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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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May 25, 2007

VIDEO: Robert Powell, MD, PhD Presents Helen Flanders Dunbar Award to The Rev. Henry Heffernan

The Rev. Henry Heffernan is CPSP's 2007 recipient of the Helen Flanders Dunbar Award. Robert Powell, MD, PhD presented the award at the 2007 CPSP Plenary held in Raleigh, NC.

Dr. Powell's presentation was entitled "How to Function as a Knowledgeable Professional AND Retain One’s Soul". The full text of his presentation can be found on the Pastoral Report.

To read Rev. Heffernan's acceptance of the award and his presentation, "Helen Flanders Dunbar Presentation to the 2007 CPSP Plenary", go to the Pastoral Report.

Perry Miller, Editor

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 9:28 AM

May 23, 2007


May 15, 2007


We write on behalf of the Executive Committee of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP) to inform you of the current struggle between CPSP and the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) and to request your assistance and consultation.

It has become clear in the past year that the ACPE has shifted its position vis-à-vis the CPSP from one of rigorous competition to one of a vicious campaign to discredit CPSP altogether.

Our first thought was to counter this new campaign with a laundry list of ACPE shortcomings and failures. We are quite capable of this. Such a response would escalate the conflict far beyond what is now taking place. The thought of two religious groups fighting each other for the right to do the same kind of work frankly is unacceptable. We imagine what would be gained, for example, were the Methodists to launch a campaign to discredit the Presbyterians, and the latter responding in kind. The end result would be a disgrace to both parties, no matter who got the upper hand.

CPSP certified chaplains, pastoral counselors, and pastoral supervisors currently serve hundreds of institutions, and serve them creditably. No evidence suggests that CPSP certified persons are in any way shorting the communities they serve. The ACPE is bent on discrediting these committed and dedicated persons, their ministry, and their clinical training programs. This campaign by ACPE is not acceptable behavior from a pastoral care organization.

The standards followed by both the ACPE and CPSP are substantively identical, but we are different in our governance and our organizational structure. Presbyterians and Methodists are also different. This is the meaning of diversity. We believe that diversity is a good thing. We oppose the attempt by the ACPE to establish itself as a monopoly in clinical pastoral training, or CPE, as it is commonly known. Monopolies are troublesome creations. Religious monopolies are the most insidious kind. We hope that you will agree with us that this ACPE attempt to assert itself as a monopoly in clinical pastoral training is not good for anyone.

The extent of human suffering, brokenness, and estrangement even in our own country - not to mention the rest of the world - far surpasses the resources of all our pastoral care and counseling groups combined. Money spent attacking another pastoral organization is a disgrace and a repudiation of our vocation.

There are no perfect communities; nor are there any perfect certifying and accrediting organizations. CPSP has not found a perfect way to function in upholding quality. Neither has ACPE. We propose that history decide which organization might turn out in the long run to be the most fruitful in promoting a competent ministry to suffering or broken persons.

We urge you to join us in a call for ACPE to stop altogether its public denigration of CPSP. We ask you to come to our aid in helping us draw the line against the current attempt of the ACPE to promote itself as the only legitimate clinical pastoral training organization in the country. We urge you to oppose a monopoly in the clinical training and certifying of clergy and lay people. We want to meet with you personally to answer any questions you might have or address any concerns which may require further clarity. To this end please call upon us at your convenience.

Finally, we are embarrassed and chagrined that we even need to write this letter. The limited resources that we control ought to be dedicated fully, not in self-promotion or self-defense, but in reaching out to those in need, and to help create a more just and humane community.

For the Executive Committee of CPSP,

James E. Gebhart, President

Raymond J. Lawrence, General Secretary

Website: CPSP.ORG


Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 6:40 PM

CHCC President Reports on CPSP Plenary


The Rev. Dr. Chris Swift, Guest of Honor at the recent 2007 CPSP Plenary, provided a detailed report to the United Kingdom's College of Health Care Chaplains (CHCC) of which he is President. His report covers broad and at times detailed and insightful impressions of his experience of CPSP as a growing organization in the pastoral field.

He also ponders why CPE has not really taken hold in the English context. He plans to dedicate the last six months of his Presidency of the CHCC to explore the pros and cons of CPE and report his finding to the CHCC National Professional Committee.

As a community we express our appreciation to the College and for their making it possible for Chris to be with us and for his enhancement of the mutual working alliance between our two pastoral communities. Together we share the ultimate commitment to provide ministry to those who are broken in body, spirit and mind.

Please go to College of Health Care Chaplains website to read the President's Report.

Perry Miller, Editor

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 8:32 AM

May 17, 2007

Theology from the Horse’s Mouth by Ben Bogia


I had a sobering experience last week: I was thrown from my horse, Tasha, while riding with my wife, was taken to the Emergency Department, subjected to every test they could devise, and admitted with a small brain bleed, some cracked ribs, a collapsed lung, and assorted aches and bruises.

During the 6 days I was confined to my bed, many powerful images and concepts arose in conversation and meditation. Interestingly, the more I examined them, the more they took on theological shapes. And, I must admit, they drove me unerringly toward a recovery of soul.

Here, then, are my reflections on theology as taught by a horse:

• The Future is not real – it is a conceptual repository for a limitless variety of potential pathways. The actual choices we make create our reality, which becomes the Present into which we are thrust.

• EVERYTHING in our own reality exists only in the Present, no matter how “good” or “bad” we believe it is. The choices we make NOW shape and narrow the possible “Futures” we may have.

• Nothing except the Present is certain.

• We are, to an overwhelming extent, helpless and dependent. That is, to quote John Dunne with corrections for language, “No [one] is an island, complete unto [him/her] self.”

• Community is crucial, even for those who consciously remove themselves from social contact.

• No one can be prepared for every eventuality, no matter how careful and thoughtful. • Accidents happen FAST and are unpredictable.

For me, recovery of soul meant accepting my addictive need for control and my powerlessness to BE in control. I could not continue to search for a “reason” for my accident, nor could I “blame” anyone or anything. What is, is. My task, apparently, is to learn the lesson(s) that the Universe (through Tasha) has for me.

There is much more to be mined from this experience, and I will keep at it. In the meantime, I am grateful to be alive to mend and ponder and learn. Who would have believed that my most profound teacher could be a horse?

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 7:21 PM

May 11, 2007

How to Function as a Knowledgeable Professional AND Retain One’s Soul By Robert C. Powell, MD, PhD


[CPSP Plenary 2007 – introduction to Heffernan’s acceptance of HFD Award]

“How to Function as a Knowledgeable Professional AND Retain One’s Soul”
-- Comments Honoring Chaplain Henry G. Heffernan –
delivered at the Plenary in Raleigh, NC, on 29 March 2007

The “Helen Flanders Dunbar (1902-1959) Award for Significant Contributions to the Field of Clinical Pastoral Training” was established 5 years ago, on the 100th anniversary of Dunbar’s birth and on the 10th anniversary of the 1st Plenary of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Yes, while the initial CPSP organizing meeting occurred on St. Patrick’s Day, 1990 – over a cup of hot tea, I am sure – the 1st full “gathering of the community” occurred two years later, 15 years ago.1 Yesterday, at the beginning of this meeting, this collegial band of spiritual pilgrims, intent on growing together in covenanted, professional, and personal relationship, entered its 16th year.2

Two years ago, the Dunbar Award recipient left us with the curious quotation highlighted on this year’s plenary brochure. Referring to clinically trained, educated, transformed chaplains as “responsible scavengers,” the suggestion was that they have survived because they know how to search, salvage, purify, and transform the elements of the world into that which nurtures and sustains life.3 As a trained, educated, transformed historian who has been learning from chaplains for over 35 years, I hope to share some of these skills and to have become adept at searching through lost tradition, salvaging neglected gems, purifying muddled thoughts, and transforming all into that which might nurture and sustain.

Let me now note and weave together a number of significant anniversaries worth celebrating today.

1927 – Eighty years ago, Dunbar graduated from Union Theological Seminary, New York City, where William Adams Brown taught “systematic theology” – then viewed as discerning axioms of faith – and Harry Emerson Fosdick taught “practical theology” – then viewed as concerning the art of ministry. Brown’s The Life of Prayer in a World of Science came out a dozen years after Fosdick’s immensely popular The Meaning of Prayer, and the same year as Dunbar’s now lost [during a flood] Bachelor of Divinity thesis, “Methods of Training in the Devotional Life …”, the spiritual search of the soul for God.4

1927 – Again, eighty years ago, Dunbar completed her now often reprinted Doctor of Philosophy dissertation, “Symbolism in Medieval Thought ….” This arresting study of Dante’s Commedia elucidated, in many ways for the first time, the continuing power of “insight symbolism,” to recreate and expand meanings, to reach out “toward the supersensible,” to “give a glimpse of the beyond,” and to effect individuals’ “adjustment to the Infinite.”5 Certainly there was a theologian within her. While Presbyterians and Methodists had women as ministers by 1927, Dunbar’s resonance with the multi-layered medieval mass led her to align, doctrinally, with “high church” Episcopalians – which meant that ordination would not have been even an option for her until the mid-1970s, over a decade and a half after her death.

1927 – While Dunbar focused on the integrating aspects of religious ritual, her colleague, Anton Boisen, then twice her age, focused on the attempted integrating aspects of some types of mental illness. His “Evangelism in the Light of Psychiatry” is a classic. Guided by an interview outline Dunbar and he had prepared together several years earlier, Boisen tried to emulate “the careful, painstaking, systematic methods of the psychiatrist,” and thereby to elucidate some of “the spiritual laws with which theology deals.” [p.79] His close observations of the mentally ill, you may recall, suggested that emotional “conflict and disturbance are not in themselves evils, but may be attempts at a needed reorganization of the personality.” That is, disintegration sometimes had to precede further integration. Boisen considered it “ever the task of the church to disturb the consciences of men [and women] in regard to the quality of the life they are living” – “awakening the careless and indifferent to the deeper meaning of life” – “in order that they may turn before it is too late and be made whole.” 6 Healing and wholeness was the central focus of Dunbar’s life. Boisen and Dunbar, it was said, sought to approach theology “from the ground up and not from the clouds down.”7

1937 – Seventy years ago, Dunbar’s article, “The Psychic Component in Disease …” similarly carefully reiterated that the goal is not so much to “treat” the suffering person – to “do” something to the person – as it is to alert him or her to the fact that something is amiss, that something must be changed, and that outsiders, at best, might serve as guides. “A good rule,” she reminded, “is to observe all things and [to] do as little as the situation permits …”. Dunbar had great faith in people’s abilities to think and act on their own once they were emotionally free to see things as they really were. In this complex article, Dunbar spoke of all illness as going “through a reversible phase before becoming irreversible,” just as her colleague, Boisen, had emphasized that one must “turn before it is too late.”8

1942 – Sixty-five years ago, a protégé of both Dunbar and Boisen, Carroll Wise, published Religion in Illness and Health – a classic in its own right – which focused on the usefulness of symbol and ritual in pastoral care – what Dunbar’s era called "the relation of religion to health" as "a factor in directing and controlling emotion.”9 That same year, Dunbar and colleagues founded “The American Society for Research in Psychosomatic Problems” – now known as “The American Psychosomatic Society.” Our country was in the opening months of a foreign war. The National Research Council wanted data on mind-body interaction – and it wanted the data “now”.10 The mobilizing troops also wanted a lot of chaplains. Close to 9,000, with varying degrees of clinical pastoral training were sent abroad without delay. Dunbar’s fingerprints were all over both projects.11

1947 – Sixty years ago, Dunbar’s Mind and Body: Psychosomatic Medicine hit the bestseller lists. Your Child’s Mind and Body, Your Pre-Teenager’s Mind and Body, plus Your Teenager’s Mind and Body followed at intervals soon thereafter. Just as American culture absorbed a memorable version of Freud’s psychoanalytic notions, it soon absorbed a memorable version of Dunbar’s new psychosomatic notions, including her focus on recognizing patterns, for more effective intervention, and on helping a person find the path to his or her own healing.12

1957 – Fifty years ago, Dunbar first reported her research on centenarians. We will come back to this. While her colleague, Boisen, made it to almost age 90, and 50 years ago this year, Chicago Theological Seminary honored him after his 80th birthday as a Doctor of Letters, Dunbar made it to only age 57. Her 105th birthday would have been next May 14th. The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy was among the first – besides Dantean scholars who kept buying her 1st book – to honor Helen Flanders Dunbar.

Now let me jump ahead quite a bit, before jumping back.

1982 – Twenty-five years ago, an editorial, “The 'Secret' of Clinical Pastoral Education," noted that the soul of the process HAD been in that supervisors' goal was "not education but transformation – transformation of themselves first of all and ultimately of their students." Consigning, however, this “mystery of the laying on of CPE hands” to the dustbin, the editorial went on to praise "objectification, quantification, and verification."13 That brief essay, in a nutshell, defined a key tension that has remained within the movement – how to function as a knowledgeable professional AND retain one’s soul.

1987 – Twenty years ago, during Christmas week, the 1st issue of the infamous Underground Report arrived in the mailboxes of supervisors of clinical pastoral education. As most of you know, the short essays and many letters appearing in subsequent issues of this renegade publication led directly to the founding of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy.14 These chaplain supervisors valued knowledge and professionalism, but they also longed for a committed community of colleagues that would foster creativity and growth.

1992 – Fifteen years ago, as we noted earlier, the CPSP held its first plenary gathering of the community.

2002 – Ten years later, 5 years ago, once again, our country was in the opening months of a foreign war. The CPSP Governing Council noted Solomon’s prophetic warning, that vision must precede action.15 The pastoral care community was not being called upon to provide almost 9,000 chaplains, as it had 60 years ago. Chaplains were called upon to provide vision – even action. Apparently the pastoral “vision thing” – and action – is still “in committee”. The challenge has not gone away.

Now let me jump back, before ending up at the present time.

1937 – Seventy years ago, tonight’s honoree attained the age of reason.

1962 – Forty-five years ago, he was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in the committed community of Jesuits.

1967 – Forty years ago, as best I can tell, tonight’s honoree began toying with a versatile programming language the computer world calls “MUMPS” – officially the Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System – which made many healthcare information systems possible. Our honoree views himself as a simple, clinically trained parish priest. Apparently for 40 years, however, various communities have been served by someone who appreciated both silicon and communion wafers.

2007 – This evening, we are honored to have Chaplain Henry G. Heffernan, as the 6th recipient of the Helen Flanders Dunbar Award for Significant Contributions to the Field of Clinical Pastoral Training. We are especially honored since this may well be the year that we see the full fruition of a project he has been working on for several years, the “Ideal Intervention Paper,” a structured description of a patient visit that attempts to capture, nourish, and sustain the soul of pastoral care – albeit it with an eye on research.

While previous clinical pastoral notes focused on what actually occurred in the interaction with a specific actual patient, the Ideal Intervention Paper asks the chaplain or chaplain-trainee to reflect upon the clinical visit but then imagine what might be a more ideal pastoral intervention – for future patients with “closely similar characteristics, spiritual needs, and existential problems”. 16

As best I can tell, this approach starts with only the broadest of assumptions about what might be best, and then lets the serious interaction of one human with another help elucidate what might be most useful. Priority is given to respecting the mystery of transformation, while making some movement toward, in an appropriately loose sense, objectification, quantification, and verification of what seems to support positive change – healing and wholeness. Again, as best I can tell, the Ideal Intervention Paper has nothing to do with “so called” third parties. It has everything to do with relationship, of the suffering person – including those like him or her in the future – and of the attending chaplain – including those filling that role in the future.

The earliest eras of professional chaplaincy spoke of trying to discover the axioms of faith, the art of ministry, and the laws of the spirit. This new era of professional chaplaincy might entail the re-discovery of how – in a more effective way – to help those suffering to find deeper meanings of life. The Ideal Intervention Paper appears to start with real, engaged service, move toward active inquiry, move on to contemplation, and move still further toward guiding a future generation. The problem continues to be how to function as a knowledgeable professional AND retain one’s soul.

Let me now begin to pull to a close.

A moment ago I referred to Dunbar’s research 50 years ago on centenarians. Five years ago I suggested that, if the clinical pastoral community hoped to be flourishing at the 100-year mark, it might want to internalize some of the values Dunbar outlined as characteristic of centenarians.17 As I quickly list her findings once again, I would like you to consider the extent to which CPSP might want to sign on to these values. Also, I would like you to appreciate the degree to which these attributes characterize our honoree.

Based on her research on almost 100 centenarians followed for 10 to 25 or more years, Dunbar concluded that they tended to
nourish inventiveness,
embrace change and unknowns,
take catastrophe in stride,
avoid frustration in life,
not avoid making fresh starts, and
foster self-observation,
while remaining
straightforward, and

For the clinical pastoral community, that challenge, too, still stands. Perhaps CPSP will choose consciously to embrace some, most, or all of these values. Perhaps our honoree, Chaplain Henry G. Heffernan, can help to show the way.

1. 12-15 March 1992.
2. The concise phrasing, “covenanted, professional, and personal relationship,” is from James Gebhart, “Presidential Address [to CPSP, March 2005],”
3. The original story of the pastoral scavengers is from Valerie DeMarinis, Critical Caring: A Feminist Model for Pastoral Psychology [Louisville, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993], p 12.
Robert C. Dykstra’s 2005 Plenary address, “Who We Shall Be,” was drawn from the manuscript of his then soon-to-be-published anthology, Images of Pastoral Care: Classic Readings [St. Louis, MO: Christian Board of Publication, 2006]; this edited volume includes readings by Anton Boisen, Alastair Campbell, Donald Capps, James Dittes, Robert Dykstra, Heije Faber, Charles Gerkin, Brita Gill-Austern, Karen Hanson, Seward Hiltner, Margaret Zipse Kornfeld, Bonnie Miller-McLemore, Jeanne Stevenson Moessner, Henri Nouwen, Gaylord Noyce, Paul Pruyser, and Edward Wimberly.
4. “Methods of Training in the Devotional Life Employed in the American Churches.” From references elsewhere we know that her thesis, which was destroyed, with many others, when the seminary library basement flooded, focused on the use of ritual. Seminary records indicate that William Adams Brown had her in at least two courses and one tutorial.
5. H. Flanders Dunbar, Symbolism in Medieval Thought and Its Consummation in the Divine Comedy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929 [= PhD dissertation, New York: Columbia University Press, 1929] reprinted New York: Russell and Russell, 1961, and again by Atlanta, GA: SOLINET, 1994; pp 11,14.
6. Anton T. Boisen, “Evangelism in the Light of Psychiatry,” Journal of Religion 7(1):76-70, 1927; pp 79, 76.
7. Anton T. Boisen, “Exploration of the Inner World,” Chicago Theological Seminary Register, 17, 1927; p 11. Yes, Boisen used the title for an article a full 8 years before he used it for his most famous book.
8. H. Flanders Dunbar, “The Psychic Component in Disease: From the Point of View of the Medical. Social Worker’s Responsibility. Bull Am Assoc Med Soc Work 10: 69-80, 1937; pp 76, 70.
9. Carroll A. Wise, Religion in Illness and Health. New York: Harper's Brothers, 1942. See also, Malcolm B. Ballinger, “My Interest in Pastoral Psychology,” [go to “News”]: “Section II of his [Wise’s] book was based on the experience and symbols in religion in the experience of Mary Jones.”
Helen Van Voast and Ethel P.S. Hoyt, "History of the [Joint] Committee on Religion and Medicine of The Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America and The New York Academy of Medicine, 1923-1936," ?1936, p 9; in folder "Religious Healing, 1923," Subseries 6, Association for Clinical Pastoral Education records, Archives & Manuscripts Department, Pitts Theology Library, Atlanta, GA.
10. Psychosomatic Medicine 5(1):97, 1943;
11. William J. Hourihan, compiler, Brief History of the US Army Chaplain Corps, Chapter 6. United States Army Chaplain Center and School, Fort Jackson, SC,
12. Flanders Dunbar, Mind and Body: Psychosomatic Medicine. New York: Random House, 1947; as a "Book-of-the-Month Club" selection, this had numerous printings; a "new, enlarged" edition was issued in 1955.
Flanders Dunbar, Your Child’s Mind and Body: A Practical Guide for Parents. New York: Random House, 1949.
Flanders Dunbar, Your Pre-Teenager’s Mind and Body, edited by Benjamin Linder. New York: Hawthorn, 1962.
Flanders Dunbar, Your Teenager’s Mind and Body, edited by Benjamin Linder. New York: Hawthorn, 1962.
13. Edward E. Thornton. J Pastoral Care 36 (3): 145-146, 1982, p 146.
14. The web page has a number of quotations from the Underground Report; note also footnotes 42-53 there. While most of the “old folks” of CPSP know that Raymond J. Lawrence, Jr. was the founder of the Underground Report, this fact is here recorded for the benefit of newer members and posterity.
15. “The CPSP Governing Council Meeting in Washington, DC Issues Position on War with Iraq,” October 15, 2002.; Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish ….”
16. Henry G. Heffernan, “The Ideal Intervention Paper Exercise: The Learning and Maturing Experience for the CPE Student,” “preliminary draft,” May 2006, See also his “An Approach to the Specification of Chaplain Visits,”; “Update on the ‘Structured Descriptions’ Project, with a Draft of a Student Manual.”; “Update on the ‘Structured Descriptions / Ideal Interventions’ Project” [which has links to printable PDFs for "A Databank Resource for Pastoral Research: Detailed Descriptions of Chaplains’ Visits with Patients" and "The Terminology and Concepts of Pastoral Practice,"]; and “A Report on the Pilot Phase of the Ideal Intervention Paper (IIP) Project: Introducing Pastoral Research into Clinical Pastoral Education,” October 2006, [has printable PDF].
17. Robert Charles Powell, “‘The Continued Ability to Create and Invent’: Going for One Hundred Years of Clinical Pastoral Transformation,” The First Annual Helen Flanders Dunbar (1902-1959) Award for Significant Contributions to the Field of Clinical Pastoral Training, 3/21/02, Virginia Beach, VA, at the Plenary Meeting of the CPSP, citing, Flanders Dunbar, Psychiatry in the Medical Specialties, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959, pp 465, 461, 464, 153, 459, 460.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 12:44 PM

Helen Flanders Dunbar Presentation to the 2007 CPSP Plenary By Henry Heffernan

What would Dr. Helen Flanders Dunbar say if she were here today, speaking from this podium? This is the question I asked myself two months ago when Raymond laid this responsibility on me.

One topic I think she would have comments on is the current relationship of CPSP with the other associations in healthcare institution-based pastoral care and counseling.

A second topic I think she would also comment on is the broad range of associations and professional societies whose work is relevant for the roles and responsibilities of CPSP members.

A third topic I am confident that she would address is that of systematic cooperative development of a knowledge base of pastoral care realities, based on encounters with our clients and patients. Flanders Dunbar herself made her life’s work the systematic compilation of the available evidence on the efficacy of psychodynamic therapies for specific types of problems experienced by patients. She most likely would urge us to undertake the same for pastoral care, counseling, and theologically informed psychotherapy. She might well propose this effort as the unique contribution that CPSP could make to pastoral care and counseling.

Let us explore briefly these three topics:

I. Concerning the current relationship of CPSP to the ACPE and the other member associations of the Council on Collaboration -- or whatever its current name may be -- I think Helen would smile sweetly and briefly recount her own initiative years ago in rescuing the pioneering work that Boisen had done. She removed it from the hands of those in New England who were reducing and bureaucratizing his insights and his approach to what was approaching a fairly mechanical training practice routine. She separated Boisen’s activities in order to preserve his original work from becoming soulless and bureaucratized.

Today CPSP and its members find themselves separated from the other pastoral care and counseling associations for much of the same reasons. Robert Powell has commented on the change that took place in CPE toward the middle of the last century. There was a shift away from focusing on the religious needs of the patients to a focus on the psychological development of the CPE student. The “living human document” became the student and the student’s psychological hang-ups. The patient’s religious experience was reduced to the status of a “means” for the student’s learning rather than the end and purpose of a patient encounter. The patients served only as the information sources to enable the student to write up verbatims for the weekly sessions with the supervisor. The goal of CPE for the student was to “pass the course” that the CPE unit had become, and the focus of effort was on writing (creatively?) the papers required. The “hidden curriculum” was to figure out what the supervisor considered the correct way to conduct patient visits, and then to fit what one wrote into that pattern, regardless of how actual patient encounters had been experienced.

The ‘bottom line’ issue was to “pass the CPE course.” Developing the verbatims and the other paper writing assignments became the focus of the student’s attention and effort, instead of the deep religious needs of the patient, and the transformative theological growth of both the patient and the student that the encounters could foster. Dr. Powell can provide historical details on this shift in perspective.

II. The second topic Flanders Dunbar very likely would address would be the number and variety of associations and societies that are addressing issues relevant to spiritual and pastoral care, along with many informal organizations at the local and regional levels, as well as various educational programs in colleges and other organizations. These societies and the individuals making contributions to the programs of these associations are quite open to the discussion and sharing of their knowledge and experience, and do not erect barriers of self-professed exclusive expertise and professionalism.

For example, a short list of some of these other societies and associations would include the Society for Pastoral Theology, the Association of Practical Theology, the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality, the Association for Theological Field Education, the College Theology Society, the American Academy of Religion and the many theological study groups that cooperate in the national and regional activities of the AAR. In addition, I don’t have to mention the American Psychological Association’s many special interest activities, and those of the counseling associations. The sociological and anthropological fields as well as others also have much to offer. The members of these societies and associations are intellectually active with open and inquisitive minds, in contrast to what many CPSP members have found in the self-professed professional chaplaincy groups.

In the fourth edition of her classic 1954 book, A Survey of Literature on Psychosomatic Interrelationships, 1910-1954, Helen observed that specialization in a field can be a barrier to understanding:

“. . . we have reached a point where progress in the specialties themselves is being blocked by a lack of understanding of the relationships between them. Scientists commenting on the tremendous gain which has accrued to us during the last decades of specialization, are calling attention to the fact that many of the most vital of our problems lie between the sciences and cannot be perceived without going beyond the confines of a specialty. One of the major problems of the ‘between fields’ is the question of psychosomatic interrelationships, and here, as so often happens, we know more than we know we know; in other words, the actual scientific information available, having been achieved along the lines of the several specialties, has never been gathered together, correlated, and evaluated.” (page vii)

The gathering together, correlating and evaluating of this information became Helen Flanders Dunbar’s life’s work. She would suggest that we broaden our perspective on the people we should be talking to and the fields we should be learning from.

III. The third topic that Helen Flanders Dunbar almost assuredly would address is that of how CPSP members can make a significant historical contribution to the pastoral care movement. Her life’s work was in psychiatry, and the legacy she left in her books provides a blueprint of what she would suggest. The 1,192 pages of her 1954 Survey, that we already mentioned, offer an example of the systematic, cooperative, cumulative development of a knowledge base on psychosomatics, derived from a wide variety of psychiatric, neurological, medical, and social science sources.
In her Psychiatry in the Medical Specialties, she emphasized the fundamental need for adequate psychosomatic case histories, that would specify explicitly and in detail the types of conflict and other problems found in these cases. (p. 411) She would urge us to develop pastoral care case histories, even when the encounters with patients were quite brief, as is often the reality in acute care chaplaincy. Through cooperative development and the sharing of explicitly recorded descriptions of pastoral encounters, both extensive and brief, a knowledge base of experience can be developed.

Rodney Hunter and his collaborators, in the eight-year effort during the 1980s to develop the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, began the effort to develop an unambiguous terminology that could be used for the communication of pastoral care and counseling insights, observations, and findings from pastoral caregivers’ experience. The Dictionary was a major part of a foundation for further cooperative work. But to date no building or even scaffolding has been erected on that foundation. Helen Dunbar might well become quite animated in urging that this partial foundation of terminology be extended, and that the knowledge base of pastoral care and counseling be erected on that foundation, just as she had done for psychosomatic medicine. The systematic compilation of empirical data on psychosomatic phenomena, based on the observations, insights, and measurements of psychologists, physicians, psychiatrists and other scientists, was Flanders Dunbar’s distinctive contribution to the fields of psychiatry, psychology, and counseling. Her life’s work is laid out before our eyes in the books she wrote. I think she would state that CPSP members can define themselves and their contribution to pastoral care and counseling through their cooperative development of an empirical knowledge base of pastoral and spiritual care experience.

Finally, as a postscript, I think Helen would end with words similar to what she stated in her book Mind and Body: Psychosomatic Medicine. She observed that: “the inability to relax is one of the most widely spread diseases of our civilization, and one of the most infrequently recognized. Most victims do not even suspect that they have it until it has been complicated by some other ailment.” (p. 146) I think she would urge each of us to help one another to find a way to relax during the hours we have together these next days here. She offered an example of how to do so a few pages later in that same book, describing how a pet dog, coming into a room to find its master, will circle once or twice and then flop down on the rug, rest its head on its paws, close its eyes, and sigh. (p. 156) Let’s try some human equivalent of that in our group sessions.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 12:39 PM

Clinical Pastoral Supervision from a Multicultural Perspective By R. Esteban Montilla, Ph.D., M.Div.



Pastors, chaplains, pastoral counselors, clinical pastoral educators, and other mental health clinicians care deeply for the wellbeing of humankind and are committed to make this world a better place by helping people live their lives to the fullest. This sacred vocation, born out of love and compassion, is taken very seriously by pastoral caregivers as they dedicate themselves to preserve and enrich the quality of life of the people they serve. As part of the ethical commitment to provide the most effective and professional service available, clinicians enter into meaningful learning relationships to gain more knowledge, improve their skills, intensify therapeutic attitudes, deepen collective capacity, and advance their cultural sensitivities. A common path to these meaningful learning experiences is reflective clinical supervision.

Clinical Pastoral Supervision is a unique and emancipating profession that embraces knowledge from several disciplines including theology, psychology, counseling, ethics, and medicine. The idea of having a more experienced worker to supervise another person’s performance is an ancient practice that has contributed to the economy, intellectual development, and general wellbeing of humankind. The positive impact of supervision has been particularly seen in the helping professions where new helpers gain knowledge, develop professional skills and become motivated to provide a holistic service that is most effective.

Although the supervision practice has existed since the beginning of the history of humankind, where novice prophets, healers and maestros performed before their mentors expecting feedback and direction, it was not until the mid 20th century when supervision began to be studied and seen as a separate discipline with its body of knowledge and set of particular skills.

Clinical supervision was practiced by Arab physicians (Abouleish, 1998) in the 9th and 10th century of the CE as medical students would follow and consult experienced physicians regarding difficult cases they were facing in their practicum. In the mental health field, clinical supervision started with Freud (1914, 1986), who gathered small group of students and practitioners to discuss pertinent clinical cases. Cabot (1926) introduced specific guidelines to review patient health situations from the psychiatric, social and spiritual perspectives. He advocated the importance of clinical practice and supervision in the process of developing professional skills. Boisen (1931) was convinced that trainees could become competent clinicians as they learn to read “living human documents,” reflect on their experiences with the assistance of senior practitioners and receive systematic feedbacks from supervisors and patients.

Today most helping professions including psychology, counseling, medicine, chaplaincy, and social work require clinicians to undergo rigorous supervision training with the intention of assuring quality of care for both clients and trainees.


The conceptualization of clinical supervision remains a challenge because this profession is informed by many disciplines. Clinical supervision uses techniques of counseling, but it is more than that. It takes a lot from group dynamics but it goes beyond group process and group therapy. It takes advantages of the knowledge from psychological consultation, mentoring and coaching but the practice of clinical supervision extends further than this. It utilizes teaching theories and learning techniques but it is more than education. Clinical supervision emphasizes theological thinking and pastoral formation but it reaches more extensively than that. In brief, clinical pastoral supervision is a complex discipline that intends to make this world a better place by equipping helpers with knowledge, skills, attitudes and patterns of relationships conducive to healing and growth.

Clinical Supervision could be defined as a dynamic, collaborative, professional, and reciprocal relationship between a clinical supervisor, a supervisee and the patients/clients seeking care. In this professional relationship, an experienced professional provides consistent observation, relevant feedback, and integrative evaluation to supervisees whom are committed to attain knowledge, define professional identity, improve their skills, deepen their cultural sensitivity, and strengthen their professional relationships and networks. The ultimate purpose of this supervisory relationship is providing high quality ethical care to patients/clients, protecting the wellbeing of the public and enhancing the interest of the profession (Haynes, Corey, and Moulton, 2004; Bernard and Goodyear, 2004).

Clinical supervision is also seen as a mutual relationship between two or more professionals who recognize the magnitude of human complexity and agree that people are better served when their situations are seen from various angles and perspectives. A clinical supervisor is a person who is able to see beyond the obvious, offer his or her assistance to aid supervisees explore motivations, delve into attitudes, observe dynamics and behaviors, conceptualize processes, and listen to emotions as well as implement and maintain changes. A clinical supervisor is a person who learned and is learning simultaneously with patients and mentors the art of seeing beyond the “four fingers”, beyond the obvious, and mutually engaged with supervisees in the process of helping others.

A clinical pastoral supervisor is a person who helps supervisees see beyond the scope, enabling them to “read living human documents” in critical and reflective ways, acquiring understanding, gaining insight and acting ethically and competently in their work with people. A clinical pastoral supervisor is a person trained to help supervisees think, feel, act and reflect theologically on their encounters with “living human documents” and “living relational webs.” A clinical pastoral supervisor is a person who has accepted the calling from the Eternal, the commission from a religious body and the certification from a professional agency to form and equip people in the ministry of pastoral care and counseling.

Literally a clinical pastoral supervisor is a person who has learned at the bedside of human joy and suffering to see beyond the obvious while concentrating on the meaning and dynamics of experiences. This reflective process is done with the intention of assisting supervisees as they help their patients/clients/parishioners grow, develop their potential, and become whole by being connected to self, others, nature, cosmos and the Transcendent.

The Goal of Clinical Pastoral Supervision

Haynes, Corey and Moulton (2004) propose that the goals of clinical supervision are fourfold: (1) promoting supervisee growth and development, (2) protecting the welfare of the client, (3) monitoring supervisee performance and gate keeping for the profession; and (4) empowering the supervisee to self-supervise and carry out these goals as an interdependent professional. In clinical pastoral supervision the goal also includes helping supervisees reflect, feel and act theologically as well as to engage in meaning-making existential inquiries.

Clinical pastoral supervisors who are well informed about human nature, relationship dynamics, counseling and consulting expertise, teaching abilities, ethical decision-making aptitude, multicultural competence, assessment skills and diverse theological dialogues can accomplish these goals. As in most helping professions, a safe and trusting supervisory relationship provides the necessary foundation and context for professional growth.

Competent Clinical Supervisors

Competent clinical pastoral supervisors base their approaches to supervision on a clear cognitive, emotional, experiential and theological map that allows them to effectively help supervisees see beyond the obvious. Competent clinical supervisors are aware of their assumptive world (life experience, training, values, philosophy of life), their theoretical orientation (e.g. behavioral, psychoanalytic, person centered), their roles or style (teacher, mentor, consultant, counselor), and their format or method and their strategies (Falender and Shafraske, 2004; Bernard and Goodyear, 2004).

Competent clinical pastoral supervisors are open to learn and grow along with their supervisees or mentees. They use their capacity for self-reflection and remain open to feedback about their performance from supervisees, clients and peers. Competent clinical pastoral supervisors are willing and committed to create a supervisory relationship that is characterized by trust, respect, mutuality, compassion, integrity and transparence. They enter the supervisory relationship with a hopeful spirit, a gracious attitude, a warm stance, and having in mind the wellbeing of the supervisee, care-seekers and self. They read their relational experiences through theological lenses and adhere to strict ethical practices.

Competent clinical pastoral supervisors respect and value the knowledge and experience that supervisees bring to the supervisory relationship. They provide honest constructive feedback to supervisees in a grateful, loving, respectful, and professional manner. They make a healthy use of power and authority and champion anti-oppressive practices (Frawley-O’Dea and Sarnat, 2000).

Competent clinical pastoral supervisors have a clear professional identity and recognize their limit of practice. They use theories of group dynamics and lead educational and experiential groups and avoid transforming the growth-group experience into group therapy. They use theories and techniques of psychotherapy and counseling, but abstain from making their group and individual supervision into counseling sessions. They use psychological consultation techniques, mentoring strategies, and coaching skills but retain their pastoral identity. They utilize theories and techniques of learning and teaching but respect the path of growth, professional development and pastoral experience of supervisees.

Competent clinical pastoral supervisors are multicultural and multidimensional sensitive by being aware of their own cultural values and biases, understanding and respecting others’ worldviews, possessing a multi-perspective view of life, the world and the cosmos and by developing culturally appropriate intervention strategies and techniques (Arredondo, 1996). Competent clinical pastoral supervisors have a healthy non-hostile, and culturally sensitive sense of humor.

Roles of the Clinical Pastoral Supervisor

The role of the supervisor will vary according to supervisee’s needs. Clinical pastoral supervisors simultaneously offer services such as counseling, consulting, teaching, mentoring, coaching, group leading, and pastoring as ways of helping supervisees to provide effective services to their clients. However, they are aware that the therapeutic effect of these interventions is collateral and not the reason for the clinical supervision.
Clinical pastoral supervisors use techniques of counseling when helping supervisees to deal with issues of personal strengths and limitations, explore transferences issues, and cope with stress and burnout (Haynes, Corey and Moulton, 2004). They use techniques of psychological consultation when assisting supervisees to solve present, particular and caretaking-related problems and prepare for future caring issues. Also, they make use of psychological consultation to provide feedback and evaluation to supervisees regarding performance and goal achievement (Brown, Pryzwansky, and Schulte, 2005).

They utilize strategies of teaching to instruct supervisees on assessment, diagnosis, counseling approaches, ethics, legal issues, supervisory process, and a host of other topics that arise in supervision (Haynes, Corey and Moulton, 2004). In addition, they make use of counseling strategies to help trainees explore and clarify thinking, feeling and fantasies which underlies their pastoral and clinical practice. Clinical pastoral supervisors apply mentoring approaches to provide supervisees with direction and guidance as they assess their current abilities and future goals as clinicians and pastoral educators (Stone, 1998).

Competent clinical pastoral supervisors make use of coaching techniques to show and demonstrate specific pastoral and clinical intervention skills to supervisees as well as to model effective problem-solving abilities. They employ group dynamics strategies to emphasize to supervisees healthy social patterns of relationships and style of functioning in community. In addition, clinical supervisors utilize group process to create a safe and accepting atmosphere within the supervision group that is conducive to meaningful sharing and growth. Clinical pastoral supervisors use a pastoral posture to provide supervisees with opportunities to grow, make meaning, and realize who they are in relationship with the Eternal, others and themselves. Also, they use a pastoral and prophetic posture to invite supervisees to embrace ethical and just approaches to pastoral care (Dayringer, 1998; Pohly, 2001; Montilla and Medina, 2006).

Supervisory Relationship

Humans are social beings that develop, grow and flourish in relation with others. The web of relationships that human beings create for their survival and total wellbeing are as diverse as humankind itself. It is clear that for a relationship to exist respect, mutuality, love and acceptance need to be present. This is not an easy task because people bring into the human relationship a number of things such as culture, illusions, failures, dreams, fantasies and pseudo-expectations that in great manner determine the kind and quality of the relationship (Montilla, 2004).

Relationships tend to be dynamic and growth-oriented; and therefore need the nurturing and continuous care of the parts involved in order to be maintained. The existence of the relationship is dependent on the commitment of supervisors and supervisees to keep it alive. This reciprocal responsibility is the main factor of a relationship. This is important to understand because of the dynamic nature of relationships. There are no universal ways to keep a relationship alive. People involved in the relationship need to create their own ways of nurturing and growing it.

Supervisor-supervisee is a relationship that people have found crucial in the process of sustaining, guiding, supporting and protecting a living community. In this context supervision could be seen as the function a person occupies within a specific setting and with a particular group of people who, in accord, pursue a dream or goal believed to be in the best interest of the community (Montilla and Medina, 2006).

The social nature of supervision entails that people participate in this kind of relationship with their whole being: mind, body and spirit. This holistic experience uses stories and narratives as the main media to keep the people involved in the supervisory relationship. This professional relationship is most effective when practiced with a sense of reciprocity, mutuality and equality.

Most helping processes begin with the development of a professional relationship. This seems to be the necessary foundation and context for personal and professional development. Clinical supervision is about a dynamic, mutual and complex relationship between supervisor, supervisees, and care-seekers characterized by ethical interactions and dialogues intended to provide excellent and relevant care (Frawley-O’Dea, and Sarnat, 2000).

Boisen (1936), referring to the efficacy of psychotherapy, mentions that the relationship between clinician and patient is far more effective than the procedure or technique itself. For Boisen procedures and strategies have their place in the healing process, but relationship is paramount. He states that “psychotherapy is far less dependent upon technique that it is upon the personal relationship between physician and patient. Wherever the patient has come to trust the physician enough to unburden himself of his problems and wherever the physician is ready to listen with intelligent sympathy, good results are likely to follow regardless of the correctness of the physician's particular theories or procedures…The techniques and methods of procedure are...of vanishing importance compared with the qualities of heart and mind, the genuine interest in the patient and his problems, together with the balanced judgment and insight and tact necessary to win the patient’s confidence and establish the rapport which is the sine qua non of all effective psychotherapy work" (pp. 240, 245).

Clinical supervision is about relationship and relationship is about community. Community implies a shared culture and history: a group of equal people who recognize that life is best lived when lived in togetherness and in unity of goal and purpose. This unity, characterized for the diversity of thoughts, ideas, affections, values, principles and social engagements of its members, is at the heart of success or failure. People feel part of the corporate community when their thoughts, values, emotions, and culture are respected and honored. Clinical pastoral supervisors who recognize this reality and commit themselves to uphold the mission and values of the group will have the blessing and support of the community.

