The book Healing at the Eight Stages of Life is another work that can help ministers advance their counseling practices because it combines theoretical knowledge about the stages of human development with theological values and perspectives. The authors, Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabricant, and Dannis Linn, focus on two themes — healing and hurt and the different ways in which these manifest at each stage of life. In Healing at the Eight Stages of Life, the authors offer to use prayer as a method for addressing characteristic developmental problems that one may encounter at each of Erikson’s eight stages of development.
Premise For Writing This Book
The authors clearly communicated the premise for writing this book in the introduction section, where they described their qualifications and what inspired them to write Healing at the Eight Stages of Life. Mainly, the three authors “have given retreats and seminars on processes for healing in over fifty countries,” which suggests that their method has been touted by these authors for years and tested with different audiences (Linn, Fabricant, and Lin, 1). However, the book lacks a description of the professional qualifications that these authors have, such as their education, experience as ministers, or their work related to psychology apart from these seminars. It would be best to write a brief summary of how the authors developed their method of healing for more clarity.
The authors cite their practical experience of praying with people who had mental health problems, which sets out the premise for this book. In the Preface, for example, Linn, Fabricant, and Linn cite Linda, who was abused as a child by a relative and reverted to abusive behavior herself when she grew up (1). Through prayer, Linda was able to address her trauma, and this adverse experience no longer affected her behavior. This leads one to believe that they were thorough in their research because they wired directly with individuals and learned from this practical experience on how prayer affects well-being.
Although it appears that the authors thoroughly studied their approach of praying for healing, the book includes only their personal experiences and the case studies of how they helped others heal. This book does not contain references to theories, apart from Erikson’s developmental theory, studies, or therapy practices that would help support this method. However, Linn, Fabricant, and Lin mention studies that assess people’s happiness or prevalence of mental health problems, for example, they mention that 81% of convicts were abused during childhood or that 984 mental health specialists cited lack of parental love and compassion as the root of psychological problems (1; 7). Considering this, the book can be viewed as a guideline on how to use prayer for healing rather than a methodology or a textbook on how to counsel patients in a religious setting. In this case, the descriptions of prayers and visualization techniques, as well as some typical problems at each of the eight stages is sufficient.
This book’s structure helps one with a comprehension of the core concept because each chapter is dedicated to one of the eight stages of life, from infancy to old age. The basis of this book is Erik Erikson’s eight-stage theory, according to which each person goes through these stages as they grow and develop psychologically. While I was familiar with this theory before, Linn, Fabricant, and Linn offer a new way of looking at these stages by providing one to use prayer as a way of addressing some typical developmental problems (15). Mainly, the authors communicate the idea that by developing a relationship with God, a person is able to heal. One way of doing so is by turning hurt into a point of growth, as was with people who helped foster children because they grew up as orphans, in one of the examples in this book (Linn, Fabricant, and Lin, 9). Hence, this book teaches to address helplessness one may feel because of the lack of love and nurturing they felt during childhood by empowering these individuals to take action and address their hurt directly. As such, this book communicates a powerful message that is valuable not only to spiritual individuals but also for those who do not identify themselves with a religion.
Visualization exercises are an essential part of this book. For example, in one case, the authors suggest imagining little Jesus in a situation that was traumatic for a person and then explaining the emotions little Jesus feels (Linn, Fabricant, and Linn, 35). This technique is similar to use used in therapy and should help one uncover the emotions that one feels through a reference to God and a person’s spirituality. Moreover, as Linn, Fabricant, and Lin explain, in 1951, a surgeon found out that stimulation of different brain areas causes patients to recall different situations and emotions (10). This suggests that people can continuously relive their past hurts and feel the feelings they had when they experienced these traumatic events. This fact was a revelation for me, which added to my understanding of trauma and how individuals have patterns in their life that cause them to relive the events that caused trauma.
This book helps one integrate the understanding of mental health and spirituality. Although the authors use Erikson’s eight-stage as the basis for their theory, they also bring in the notion of prayer as a healing mechanism, something that allows leveraging the spirituality of a person to address their hurt or past traumatic experiences. The central idea of this method is to “invite Jesus” into the traumatic memories, which means accepting and forgiving the events and people and healing in the process (Linn, Fabricant, and Linn, 20). This book is the first work I have read that communicates the healing nature of religion in a straightforward manner and supports this revelation with scientific discoveries.
