“An outstanding Christian pioneer in the field of psychiatry was Johann Christian August Heinroth, who published books and scholarly papers in Germany in the early 1800s. Heinroth was the first psychiatrist to coin the word “psychosomatic” to describe the relationship between spiritual/psychological conflicts and physical illnesses. Heinroth’s description of man’s tripartite nature, based on Romans 7, divided human personality into: (1) the Überuns (conscience), (2) the ego (mind, emotions, and will), and (3) the Fleisch (basic drives, including sinful nature). Freud’s division of personality into superego, ego, and id merely duplicated Heinroth’s model” (Meier, Minirth, Wichern, & Ratcliff, 2000).
According to Meier et al. (2000), Heinroth’s “discoveries preceded Freud’s by a hundred years.” As a Christian, I am constantly looking to history for men and women who were Christians and who made important discoveries in various fields and technologies. I’ve noticed at times that these figures of the past have not received their fair share of recognition. My question is, “Why not?”
It would appear that Heinroth and Freud differed only in their treatment of those with mental illness. I don’t go as far as to say that Freud stole Heinroth’s idea and then altered it to fit his own agenda. There is no doubt that Freud is a significant character in psychology, but for Heinroth to be the first to use the term “psychosomatic” and not be given credit for such a widely used designation is to me more than just a mere oversight when his other theories are taken into account.
Even if Freud did base his superego, ego, and id on Heinroth’s Überuns, ego, and Fleisch, this was not a discovery that was original to Heinroth. I Thessalonians 5:23b states, “…and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This spirit, soul, and body (to my understanding) described the same ideas that Heinroth and Freud later expounded.
It would be wonderful if psychologists and Christian counselors could work together to rally round people who are in need of help, understanding, and compassion. I do believe that this is possible, but only if Christian men and women are properly recognized and respected for their contributions to the field. This also means that Christians need to be willing to look at the theories and contributions of others with an open mind.
Which brings me to my original question, “Why not?” We live in a fantastic time in human history and development. If we could learn to use a synoptic approach in the area of psychology we might find that our future as a human family would be secure. Our main goal is to help others and by working together two diverging paths could come together to fashion a superhighway of healing and therapy. Why not?
Stephen Kuntzman has been a Christian since December 31, 1979. He is also a general licensed minister with the United Pentecostal Church, International. He has been in ministry, in one way or another, since 1995. Stephen also holds a bachelor of theology degree from Parkersburg Bible College and an RBA from West Virginia University. You can see more of his thoughts at his blog- The Pillar and Ground of Truth
- Meier, P.D., Minirth, F.B., Wichern, F.B., & Ratcliff, D.E. (2000). Introduction To Psychology and Counseling: Christian Perspectives and Applications (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.