Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dr. Richard P. Johnson's Workshop for Writers "Enliven Your Writing with an Understanding of Clinical and Spiritual Psychology"

On Saturday, Feb 28, I was among the more than two-dozen writers who attended Dr. Richard P. Johnson's workshop sponsored by Catholic Writers of St. Louis and hosted by All Saints Catholic Writers in St. Peters.

The topic of Dr. Johnson's workshop was how writers can enliven their writing through an understanding of clinical and spiritual psychology. 

Dr. Johnson is the former Director of Behavior Science at a large teaching medical center in St. Louis. 

You can also find further information and explanation in his book, Discover Your Spiritual Strengths.

Here are some notes I jotted down.

Writers and psychologists are kindred spirits -- both are observers of people. 

For writers, using accurate words to describe behaviors is vitally important.

Personality: The core of individuals; what makes them unique. 

Dr. Johnson's six Christ-centered functions of personality are:

1. Believing. What you think life should be like. “Beliefs are the mother of your actions and behaviors.” 

2. Perceiving. Where you place your focus. We take in data - physical, mental, emotional, and also spiritual. (body, mind, and spirit).

Transcendence - visible and invisible. How are you perceiving that which is invisible?

3.  Thinking- the meaning you make from your evaluations or assessments, We have an estimated 60K thoughts each day; we are constantly thinking. Thoughts create feelings.

4. Feeling. Feelings have a great purpose. They are the automatic emotions that flow from our thoughts. How your personality creates your emotional life

5.  Deciding. The choices we make in our lives are based on our feelings. Make choices as to what we are going to do: strategies, goals, objectives, FREE WILL.

6. Acting. Behavior, what we actually do. Actions move things, hearts, minds, and souls. Actions cause change; we change as a result of action.Some action is outward; most is inward.

He also discussed Spiritual Gifts and Attitudes: 

What are spiritual gifts? They are the essence of the person. 

What is attitude? Patients with healthy attitudes responded rather than reacted. 

Responding is something thoughtful

He passed out a list which displayed the above six functions of personality with corresponding Spiritual Strengths (virtues), Disturbing Compulsions (fears) and Instructive Shadows (absence of virtues).

Virtues are expressed as spiritual strengths received through the grace of God. For each spiritual strength or virtue (light) there is an instructive shadow (darkness) expressed in the absence of that virtue.  We use our compulsions (fears) to try to get out of the shadow.

For example: The spiritual strength of  HOPE, the absence of hope is some measure of Despair (from disillusionment to hopelessness). The corresponding compulsion is Presumption (taking things for granted). 
Spiritually healing patient expressed themselves through their: VIRTUES

What is a virtue? Manifestation of Christ in them

“Virtus in media stat” In the middle stands virtue.

Virtue motivates our behaviors, from the Christ-centered perspective.  

Shadow (the absence of virtue) is the fear that comes from darkness. Something is missing.

Compulsion: When our whole being is fearful.

 As authors, we try to describe the human condition. He suggested we use the model for fleshing out  our characters to go beyond the physical, mental, and emotional dimensions to the spiritual. For fully fleshed out characters, consider using the character's virtues.

After Dr. Johnson's presentation, Cathy Gilmore from Catholic Writers of St. Louis led participants in a brief exercise to apply what we learned. I was amazed at the creativity expressed during the readings offered by several writers. 

I left the workshop with a happy heart and a desire to learn more about spiritual strengths to use in my writing--and in my life!


  1. Sounds instructive and uplifting! I wanted to go to this but couldn't. Thank you so much for sharing, Donna!

  2. Wow. This sounds amazing and some heavy stuff. I will have to ponder your notes more. Do you read Flannery O'Conner? All of her stories are to be Catholic and full of redemption. I don't always get her material. I wish I could write with her power though. I did enter a Catholic contest last week though. Hum, I am not sure how far it will get. It had some humor in it I hope...I am not good at humor but this story tickled me. I guess if I had fun, the story paid for itself!

  3. This sounds like a great workshop. As writers we are more intuned. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi Tammy,
    Dr. Johnson was inspiring and informative--and funny!

    Hi Claudia,
    It is heavy stuff. I'm still trying to comprehend it. I love Flannery O'Connor's work. Good luck with the contest.

    Hi Linda,
    You are welcome! Hope all is well with you.

  5. What a wonderful workshop--wonder why we don't have a group like that in our area??? But thanks so much for sharing, Donna. Thoroughly enjoyed reading over your shoulder. ;-)

  6. Thanks for the summary, Donna. I was sorry I couldn't attend this one.

    Critter Alley

  7. Completely enjoyed the workshop and hope that between your notes and mine I will find a way to infuse my characters with more truth. I'm not Catholic but as a Christian I so appreciated the faith-based insight. Can't get more real than that!

  8. Donna, I so hated to miss this workshop. It sounds like it was wonderful, and I'm so glad you did a post about it -- thank you. I looked for Dr. Johnson's book online but couldn't find it. Is it available anywhere?

  9. Thanks for writing about this - sorry I missed it, but happy to read all about it!

  10. Hi Cathy, Pat, Marcia, Theresa, and Mary,
    Thanks for stopping by. I'm just now getting back to my blog after dealing with problems with my network connection.


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