On June 5, 2021, the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary held its first Soul and Word Conference attended by pastors, counsellors, lay counsellors, Christian psychologists and psychotherapists. The main purpose of the event was to reinforce the existing dialogue between those who deal with human soul in their work and ministry.
The main issues on the conference agenda were the following: How pastoral and psychological care are correlated? How to differentiate spiritual problems, emotional and psychiatric disorders? Is depression a disease or sin of despair? Where is the boundary between care of one’s emotional needs and pleasing one’s flesh? When professional help is needed? How are psychiatric disorders perceived in different church traditions?
Another reason which prompted us to hold such a conference is low emotional literacy of many Ukrainian believers, which makes it very difficult for them to go through grieving, set boundaries, get rid of overprotection, combat exhaustion, avoid burnout, renew resources, etc.
Such poor emotional literacy of many Ukrainians is caused by a number of factors such as their Soviet past, when many people in the post-Soviet countries were used to ignoring their emotional needs; repressions and wars that older generation endured and the sever economic crisis of the 90s their children lived through; labor migration, with several generations growing up without parents or in single-parent families; and the ongoing war in the East of the country, inflicting numerous emotional traumas, which has been underway for the last 7 years.
Moreover, when overlapping with the religious context, elementary care of oneself is often wrongfully interpreted as selfishness, pleasing oneself, etc. Consequently, even in churches such syncretism of Soviet and wrongfully interpreted religious values, which are often supported with the Bible-based arguments, leads to traumatization, inability to cope with pressure, losses, mistakes, as well as exhaustion and burnout.
Powerful testimonies by Valeriy Sekisov and Olha Kondiuk who shared how they managed to go through psychological ordeals in their life. It was stressed that psychology, being just a useful instrument, cannot replace God and his healing power.
It is also worth noting that the conference turned into a cross denominational fellowship, with representatives of the Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches attending. It proved that the problem correct perception of the correlation between the Church and psychology is universal and has to be dealt with jointly.