Bandura (1997) suggests that integrated communities who cherish a belief in their members’ conjoint capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required will produce positive results, and accomplish their common goals with joy and persistence. This group or collective efficacy is best displayed when the supervisory relationship is more horizontal and empowering (Jung and Sosik, 2002).

Methods of Clinical Supervision

Clinical pastoral supervision is generally provided through individual and group supervision where many tools or instruments are used to assist trainees or supervisees in their pastoral and professional development. Some of these tools include Case Study Review, Critical Incident Report, Verbatim, Audio-Video recordings, and Interpersonal Process Recall (IPR). Clinical pastoral supervisors encourage a continuous process of self-evaluation with the intention to assess trainees’ strengths and areas of growth, level of professional competence, consultation needs, and celebration of services. Clinical pastoral supervisors provide feedback and evaluation through verbal exchanges, direct observation, live supervision, peer review and written notes (Steere, 2002; Falender and Shafraske, 2004; Estadt, Compton and Blanchette, 2005; Ward, 2006).

Culturally competent clinical pastoral supervisors, when using group supervision, provide appropriate levels of structure and guidance, formulate thought-provoking questions, enhance therapeutic factors operating within the group dynamic, promote meaningful self-disclosure and self reflection while also intervening at critical points to protect members and preserve a climate of safety (Jacobs, Masson and Harvill, 2006). Clinical pastoral supervisors working with diverse populations are most effective when using a more active and direct approach of group supervision (Dies, 1994). Damaging group experiences are more likely to occur if clinical supervisors are passive in respect to protecting members and leading the group (Forsyth, 2006).

A Multicultural Approach to Clinical Supervision

A model or theory implies the mental act of viewing, contemplating, or considering something in a conceptual and systematic way. A clinical supervisor needs a theory that guides his or her practice; otherwise the supervisor will run the risk of being ineffective and a deface professional. A supervisor without a theory cannot effectively understand the process of supervision. A supervision model serves as the theoretical roadmap for developing supervision techniques. In this sense, a model of supervision is a theoretical description of what supervision is and how the supervisee’s learning and professional development occur (Haynes, Corey, Moulton, 2004).

Clinical supervision can be seen as an evolutionary and developmental phenomenon that starts from the idea that human beings are continuously growing and becoming. A developmental approach to clinical supervision implies that people’s attitudes, knowledge and skills change over time. This development occurs in a context of interaction with a learning environment.

Most societies embrace a collectivistic view about life and the world. This cultural attribute needs to be reflected in the clinical supervisory experience. A culturally informed clinical supervisor incorporates theoretical and clinical approaches appropriate to its context. Culturally competent clinical pastoral supervisors respect the worldviews, values and psychological constructs of the people they serve. Therefore, traditional individualistic cultural values upon which most of the supervisory theories and techniques are based need to be viewed with caution as they can be potentially harmful to people and communities who hold collectivistic views (Ivey, D’Andrea, Ivey, M, and Simek-Morgan, 2006).

Traditional Euro-Norte-American supervisory theories and approaches have been very useful, however these paradigms reflect the values of a particular culture, and face challenges when applied outside the ethos in which they were developed. Difficulties can emerge when these models are used to indiscriminately study, understand, teach and treat people who embrace collectivist worldviews. It is therefore important for clinical pastoral supervisors to be familiar with the main tenets of collectivistic societies, with collectivism referring to a way of being in the world where connection to a group or community constitutes the most prevalent feature. This multifaceted cultural construct influences people in terms of identity formation, cognition, motivation, expression of emotions, communication, self-perception, wellbeing, and social connections (Hosftede, 1980; Markus and Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1995).

When supervising people ascribing to the collectivistic paradigm, it is important to understand their belief that keeping and nurturing healthy relationships is the main duty of human beings. Under this worldview, the measure of success and excellence is weighed by the quality of the relationships people maintain with their families, community and society. Life satisfaction and realization comes from successfully connecting with others by keeping the social rules, meeting collective expectations, and fulfilling its obligations (Kim, U. Park, Y. & Park, D., 2000). Principles such as respect, solidarity, mutuality, freedom, harmony, benevolence, communication and familismo serve as the guarantors of the person and collective wellbeing as well as for people’s relationships (Smith, and Montilla, 2006). These guiding principles permeate most decisions made by members of the collective.

In societies such as those in Latin America, and African and Asian countries where most people embrace collectivist worldviews, people’s identity or identities are connected, influenced and shaped by members of the family, group, cultural context, social rules, and norms established by the collective (Greenfield, 1994; Triandis, 1994). Thus, a person's way of thinking, expressing emotions, acting and relating can only be understood when the collective as a whole is considered and studied.
Collective societies emphasize the importance of being compassionate and empathic with others. Empathy, a core condition of the counseling profession, in this context refers to the ability to appreciate nonjudgmentally the positive and negative experiences of another person, while responding proportionally to their emotions. Empathy motivates people to do whatever is possible to alleviate or eliminate the suffering of others. Collectivist societies expect their members to be willing to dispose their own needs in order to show compassion and empathy with their neighbors. They believe that this demonstration of love empowers the person and the community (Kim, 1994).

Cultures also differ in the way they imagine, reason, process, and attach meaning to things. These cognitive functions highly reflect the socio-cultural surrounding and cultural background (Stephan and Stephan, 2002). Cultural values or attributes such as individualism and collectivism influence human thinking, perceiving, behaving and relating (Oyserman, Coon & Kemmelmeier, 2002). In collective societies, the reasoning and cognitive schemata are based on the social context and consider the ethical guidance of the community. Collectivists consider making and finding meaning a daily duty as memories and stories are retold, reinterpreted and embedded with detail.
Faith and religion are two elements present in most collective societies. The spiritual realm is consulted and used in issues related to life, education, health, economics, politics, and family and personal challenges. The religious phenomenon is so prevalent and pervasive among members of collective societies that it is not seen as something that people have, but who they are. Spirituality, religion and faith are central to collectivists’ survival and resilience (Triandis, 1995). Culturally competent clinical pastoral supervisors respect people’s belief system and use them to help supervisees provide effective care.

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Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to R. Esteban Montilla, Ph.D. Department of Counseling and Human Services. St. Mary’s University. One Camino Santa Maria. San Antonio, Texas.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 12:07 PM

May 9, 2007

VIDEO: Dr. John W. Kinney Presents to the 2007 CPSP Plenary

DR. JOHN W. KINNEY, Dean of the School of Theology at Virginia Union, is developing works on Theological Methodology in the Black Church and Spirituality and Justice.

Dr. Kinney's presentation was made to the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy's 2007 CPSP Plenary held in Raleigh NC. The Rev. Dr. John Edgerton, Plenary Host, Introduces Dr. Kinney.

The Pastoral Report expresses its appreciation to Dr. Kinney's generous offer to allow us to post the video.

Perry Miller, Editor

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 12:15 AM

May 4, 2007

Pastoral Wisdom: Understanding the Connections Between Loss and Personal Vulnerability in Conflict Situations By Carol Schweitzer, PhD


College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy
CPSP 2007 Plenary
March 30, 2007
Raleigh, NC


Ecclesiastes 3:1; 7 (NRSV)

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.  A time to keep silence, and a time to speak

    So much of a seminary student’s education centers on knowing what to say and how to say it; we focus more on a time to speak than we focus on a time to keep silence.  Some of what I want to speak about this morning, ironically, is how speaking in certain instances creates more difficulties than it resolves for a minister.  In other words, when are the appropriate times to keep silent?  This as we shall see depends upon the kind of narcissistic vulnerabilities and/or countertransference experiences the minister has in difficult situations.

The Problem

    One of the first questions that ministers and seminary students often ask of me is:  Do you teach classes on or do you consult with churches in conflict situations? I expect that many of you also are posed with similar types of questions. My somewhat tongue-in-cheek identification of the problem as I have experienced it working with both students in seminary classes and ministers in congregations is:  the minister as his or her own worst enemy.  Doctor of Ministry degree candidates seek me out for directed studies on the topic of church conflict and we don’t need to look to far to find ample illustrations. In response to my own tongue-in-cheek approach to this issue, I ask myself—“How can I be helpful or instructive so that the newly ordained minister doesn’t get in her own way?”  This does not mean, by the way, that I think all ministers are responsible for all church conflicts.  I do believe, however, there are occasions when church leaders function as their own worst enemies.

