Remembering Catholic Psychiatrist Conrad Baars

By Jim Graves
National Catholic Register
May 21, 2012

Sue Baars

It is the 40th anniversary since Catholic psychiatrist Conrad Baars (1919-1981) joined with Anna Terruwe to release the book The Role of the Church in the Causation, Treatment and Prevention of the Crisis in the Priesthood. A synthesis of ideas which they had presented to the 1970 Synod of Catholic Bishops, the book described what is today termed emotional deprivation disorder and warned that priests and religious with emotional repression and love deprivation could lead to disaster in the Church. Champions of Baars' beliefs included Pope Paul VI.

The psychiatrist's daughter, Sue Baars, is a therapist at In His Image Christian Counseling Service in Irving, Texas, and continues to keep his legacy alive. She spoke with the Register about her father and his work.

Your father had the chance to see the ugliness human nature is capable of when he was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

He was born and raised in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, and lived there until 1946. In 1942, while he was in medical school, the Nazis invaded and occupied the country. He was scheduled to be sent to Germany to a work camp, but escaped. He spent some time working with the Dutch and French underground, helping American and English airmen who had been shot down return to England.

In 1943, the Gestapo was hot on his trail, so he attempted an escape to Spain. While trying to cross the Pyrenees Mountains, he was captured. He was sent to Buchenwald, one of the worst concentration camps. He was there for a year and a half, until near the end of the war. He wrote a memoir of his time there, which my mother and I published as an autobiography after my father died. We called it Doctor of the Heart.

What were some of the experiences he shared?

When you read the story, you really see the hand of God in his life. God wanted him to survive to bring a particular type of psychology based on Thomas Aquinas' understanding of the human psyche to the English-speaking world.

When he first arrived at the camp, a fellow prisoner told him to tell the guards he was a doctor. When he objected, as he was only a medical student, the man warned that if he didn't, he'd be sent to work making explosives in an underground factory. Everyone who went there died, the man said. So my father did and was able to work in the infirmary, enjoy better treatment and survive.

One of his great consolations came from a French priest, who secretly gave him holy Communion and heard his confession. My father, in turn, would give Communion secretly to Catholic patients. It was a great blessing. It really kept him going.

The Church was always important to my father. He was always faithful about attending Mass, saying the Rosary and even praying the Divine Office. He was a saintly man.

Besides the faith, the emotion of anger towards the Nazis kept him going, as well as his hope for eventual release. My father watched other prisoners die, not because they were seriously ill, but because they lost hope.

And your father saw many people murdered.

Yes. He relates how a certain hierarchy developed among the prisoners. The guards allowed the communists, despite being prisoners themselves, to take over some aspects of running the prison. They would murder those who they thought were a threat to their authority or who might diminish their food rations or because they were of a different ethnic group or because they didn't like them for some other reason.

How did the experience affect him?

He lost teeth due to malnutrition. He suffered from edema. He died at age 62; it's common that people who survived the camps didn't reach their full life expectancy.

While many survivors were bitter, he was not. In fact, he was a happy person. But he wanted people never to forget of what human beings are capable. He believed human life was sacred. He, for example, was committed to the pro-life movement.

He also spoke out against contraception.

Yes. He believed what the Church taught, that it was morally wrong. He also saw that it fostered selfishness and hindered people from loving unconditionally. When you can have what you want anytime you want it, you begin to look at another person as an object and fail to love that person. Pope John Paul II discusses this in his theology of the body. My father believed contraception created a more self-centered way of living. We can see that in society.

When he first came to the United States, your father thought about leaving psychiatry.

After practicing in a state hospital system for 10 years, he began to believe he couldn't help anyone. He was discouraged and thought about doing something else.

At the suggestion of his cousin, who was a Benedictine monk, he read the works of Anna Terruwe. He came to see problems with the prevailing methods of psychology, which included psychoanalysis. Freud said that moral formation of conscience caused repression, which no good Catholic can accept. If that were true, the solution would be to get rid of our consciences. We can't do that.

Dr. Terruwe mentored him and then they became colleagues. They co-authored books and made a huge impact on the English-speaking world.

What is emotional deprivation disorder?

It is the deprivation of the innate human need to be loved for oneself. It is a frustration or a lack of fulfillment of a natural process. People grow physically, intellectually and spiritually, but emotionally their growth does not keep pace. They are an "unaffirmed person."

Symptoms include a difficulty in relating emotionally with other adults, whether through friendships and other relationships or in marriage. These people have not been given that gift of themselves through being affirmed through being loved. They have a hard time going out of themselves. They expect other people to relate to them first. It interferes with peace and love in relationships.

People with the disorder may have feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, insecurity and uncertainty. They have difficulty making decisions, especially in things involving feelings. They can be brilliant and accomplished academically or professionally, but emotionally they're immature.

Affirmation is the antidote to this frustration. It's not something we do; we learn how to be present to that person. It's a three-step process:

1) You take the time to be aware of, present to, open to and interiorly receptive to another person.

2) You allow your feelings interiorly to be moved by that person. Therapists are often not oriented towards being present to a person, but to helping or fixing a problem. That has a place in therapy, but for those who have not experienced being loved unconditionally, it's important to just be present.

3) As you're moved, you allow them to see that your feelings for them have been moved. A therapist does this professionally so that boundaries are not crossed. These people have to understand that their goodness has been able to move another person with love or liking or joy. Another person has to be able to see that goodness and reflect it back to them.

It's compatible with Christian charity: loving our neighbor.

Yes. In our society, people are always in a hurry. They need to take the time to be with other people and experience the gift of other people. And a person who has not been affirmed or adequately loved feels this acutely. They feel isolated. The right therapy can be important in their healing.

This lack of affirmation has affected the priesthood and is discussed in your father's Crisis in the Priesthood book.

When my father and Dr. Terruwe addressed the Synod of Catholic Bishops, they were sharing their experience working with clergy. They discovered that some men admitted to the priesthood were not emotionally mature men; they were not affirmed. It had a negative impact on their priesthood, relationships with their congregations and individuals.

They recommended that when a man was being considered for the seminary that he not just receive psychological testing, but that time be taken to get to know him personally. His warmth and personality is going to have a positive impact on his priesthood and the Church. It can bring people towards God, just as a negative personality is going to turn them away.

While emotional problems contributed to the scandals in the priesthood, I'm pleased to see that much greater attention is being paid now to who is healthy enough to be ordained a priest. There's a better understanding that there needs to be a human formation as well as a spiritual formation. We're doing a better job evaluating candidates for the priesthood, and it's going to be better for the Church as a whole.


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