From Learning through Pleasure to Healing through Pleasure

In early fall 2014, Saint Paul University celebrated the 40th anniversary of its Counselling and Psychotherapy Centre. Since its inception, the Centre has provided services in both official languages to thousands of people from a diversity of socio-cultural and religious backgrounds. One of the Centre’s founders, Father Yvon Saint-Arnaud, OMI (1918–2009), was Canada’s leading figure in the development of pastoral counselling, known today as counselling and spirituality. One of his contributions to psychotherapy is a work of great depth, published in 2002, La guérison par le plaisir (“healing through pleasure”). This volume continues to inform researchers, intellectuals and psychotherapists both here and abroad. Professor Saint-Arnaud was also a renowned clinician and a highly sought-after speaker in Canada, France and Belgium.

Saint-Arnaud’s contributions complement the works of other famous researchers in the field of positive psychology (such as Seligman, Csikszentmihalyi and Lyubomirsky). Positive psychology emerged about 15 years ago to study the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups and institutions. It examines concepts that are closely related to spirituality, such as virtues, human strengths, optimism, hope, gratitude, forgiveness, altruism and humour. All of these themes echo the attitude and teachings of Saint-Arnaud, who was known as much for his intellectual rigour as for his contagious laugh. Indeed, those who knew him recall that he could always have fun and knew how to live life to the fullest. For him, any real pleasure was linked to the capacity to enjoy it. He would refer to Assagioli’s notion of will to explain that human beings can revel in (as an act of will) the beautiful, the true and the good in their surroundings.

But what is healing through pleasure? According to Saint-Arnaud, there is a possibility of healing when we become aware of the relationship between our potential to heal and our beliefs, feelings and behaviours regarding the disease and its cure. His concept of pleasure is also closely associated with values: for him, authentic, lasting pleasure is always consistent with one’s values. Pleasure and values go hand in hand, since both are defined by what is good for the human person. Having authentic fun is always linked to enjoying the good—for example, admiring a beautiful sunset, or enjoying a conversation with a dear friend.This quote says it all: “Pleasure is essentially the enjoyment of what we find good for us.” (Saint-Arnaud, 2002, p. 222, our translation.)

According to Saint-Arnaud, authentic pleasures are a healing force. They have a combined effect on our values, which in turn have an impact on our health systems overall: they produce balance in our body, mind and spirit. Furthermore, authentic pleasure remains profoundly human, since it favours continued self-transcendent growth. He acknowledged all forms of pleasure, but he especially valued spiritual pleasures arising from intelligence.The joy of learning is the ultimate intellectual pleasure, for there is great satisfaction in discovering life artistically, philosophically and/ or scientifically. And, of course, he recognized the many pleasures associated with love, such as mutual validation, self-transcendence, security, creativity, spontaneity, friendship, intimacy and commitment.

In tribute to Professor Saint-Arnaud’s remarkable contributions to the field of counselling, psychotherapy and spirituality, Saint Paul University’s School of Counselling, Psychotherapy and Spirituality, together with the Society for Pastoral Counselling Research (SPCR) and l’Association canadienne des intervenants psychospirituels (formerly the Association des Psychothérapeutes Pastoraux du Canada, founded by Saint-Arnaud), will hold an international conference on March 17–19, 2016, entitled Positive Psychology: Healing through Pleasure. One of our featured speakers is noted psychologist Dr. Kenneth Pargament, who along with many other interesting presenters will engage you with fascinating topics chosen for your learning pleasure.

Christian Bellehumeur, Ph.D., is a psychologist, associate professor and director of the School of Counselling, Psychotherapy and Spirituality at the Faculty of Human Sciences, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Ontario.