    What I will offer up for your consideration this morning is not something new or earth-shaking in itself.  I hope you’ll take it as encouragement to be more psychodynamic or perhaps, I should say, psychoanalytic in your efforts to help those in ministry vocations resolve conflict. In the short amounts of time that we actually spend with these individuals it is difficult, if not impossible, to say that we can finish a healing process but we can certainly assist seminarians and ministers in attaining more self-awareness. This may also seem like a rather unconventional approach for me to take because I am someone who was trained clinically, first by a student of Bowen and then by a student of Minuchin.  When I advertise my clinical expertise I point to marriage and family therapy. But I recognize that a systems approach to all situations has limitations. All too often when I consult with students, or ministers and their families, I hear them seeking to locate the reasons for the conflicts they are embroiled in outside of themselves. Blame and finger-pointing abounds.  Ministers often come feeling beleaguered when they seek my help and often by that time they have little hopeful to say about the congregations they serve. It is a sad situation for all concerned.  These ministers have been abused by their congregations and in many instances the conflict has escalated to the point where a resolution for a particular minister is not possible.  As we say in my denomination, local conditions necessitate the termination of the call with nothing negative reflected back on the minister or the congregation.  But of course, injury has occurred to all concerned. When it has reached this fever pitch, I attempt to take the approach of “what can be learned from this difficult situation so that next time things will be different?” 

    The differences between process and content in the conflict are often misunderstood.  Systems approaches to conflict intervention have been attempted and failed because there wasn’t any consultant available to help or to take the heat in the way that interim ministers frequently do. Ministers attend leadership seminars in which they learn about systems techniques but then they return to their congregations and attempt to apply what they have learned without supervision, often making the situation worse.  I’m sure that many of you in this room have witnessed, if not experienced, something like this. I don’t want to sound as if I am blaming clergy for the difficult situations they frequently find themselves in; especially when we consider that the “clergykillers” (as Rediger defines them)1 in congregations are often individuals with personality disorders that would frighten even a seasoned therapist. I would like to suggest, however, that a great deal can be learned by turning the mirror back upon the self. Following Michael Nichols’ lead I want to ask the very important question of “What has happened to the Self in the system?”2 Systems theory is very valuable and I’ve learned a lot from it but a return to psychoanalytic theory, in the field of pastoral theology is, in my mind, long overdue.

    Specifically, I want to look at how Heinz Kohut’s understanding of the self will enable us to provide a helpful framework for seminarians and ministers who want to better understand their own roles in conflict situations.  A consequence of this engagement with the self is that they will be better prepared to respond to the “clergykillers” in their midst.  And maybe respond in such a way that these clergykillers become what I like to think of them as—anklebiters. (Something like a terrier who can nip at our ankles without causing much harm.) What I am really attempting to say here is that members of congregations, at least to some degree, have only as much power over the ministers who lead them as the ministers themselves grant to them.  This is to say that when ministers and other church professionals react to individuals based on past experiences from their internal world, they will often unleash a process that they did not expect.  All too frequently that is a process with an unhappy or unfortunate ending for the minister.

    Here it is important to understand how I differentiate a response from a reaction.  A response according to Ronald Richardson is:  (taken from Ronald Richardson’s understanding of self-differentiation) “the ability to think clearly and wisely about possible options for action and the likely consequences for each of these options; and, the ability to act flexibly within the situation on the basis of these perceptions, thoughts and principles.”3  “Reactivity” on the other hand, “is the emotional expression of people’s sense of threat”4 ; Responding means I will not create a perception of threat when there really isn’t any threat to my well-being in the first place.  A joining of systems theory and self psychology is beneficial because the often perceived threat (which isn’t there) is related to an individual’s internal world which remains unexamined. I try to coach, even beginning students, to see that even and most especially, if personal attack is intended by someone against me, I do not need to interpret their actions in that way.  So just what does lead a minister to become his or her own worst enemy?

The Burdens of Estrangement

    If your experience of helping others—especially those who are called to ministry—is anything at all like mine, then you can resonate with an observation that Richard Lischer offers in his recent work, The End of Words: “We preachers ourselves bear the burdens of estrangement.  Who in our own family has escaped divorce, abuse or conflict?  According to an Alban Institute researcher, up to one half of clergy come from what Roy Oswald terms ‘dysfunctional or traumatically unloving families.’”5  How do situations of abuse, divorce, neglect or conflict in early childhood establish patterns of relating that impede our abilities to minister effectively? In what ways do early childhood deficits especially with parents or parental objects lead to fragmented selves or selves that lack cohesion? Women students who have survived incest appear at my office door all too frequently. At times the pain is so great the experience is blurted out in a classroom and the day’s lesson or objectives are set aside to help the student process the experience with stunned classmates. (More than 60 million adult survivors of incest and sexual child abuse live in the U.S.)6  Thus, pastoral care is learned as Dittes might say, “on the spot.”7  Other narratives of clergy or seminarian despair include: 1) living through divorce with teenage children acting as symptom bearers; 2) engaging in various forms of self-medicating behavior in futile attempts to escape pain (an aside, a cursory look at the Duke Divinity School “pulpit and pew” website indicates that as many as 30-40% of ministers feel stressed out, depressed or on the verge of burnout)8 ; 3) ministers who feel like failures because they are serving small churches that don’t measure up to mega church standards and their depression intensifies.  These are just some of the stories that I hear in my office.  What are the narratives that need to be re-authored in order for these church leaders and future church leaders to be able to function in healthier ways? What are the internal world issues that result in difficult or problematic countertransferences? I imagine the examples I just listed are the tip of the iceberg for most of you since you are all far more involved in hands-on counseling than I am at this point in my career. Even this short list is beyond the scope of what I can address adequately this morning. And if these narratives of despair are on the rise among the clergy then they are rising in the congregations that clergy serve and in the populations we treat.  I don’t consider preachers or other church professionals, or therapists for that matter, to be more unique than other human beings so this observation may really say more about our culture and the rapidly changing expectations that individuals have of ministers.  I am here particularly interested in vulnerabilities that arise as a result of forms of loss which could be classified as narcissistic injuries.

    Despite my own interest in unresolved losses which fuel conflict, I feel compelled to ask: Is it truly the case that families, especially the ones clergy are raised in, in 21st century North American culture are more dysfunctional and thus, unloving than previous generations of families, or is it the case that we are more willing to speak about these traumatic failures of loving today than we were even 20 years ago? I’m afraid that I don’t have an answer to my question that I can document but I have a clinical hypothesis that the truth is somewhere in-between. And so to Lischer’s observation I would add, that we preachers, chaplains and supervisors, and psychotherapists bear the burdens of estrangement and self-estrangement as well. This may begin to sound vaguely like Paul Tillich’s understanding of sin—it is.9  Now, to raise the issue of a minister’s self-estrangement more as a question than an indictment: In what ways do we collude in constructing our stories of despair?  Or, In what ways do we seek to avoid the arduous process of examining our internal worlds, thus contributing to our sense of estrangement? 

    As Julia Kristeva wrote, we are inevitably strangers to ourselves (in a book by that title). Indeed, she suggests anyone who is “other,” a stranger in our midst, (an alien, a foreigner, an exile) confronts us “with the possibility or not of being an other.”10   The distinction of stranger or foreigner determines who is an insider and who is an outsider. When beginning a new call, I would argue, a minister is a stranger to the community and if the minister isn’t careful, he or she may become the next scapegoat.  Thus, the minister lives out the possibility of not being an other. In addition, life with “the stranger” confronts us with the fact that as Kristeva notes: “[s]trangely, this foreigner lives within us: he is the hidden face of our identity, the space that wrecks our abode, the time in which understanding and affinity founder.”11   Put yet another way, the stranger within resides in our unconscious; the stranger is the very things we fear, deny, and subsequently repress. Kristeva maintains, however, that recognizing this stranger within bears hope for the future disappearance of the stranger as foreigner or someone who represents an enemy on the outside.  That is, once we have recognized the stranger who resides within, there will no longer be a need to direct violence at an enemy on the outside.  Recognizing the stranger within is the foundation for reconciliation with an “other.” What does this have to do with our topic at hand?  I hope to make that clearer as I go on but let me say for now that in order for a minister to exist not as her own worst enemy but as a friend or ally to the self she does need to reconcile with that stranger within.  Then each new encounter with an “other” doesn’t need to represent a potential conflict.  Why? Because each new person we meet may well resemble a selfobject that was more enemy than friend but when self-estrangement is healed the other does not need to be viewed as an adversary with whom we enter into battle. What then leads us to live our lives estranged from one another and what are the burdens?

