the subject to progress on the journey, in spite of fragility or immaturity. During the way, it is necessary to see if there is a positive prognosis to be submitted to verification. The optimal perspective to place as basis of the process of discernment is not the absence of immaturity, but rather to succeed in understanding the presuppositions of basic sanity, the minimal ones, even if they are affected by immaturity, on which to work in order to favor the evolution and maturing. Thus, it is important to question ourselves on the level of integration that has been reached by the subjects, keeping in mind that it is always a question of an integration in becoming.
- vAnother problem concerns the formation of identity. In the face of the present diffused fragility in young people, frequently due to a lacking path of formation of identity, we should ask ourselves: which are the goals and the stages of the path to be proposed so that they may be able to build up a solid personal identity to place as the foundation of vocational or charismatic identity? And which are the formative itineraries to be privileged? Who establishes such goals? The problem is not a simple one, because in the present state of things psychological or psycho sociological studies are lacking, which offer a complete conceptual framework, coherent and adequate, whether to the changing conditions of adolescents and to those of young people of today, (COSPES 1995 and TONOLO G. 1999) or to the exigencies of the vocational call.
- vAnother question which refers closely to the operative implications concerns those who have to handle the psychological or psycho diagnose intervention for the purpose of vocational discernment. Can it be handled by the same person or is an interdisciplinary or team work convenient? Is there a difference or distinction between the intervention of the spiritual guide, of the formator and that of the Psychologist?
Above all, the requirement for a team work cannot be eluded, even for the need of a supervision in order to avoid the influence of suggestive elements. Besides, it is convenient or opportune to distinguish the intervention of the spiritual guide, of the Formator from that of the one who does the psychological accompaniment. To understand the journey of faith that a person does demands a different stand, and cannot be taken or done ahead of the person herself. Psychological accompaniment, instead, verifies the aspect of motivations, the conditioning and the difficulties on the evolutional and dynamic plan of the personality, with the proper instruments which require a certain competence, but especially because of the exigency of deontic or ethical nature: the ethical code of Italian Psychologists, for example, forbids to carry out “evaluation, diagnostic interventions, of psychological support or of psychotherapy addressed to persons with whom they have had or have significant relationships of personal nature” (art. 28).
The educational and formative relationship which is established between the Formator and the candidate is in another level different from that of the psychological or psycho therapeutic type. The coincidence between these two types of relationship – which is verified in the case of “one only formator” – can be at the origin of grave emotional, affective implications of evaluation, because of the ambivalence which can be created in the persons and because of the risk of plagiarism which is not infrequent.
In conclusion, a new season is opened before us, in regard to the past, for vocational psycho diagnoses, the psychological accompaniment or the psychotherapy, but it is necessary to consider again the modalities with which these have been conducted up until now, in order to adapt them to the exigencies of young people and to the needs or expectations of present day culture. It would be a question of rethinking over the methodologies and the objectives in order to work out in synergy and collaboration between the subject and the formative institutions. Perhaps it is necessary to distinguish a “new way” of including Psychology in formation, so that it will always be more at the service of the growth of persons and institutions.
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 Psychologist and Psychotherapist, Professor of Psychology of human development in the Pontifical Faculty of Sciences of Education “Auxilium” in Rome and coordinator of the annual Course for Formators – men and women – in the domain of consecrated life organized by the same Faculty, vice President of the National Association COSPES (Centers of Professional and Social School orientation) which works in the field of orientation and member of the Dicastery for Formation of the Institute of the Daughters of Maria Ausiliatrice.
 The debate on such a relationship is up until now open and does not seem to be final. Even if Theologians and Psychologists are convinced of the need of an interdisciplinary dialogue in which Psychology and Theology may meet on a common ground: the human person who lives faith and vocation with and in the psychological dimensions, in the historicity of her existence and in the context of a psychological social and cultural history, dialogue is not yet always founded on correct epistemological premises. Thus, for example, all those theories which include within themselves whole metaphysics and ethics in an uncritical way, perhaps with the presumption of wanting to give a ‘foundation’ to their own reflections, are presented as epistemologically erroneous (GROPPO G., 1982, 129 ff).
