In recent years, the Vatican has reminded its followers that ‘confession is not therapy’, and urged them not to confuse the confessional with a psychiatrist’s couch. But the blurring of boundaries between the two practices is a centuries-old phenomenon: long before the birth of Freud, people in the Middle Ages shared intimate details of their lives with priests.
Medieval confession wasn’t therapy, but it was therapeutic: besides the obvious spiritual benefits, it was thought to improve both physical and mental wellbeing.
Roman Catholics have been required to make regular oral confessions to priests since 1215, when the Fourth Lateran Council ruled that they must do so at least once a year. The same council pronounced on the relationship between sickness and sin: