Nine Ways to Discern if a Spiritual Technique, Therapy or Practice Can be Used by Christians

EG writes: “I have a very painful slipped disc in my lower back, as well as a fracture in the same area.  I went to a chiropractor who advertised decompression therapy.  It was quite expensive to go forward with it before investigating alternatives.  A friend recommended her doctor, an OD.  My friend says this OD has done so much for her for over 20 years.  As she described some things the OD does, a red flag went up (touching your head and knowing where your pain is, manipulations to block the pain).  I told my friend that I had read your book on Reiki and was concerned.  She told me she is “very Catholic and prays for God’s healing during your visit.”  I gave the book to someone who was confused.  Could you remind me of the questions you listed on the back that are good to ask a doctor, in order to discern whether or not they are legitimate and in line with church teachings.”


I believe EG is referring to a DO – doctor of osteopathy – who has a medical degree but receives additional training in the study of hands-on manual medicine and the body’s musculoskeletal system.  An osteopathic physician will often use a treatment method called osteopathic manipulative treatment (also called OMT or manipulation) which is a hands-on approach to make sure that the body is moving freely.

However, touching the head in order to know a person’s condition sounds very much like cranial  osteopathy, which  is a belief that the skull bones can be manipulated to relieve pain and remedy many other ailments. While osteopathy in general is a legitimate medical practice, this particular concept has many critics both within the medical community and within osteopathy itself. A systematic review of studies regarding cranial sacral therapy by the University of British Columbia found no “valid scientific evidence that craniosacral therapy provides a benefit to patients.” Even more alarming, it reports “adverse events” resulting in head-injured patients following cranial sacral therapy. This blog  gets into more detail about the dangers of cranial sacral therapy. 

Regardless of whether or not this doctor prays first, they should not be involved in cranial sacral therapy because it is scientifically unfounded, dangerous, and is based on a belief in the New Age “god” aka “life force energy.” 

As for the questions listed at the back of my booklets on the New Age, they are from Rev. Dr. Gareth Leyshon, a Cardiff trained astro-physicist and expert on the New Age, who recommends that they be used when discerning whether a spiritual technique, therapy or practice is can be used appropriately by a Christian.

1. Does the practitioner explicitly ask for God’s help in carrying out the practice, or explain that the “spiritual energy” of the practice comes from God?

If so, first ask whether the “god” called upon is God as Christians understand Him, the God who exists as three persons: the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To seek the help of any other “god” is the sin of idolatry. (See CCC 2113)

Next, does the practitioner claim that God’s help is guaranteed, or is God humbly asked to help without any promise of what He will do? Only in the case of the seven sacraments, or where there is a clear promise in the Bible, or a genuine God-given gift of prophecy, can we guarantee God’s action. Otherwise, anyone who makes an absolute promise of God’s help acts falsely, and sins.

2. Does the practitioner claim to be helped by intelligent spirits – for example, angels, demons, dead persons’ souls, or “spirit guides” – or speak of channeling?

The only legitimate recourse to angels, saints and holy souls is to ask them to pray for us, or to help us in ways which accord with God’s will. Any other attempt to use the power of spiritual beings, especially requesting them to contact us, is a sin of idolatry.

3. Does the practitioner claim to manipulate or depend upon any kind of unintelligent “spiritual energies”?

Doing so is technically called the sin of sorcery (CCC 2117), and is forbidden, even in the case of “healing therapies.”

4. Is it likely, or possible, that the therapy in general, or the method of an individual practitioner, has recourse to spirits secretly? Note that secret elements may include, in example, the use of a dowsing pendulum over the ingredients used in homeopathy or aromatherapy.

To participate unknowingly in such practices is not technically a sin, but may have negative spiritual effects.

5. Is the practice compatible with Christian teaching about Jesus and the nature of human beings?

The most likely alternatives to be suggested in New Age practices are suggestions that you “are God”, are already one with God, can become or get closer to God purely by virtue of your own exercises; and teaching that Jesus is one of many “christs.”

6. Are there good reasons, based either on experimental evidence, or the theory of how the therapy works, to believe it is truly effective?

If there are no good grounds, based either on reason (including scientific research), or on the truths of the Christian faith, then the practice is superstitious (CCC 2110-2111).

7. Am I being sincere, and founding my teaching on good evidence, if I am promoting or offering a particular technique?

Promoting or providing a practice involves you in moral responsibility for other as well as for yourself. Doing so based only on anecdotal evidence could be a sin against truth.

8. Will my participation in this practice give others a false impression of Christianity, or lead Christians into sin? (To answer this question, you will need to consider the practice’s “spiritual significance” in its culture of origin, and in your local culture.)

All Christians are responsible for encouraging every person in the world to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior from sin, even if Catholics do approach this duty differently from evangelical Christians. It is a serious matter to lead anyone to believe that it is good to turn to spiritual powers other than Jesus Christ. Therefore we must consider the impression we will give to others by using a practice which has passed all the other tests.

9. Am I using this practice in a way that is under the Lordship of Christ, and totally trusts Him with my future?

Do we trust in Jesus? If we use any kind of fortune teller to peer into our future, we are implicitly saying that we don’t trust Him, and that is a sin.

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