In general, although I was familiar with Eriksons’s theory and the healing nature of prayer, this book made me rethink the process of counseling and ministry. The use of prayer and visualization of conversations with God or Jesus, for example, is a beneficial technique, which I think teaches individuals how to overcome problems they face on their own through their spirituality at what stage of development they currently are. Thus, this book caused me to rethink the way I perceived prayer since, after reading it, I developed a better understanding of its healing nature and how praying supports a person’s journey towards healing. Moreover, I understood that prayer could be an interactive process, where a person communicates with Jesus and receives a direct response or places Jesus in their memories. This practice is new for me, but I think that for many people, it can help relieve their trauma and heal because they go into remembering past events with Jesus.
Another critical aspect of Healing at the Eight Stages of Life is the idea that unloving habits and behavior are typically passed on through generations. This prompts one to think that healing is a necessary thing that addresses not only a person’s problems but allows them to overcome some more significant issues within one’s family. For example, a mother scolding her child causes trauma that this child will, later on, pass on to their children by yelling at them, unless this wound is healed. When integrating Erikson’s work into this idea, it is essential to note that he believed that it is necessary to study healthy and integrated individuals and their development instead of focusing on pathology, reinforcing the idea that humans are created to be good and not evil. Considering these two ideas, I learned the importance of addressing this recurring cycle of trauma that occurs throughout generations by addressing the good that was damaged through abuse. Healing at the Eight Stages of Life reinforces the idea that any development phase that was missed can be addressed later in life. In essence, this means that a trauma or mental health problem, regardless of its severity, can be healed later in life, which is an important consideration, which also provides hope to individuals feeling helpless.
At first glance, the case studies presented in Healing at the Eight Stages of Life are all addressed through prayer. Hence, one can assume that this is the only method that should be used to address mental health problems. The advice in some of the cases is to perform exercises, such as imagining Jesus sitting next to you and praying, which some may perceive as insufficient for proper healing. However, upon further evaluation, it becomes apparent that the authors merely provide different examples and ways of using the prayers as a method for recovery. Moreover, with this book, a person can learn to build a dialog with their inner self and God and address some of the deepest hurts the experience. Therefore, although at a first glance one may find an implicit statement that all psychological problems can be addressed through prayer as controversial, upon further evaluation, it became apparent that the authors of Healing at the Eight Stages of Life offer a plethora of different techniques that target the issue of self-exploration, better understanding of one’s feelings and body sensations, and allows addressing mental health issues in a similar manner that psychological counseling does but with an integration of God and prayer.
The authors of this book are Jesuits, who have a distinct method of praying, and it appears that the book is built on the assumption that all people pray similarly. As mentioned in Healing at the Eight Stages of Life, there are many techniques based on visualization, such as visualizing Jesus or little Jesus. This approach is consistent with how Jesuits approach everyday prayer, they use visualization to find a better connection with God, however, not all religions teach people visualized prayer. Hence, I would argue that some people would have difficulty in applying the methods from this book, and the authors should dedicate more attention to exampling visualization to their readers, its premise, and intended outcome because visualization typically involves having a two-way conversation with God or Jesus.
The value of linking the stages of a person’s life and development and the Christian perspective on this is very insightful. I would recommend this book to anyone who is trying to find meaning in their life at whatever stage they are. Hence, this book can be helpful both for professionals, such as ministers or mental health workers and for people without any previous background in psychology as a self-help guide. For mental health professionals, this book provides many exercises, such as visualization practices that resemble techniques developed for psychoanalysis, with the integration of prayer or a reference to God, which can be used as a guide on how to counsel and hold sessions with patients or people who need mental health assistance. For individuals who want a self-help guide, it provides many examples of people, their struggles, and how they used spirituality to overcome these.
Healing at the Eight Stages of Life enriched my understanding of the class content because the authors cite many prayers and verses from the Bible. Moreover, it helped gain a more practical comprehension of Erikson’s stages of development. The authors dedicated a chapter to each stage, thoroughly explaining how trauma can cause problems and what prayers one can use to help. This combination of issues and techniques presented in a structured manner helped me understand the context of Erikson’s theory.
Linn, Matthew et al. Healing the Eight Stages of Life. Paulist Press, 1988.