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The College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy is a theologically based covenant community, dedicated to "recovery of the soul" and promoting competency in the clinical pastoral field.

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February 21, 2006

Pastoral Theology LIVE: Helen Flanders Dunbar Memorial Lecture at New York Presbyterian Hospital Columbia Medical Center, February 10th…features Princeton Seminary associate professor, Robert Dykstra, Ph.D. by Bonnie McDougall Olson, Resident Chaplain, NY


On March 10, 1876 Alexander Graham Bell uttered these famous words to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, who was sequestered in an adjoining room, "Mr. Watson -- come here -- I want to see you." And with those words the telephone was born. Some 130 years later, on February 10th, 2006, the words, “Are you there Little Rock?” would launch the first nationally teleconferenced Helen Flanders Dunbar lecture from New York Presbyterian Hospital to the University of Arkansas Medical Center, Little Rock, Arkansas; WakeMed, Raleigh, North Carolina and the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, Denver, Colorado. (Unfortunately, the WakeMed connection failed, through no fault of its own.)

The annual lecture at New York Presbyterian, draws strong attendance from the New York/New Jersey metropolitan pastoral community and has consistently offered significant speakers such as Robert Powell, Marcia Dunbar-Soule Dobson, Myron Madden, Donald Capps, Rodney Hunter and James Hillman.

Dykstra’s lecture, “Loser as Guide: The Spiritual Quest of Early Adolescent Boys” engaged listeners to reflect on the painful challenges and disappointments of early male adolescence as important and necessary building block’s in male spiritual awareness and formation. Dykstra’s exegesis of the term “loser” showed the term to be socio-culturally unique to males rather than females, having had its roots in the burgeoning industrialization of 19th century America which fed the ‘bootstrap myth’ of the self-made man. This myth helped make synonymous a man’s success or failure in external accomplishments with the nature of his inner character. On one end of the continuum was the self-fulfilled man, the “winner” and on the other the man who had failed to achieve his rightful destiny, the “loser.”

“Loser” was the one who stood beyond redemptive possibility, the one who seems outside the reaches of God and his state of being lost contagious to his peers. Such thoughts are more than common ones to early adolescent boys who fight to maintain and feed the myth of the winner in themselves. This “winner” identity for the pubescent boy works to split off those aspects of the self which do not fit a false gender ideal; that which is considered “feminine” is dismissed or even denigrated in one’s self or other male peers. Sensitive and self-conscious non-aggressive boys fight an even tougher battle towards peer acceptance and self understanding of wholeness.

Dykstra posited that the many turbulent challenges that rock the adolescent’s youth are far from fruitless but, in fact, the very ground upon which spiritual self-awareness is rooted. Only by embracing the “abnormal” or the ‘loser’ in oneself, can the formative youth hope to engage the fullness of his unique potential. With every failure of youth, the adolescent scores a parallel victory. Dykstra denotes that success and failure, winning and losing are “inextricable” and create a complex web of possibility and choice for the adolescent that allows him to understand the failure of writing an essay, for instance, as his success at refusing to meet an authority figure’s demands upon him!

The loser myth also fosters a kind of splitting of the soul from the physical body which reinforces the young man’s understanding about his own sexuality as less than ‘soulful’ or spiritual, and negative.

Dykstra’s story about his own childhood growing up as a loser, spiritually minded, intellectual and not very athletic illustrated in a real sense, the need for a deeper understanding of the ongoing unconscious choices being made by male adolescents as well as American society, to promulgate the myth of the self-made male. Only when young men are affirmed and encouraged to begin to accept and explore their own complexity will titles such as ‘loser’ and ‘winner’ begin to lose their power to stultify spiritual growth.

Dykstra’s exploration of the adolescent loser as spiritual guide can equally be applied to young women who face parallel challenges to be the mythic model of a female winner. The popular media standard for physical beauty is dictated by super thin high fashion models, sending many young girls into dieting cycles that lead to anorexia and bulimia and potential death in order to be “winners”; anorexia the deadly psychiatric illness remains, in many ways, an illness that society would prefer remain in the closet. While males may be seen as winners for their intelligence, women historically have had to find ways to apologize for their intelligence in order to “succeed.” Helen Flanders Dunbar, considered the mother of the CPE movement is such an example. Dunbar, despite her credentials as a psychiatrist and theologian, dropped the name “Helen” so that her peers would not discover the winning writer was actually a female loser in disguise.

Dykstra’s plea for a more compassionate, holistic understanding and nurturance of the burgeoning adolescent self is a call to all of us as mentors and pastoral caregivers to help midwife those youth among us. Perhaps, before we can do that that, we first need to engage Dykstra’s invitation to revisit the buried remnants of our own loser identities, our struggle to truly fit in and belong. Dykstra promises it will prove to be a critical spiritual guide.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 10:56 PM

February 20, 2006

A New Way For Chapters To Share by Perry Miller

In order to insure the highest professional standards, The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP) requires each member’s credentials and the standing of their Chapters come under review once a year. It is the Chapter’s responsibility to assess the professional standing of each of its members and to report its findings to the spring meeting of the Governing Council. In addition, each Chapter is expected to demonstrate to the Governing Council that it is functioning in accordance to CPSP Standards.

CPSP Committee on Chapter Life (CLC) has provided Chapter Conveners the Chapter Life Ratification Form in order to facilitate this yearly review process. It is a special formatted document. The gray space following each area to be addressed is where the response is to be entered. You will see that the space for text “grows” depending on how much text is entered. If you should max-out this space (4000 characters), please add an addendum.

The Committee on Chapter Life wants to be of service to Chapters and their members. We hope this new method of reporting will become an opportunity for Chapter members to engage one another and to reflect on their life together as members of a covenant community committed to Recovery of Soul in the clinical pastoral movement.

We’ve been impressed with how some Chapters use the computer and the Internet to engage in the work of the Chapter between face-to-face meetings. For those who do so, perhaps completion of the Chapter Life Report could be one matter of business conduct online. If so, the CLC would welcome hearing about your process and its effectiveness.

Chapter Conveners were also provided the CPSP Directory Data Form. This is CPSP’s way to maintain an up-to-date CPSP Directory of chapters, members, certification status and contact information for CPSP training centers. Chapter Conveners are to insure that each Chapter member has an updated data form that has been returned to our Registrar, Barbara McGuire ( The Governing Council has established this as a necessary criterion for members’ credentials to be re-ratified at the spring meeting.

The Chapter Ratification From is to be completed by the Chapter Convener and returned as an email attachment to one week before the Governing Council meets on March 30, 2006.

For more information about the CPSP Chapter Life Committee go to:

If there are questions regarding the Chapter Ratification Form, please contact Perry Miller, Chapter Life Committee Chair (

Perry Miller, Chair
Chapter Life Committee




Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 10:35 PM