Rhinebeck, NY (PRWEB) July 16, 2009
"It is practically unheard-of for a Freudian to embrace faith, since Freud himself was a notorious atheist," says prominent Freudian psychoanalyst Dr. Sally Severino. "In my case, it took a very bad year to open my heart to God. My mother died, my second marriage fell apart, and my sons left home, all in the space of a few months, but that's what it took to bring me to my knees." Dr. Severino means this literally: when the material trappings of her affluent life failed to comfort her, the doctor began to pray. "I'm a stubborn person," she says, "and the idea that I needed a spiritual transformation wasn't even on my radar screen. I was a scientist, first and foremost, and had been an atheist for years. But when crisis hits, the answers science offers aren't enough. And material success becomes meaningless."
Her success was hard-earned, but Dr. Severino's childhood of hardscrabble poverty in Depression-era Kansas, and the strong role models of her mother and maternal grandmother, taught her the value of hard work and can-do motivation. "I achieved great success in what was traditionally a male-centric profession," she says. "I had a position of wealth and influence as a New York psychoanalyst. I was the first woman President of the American College of Psychoanalysts, and received a lot of media attention for my groundbreaking research on PMS. But all my power and prosperity felt empty. It took God to fill that emptiness." In fact, Dr. Severino's spiritual journey could be seen as an epilogue to a classic American rags-to-riches story, and an answer to the conundrum of our era: when the American Dream goes south--when material abundance isn't enough to ease spiritual poverty or the pain of loss--what's left? What can we do? "I had all the perks of the American Dream--big house, expensive car, designer clothes. It didn't help. But when my life broke apart, I broke open. I realized something was missing--and the something was God."
When a close friend introduced her to "Open Mind, Open Heart" by Trappist monk Thomas Keating, Dr. Severino found herself inexplicably drawn to Keating's "divine therapy," a contemplative prayer practice that synthesizes psychology and spirituality. Her exploration of this practice eventually led her to a contemplative retreat at St. Benedict's Monastery in the snow-covered mountains of Snowmass, Colorado. There she met Fr. Keating and had what can only be described as an epiphany. Dr. Severino believes that it was her difficult life passage that created the perfect opening for God to come in.
"I realize now that I was being guided all along," says Dr. Severino, who eventually abandoned the stress and bustle of her high-profile New York practice in favor of an academic position in the desert Southwest. "Leaving my powerful East Coast job and moving to New Mexico was a huge part of my journey. If I hadn't done it--if I had stayed with what was familiar to me--I never would have met my associate, Dr. Nancy K. Morrison. Our work together has been a real flowering for me." The two women have formulated a revolutionary new paradigm for the treatment of emotional dysfunction, an integration of psychiatry and spirit based on the imago Dei, an inborn image of God that manifests as the desire for love. Dr. Severino now lives a contemplative existence in a small intentional community surrounded by the natural beauty of the Algodones cottonwoods north of Albuquerque. "My life has undergone a compete transformation," she says. "I am at peace with myself in a way that I never imagined I could be."
Dr. Severino's book, "Becoming Fire: A Freudian Analyst's Spiritual Journey", newly released by Epigraph Books (July 2009), shares the often-humorous and sometimes heartbreaking process of finding faith in an atheist profession. "My memoir is the back-story for the work I'm doing in the world," she says. "Because it's unusual for a scientist with my background to embrace God, people are deeply curious to know how it happened." Her moving personal story, timely in an era of both economic hardship and spiritual hunger, shares a simple message: No matter where you are, God will meet you there. "If someone like me could find faith after decades of atheism," says Dr. Severino, "if God could welcome me back home and bring me such joy and inner peace--such healing for my heartache--then anyone can find the way."
Dr. Severino's work has been compared to that of Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroanatomist whose massive stroke led a profound spiritual awakening. "Both my professional work and my private contemplative practice are an integration of science and faith," she says. "Integration seems to be what our planet sorely needs. We have enough excuses to be divided. We need more 'bridge people' who show us how to integrate, how to connect."
With its hopeful message of the redeeming power of divine love, even--or especially--in hard times, "Becoming Fire" is Dr. Severino's invitation to share her ultimate triumph through personal tragedy to joy. "After years of struggle, I can now attest to the inward peace that comes from letting go, from trusting, from not 'trying too hard.' I hope that my story will help readers to discover the same inner peace, knowing that the Divine Therapist can do for anyone what He did for me."