 It suffices to think about the so called ‘anthropologies without vocation’ which are especially centered on the autonomy of the ‘I’ and on egocentrism or Narcissism of the personality and which place in the center of the system of motivation only their own realization without any openness to transcendency. Instead they are valid for the purpose of getting close to the reality of vocation all those anthropologies and those psychological theories which make space for the spiritual dimension of man, to his fundamental openness to transcendency and to those who consider religion as a fundamental component of personality, and who introduce in their scientific statement the categories of seeking of sense, of religiosity and of vocation as a dynamism of development in the direction of a program of life (Cf. PIZZOTTI E. (19969, Rapport cultura-vocazione. Modelli antropologici per un’analisi della crisi, in COSPES (in care of) Difficoltà e crisi nella vita consacrata (coordinamento of P. DEL CORE), Torino, Leumann, LDC 1996, 36-50).
 I refer to the example, to the effort proposed by the vocational theory of Rulla (Cf, RULLA L: M:- IMODA F. – RIDICK J:, Psychological Structure and vocation: motivations for entering and for abandoning. Marietti, Torino 1977; ID, Anthropology of the Christian Vocation, I: Interdisciplinary bases, Casale Monferrato, Piemme 1985; RULLA L.M. – IMODA F. – RIDICK J., Anthropology of the Christian Vocation II : Essential confirmations, Casale Monferrato, Piemme 1986. See also: CHAMPOUX R., New Perspectives in Religious formation. An integration of Spirituality and of the Psychology of depth, in La Civiltà Cattolica, III (1976) 3026, 136-152.
 This is the conclusion which Rulla reaches in his psychosocial theory of vocation. When he speaks about the ideal I which is in counter position to the actual I he refers to the perception that the person has of the ideals proposed by the institution or by the role and of those that the person chooses for herself, that is, what she would like to be or do. “The choice of a religious vocation – he writes textually – is in relationship not so much with that which a person is or to how the person sees himself/herself, but rather to that which he/she would like to be, and to that which ideally he/she would like to do with God’s help. Thus, religious vocation is referred more closely to the ideal of self and not to the concept of self” (RULLA K. M., Psychology of depth and vocation. Persons, Torino, Marietti 1975, 24; ID Psychology of depth and vocation. Perseverance, pastoral efficacy, celibate, leadership and other aspects of community life, Casale Monferrato, Piemme 1989, 17). In fact, in his most recent publications the author translates his theoretical theory in some propositions of which the first three are as follows: 1) Christian vocation is a process toward the realization of the ideal of self rather than of the concept of self; 2) Christian vocation is a process toward the realization of the ideal of self in the situation or the ideal I; 3) The ideal I through which is expressed the beginning of vocational commitment is characterized more by the instrumental and terminal values than by the attitudes and the content of this ideal I (values and attitudes) is constituted more by the self-transcendent variables than by the natural variables.
 From the experience of vocational accompaniment and of the reflection of themes of formation, clearly emerges that identity and vocational project are two coordinates closely united and independent one from the other. In this perspective it is understood why so many vocational projects do not reach maturity, but rather die before being born , and also why one is so skeptic concerning the same possibility of vocational identification on the part of young people. Perhaps, here we find the explanation of the phenomenon of the so called “weak consecration” , that is, of the incapacity of a lasting fidelity in the religious commitment. In fact, it is not rare to find persons in whom the vocational project is built on a “an identity void” and this results extremely problematic for religious perseverance.
 To deepen this theme see DEL CORE P., Discernment and vocational psycho diagnoses. Problems and Perspectives, in COSPES (care of), Difficulty and crisis in consecrated life (coordination of P. Del Core), Torino-Leumann, LDC 1996, 109-128).
 Psycho diagnoses “is referred to procedures which are directed to the seeking of factors which give the reason of the behavior of individuals or of particular groups of individuals” (DALLA VOLTA A., Psycho diagnoses (item), in the Dictionary of Psychology, III edition, Firenze, Giunti Barbera 1974, 571).
 To this purpose see the conclusions which the researches COSPES reached concerning the processes of formation of identity, among which the definition of self and the planning skill which constitute fundamental psychological premises for the building up of vocational identity [Cf. COSPES (in care of), the uncompleted age. research on the formation of identity in Italian adolescents (coordination of TONOLO G. – DE PIERI S.), Torino- Leumann, LDC 1995; in particular see: DEL CORE P., Future Perspective Planning Skill, in Ivi 315-322; TONOLO G. (1999), Adolescence and identity, Bologna, Il Mulino]