Narcissistic Vulnerabilities—The Byproducts of the Burdens of Estrangement

    A recent study of college students conducted by psychologists at San Diego State concluded that today’s college students are more narcissistic than any other generation that preceded them.12   Dare I suggest that we are beginning to see evidence of the same among seminary students? For those of us acquainted with the work of Christopher Lasch this should come as no surprise.  Using the seminal work of Otto Kernberg as a springboard for his own thesis, Lasch argued in the late 1970s that narcissistic disorders were on the rise both because of: 1) a shift from an emphasis on primary to secondary narcissism in clinical literature; and, 2) changes in contemporary culture which have an effect on patterns of object relations.13   In the first case, one might want to argue that we as diagnosticians find what we are looking for (Yes, we can all agree with that?). It is the second point that Lasch makes which concerns me most. It is, the patterns of object relations that I’m interested in primarily insofar as they may predispose us to what Pamela Cooper-White identifies as narcissistic vulnerabilities.14   Some of her recent work centers on the use of self in pastoral care and counseling. She focuses on the importance of the countertransference as not necessarily pathological but rather as useful information or part of the “shared wisdom” in a therapeutic relationship. Not all of the countertransference material is something to be worked through but rather it provides information that can guide the work to be done in a therapeutic relationship.

    Admittedly, what I am suggesting today is more in keeping with a classical (as opposed to post-modern) understanding of countertransference but: What if we were to take the same approach to assisting ministers in conflict situations?  What if we were to help them identify their countertransference issues that arise specifically in conflict situations in churches?  I would like to apply Kohut’s understandings of transference to the countertransference experiences ministers have in conflict situations, especially as they relate to personal loss. What if, when working with a CPE group, for instance the supervisor makes deliberate connections between personal losses in a chaplain’s life and the potential for conflict in ministry settings if the loss is not worked through?  I’m not suggesting that this work isn’t being accomplished but I’d like to encourage that it be more deliberately connected to potential conflict of the unhealthy variety. I’d like to suggest that we not pathologize the experiences of our students or clients, but rather help them to understand these feelings and experiences as useful information.  What do my feelings tell me about myself and the situation I find myself in today?  What traumatic failure of loving existed in my past that I react with this sort of anxiety in the present? Am I reading the situation accurately or have I allowed my injuries from the past to color my understanding of  the contemporary situation? Am I projecting my anxiety into a situation and making it more difficult? Here I am suggesting that the countertransference needs to be worked through but I do not want to label a minister as “sick” nor do I want to suggest that the reason for the conflict is solely the minister’s responsibility. What is the source of my anxiety?

    When I work with students doing verbatims these are, in fact, among the questions we pursue. It is my thesis that certain countertransference experiences, when they remain unidentified as such, will inevitably exacerbate conflict or even incite unhealthy conflict in congregations or other ministry settings where it did not exist previously.  Moreover, I contend that certain kinds of deficit experiences (like incest) will necessarily require more diligence on the part of a minister who has experienced this kind of abuse. Now before anyone leaps to the conclusion that I am attempting to engage in some form of gate-keeping for ministry based upon negative past history, let me reassure you that is not my goal.  I do, however, believe that certain experiences of loss will necessitate more diligent self-reflection for some individuals.  The kinds of losses or traumatic failures of loving that I have worked with most recently include stories of incest, domestic violence and growing up in an alcoholic family.  Time will not allow me to use each such instance as a case study but an illustration using the story of an incest survivor here may be instructive.  I choose this particular illustration because I have worked with the individual over a significant period of time and I have her permission to tell it.  I also choose to speak about incest today because the silence surrounding the survivors even today is alarming and I continue to hear from students and ministers who still struggle with the horror of their experiences.  In the year 2003 10% of verified child abuse cases were cases of sexual abuse which represents 90,600 children in the U.S.15

One Story of Incest Survived

    A middle-aged woman, raised in the deep south in a family of four, with a younger brother was sexually abused by her father during her high school years.  She was frequently demeaned by the men in her life—father, brother, husband—as well as friends and professional colleagues.  She was and continues to be extremely bright but her gender, as well as her anger, was and still is an impediment to career advancement and intimate relationships. She currently serves a small rural congregation which pays her below the suggested minimums stipulated by her denomination; she is only able to do so because she has a pension from her first career as a nurse. She spent years in therapy after her divorce, then pursued ministry as a second career and by the time I came to meet her, her anger was palpable.  I wondered how it could be possible that not one of the therapists she had worked with had succeeded at helping her to work through her anger. Please don’t hear me blaming her therapists now, I’ve certainly worked with more than my fair share of intractable clients who exhibited signs of borderline personality disorder.  In fact, at one point during my clinical training I wondered aloud with my supervisor about whether the percentages in the DSM-IV were accurate.  Secondarily I wondered if I had done something to offend local clergy since they were the source of many of my referrals and statistically there were too many women who exhibited clinical symptoms of BPD. (We all know the joke about sending these clients to therapists we don’t like.) Nevertheless, this woman was somewhat surprised that I recognized her anger so easily without knowing her personal history. When engaging male students in conversation in a seminar, if they became silent in the face of her anger, she became hostile even while fighting back tears.  Accusations were hurled about not being taken seriously. 

    The misunderstanding occurred around the fact of a male minister’s silence. The men participating in the seminar didn’t know what to say or how to respond to her accusatory style of conversation. Her yearning was for honest, open, intelligent conversation but her affect caused most of the seminar participants to retreat into themselves, both male and female. The silence she experienced in class was reminiscent of the silence surrounding her abuse. She felt as if she had been dismissed, especially by her male colleagues. What began as a seminar started to feel more like group therapy and I started to feel as though I was losing my ability to manage the group process.  We were learning as a group but not necessarily the content outlined in the syllabus. Eventually two other women participants would confide that they too, were survivors of incest or marital abuse. When I met with this individual alone in my office, I wondered aloud with her if what we had experienced in the seminar was a pattern of relationship frustration that she experienced regularly.  She admitted that it was and expressed a desire to learn more appropriate ways to engage colleagues in conversation. I asked her if she could identify patterns in her own conversation during the seminar that had been unhelpful.  We worked at this together. What she wanted in collegial relationships was more open and honest sharing of self; what she received because she didn’t know how to ask for it, except to be belligerent, was silence. We began to look at ways that she might ask for what she wanted and needed more appropriately so that she might feel successful. Rather than assigning a label or diagnosis here, I’d like to suggest that this woman in ministry had a narcissistic vulnerability as a direct result of her experience of incest. Is it appropriate to identify her experience as a loss?  Yes, I believe so at a number of levels. And it was a loss which shaped her pattern of object-relating, especially with men, affecting her career goals negatively.

    Many of you may be acquainted with the work of Anderson and Mitchell, All Our Losses, All Our Griefs,16  in which they outline six basic types of grief:  material, relationship, intrapsychic, role, functional, and systemic.  Even though this book is approaching its 25th year of publication, I still use it in class. What does a young woman lose at age 15, when her father abuses her sexually?  I think one could argue that she experiences a loss at all of these levels; moreover, her father became a predator and in the situation I have outlined, her mother abandoned her, at least emotionally.  Thus, her pattern of object-relating became one of fighting all men who sought her out for only one purpose, sexual gratification in order to demean her intellect.  She was also angry with her mother who did not protect or defend her in the face of her father’s abuse.  Thus, any perceived slight by me, the female instructor, was also interpreted as abandonment by the student. Silence was regarded as suspicious behavior and the only way to establish credibility in the seminar was to demonstrate that she, in this instance, could take on the entire group. Her grandiose self was damaged in adolescence.  What do I mean?

Kohut’s Theory of the Self Summarized

    For those of you who may not be familiar with Kohut’s theory of the self,17  I’m going to summarize it quickly relating it to the case study I have already outlined and one other as a means of illustration. Kohut proposed a bi-polar model of the self; one pole is related to ideals (Idealized self), the other is related to ambitions (Grandiose self) and the area or space between the two is comprised of inborn skills and talents.  The poles of the self are developed in relation to selfobjects or the original primary caretakers who fulfill the needs of the developing self. The maternal selfobject is associated with the idealized self while the paternal selfobject is associated with the grandiose self (originally the narcissistic self). These selfobjects are not viewed as separate entities but rather in terms of the way they fulfill or fail to meet the needs of the developing infant.

    Kohut theorized that an infant could tolerate a traumatic failure on the part of one but not both parental selfobjects (or others who may have primary caretaking responsibility). Thus, a paternal selfobject need not be the biological father; it may not even be a male but someone who provides father-like care. The same is true for the maternal selfobject. Now if one subscribes to the idea that what is first negotiated in early childhood development is later renegotiated in adolescence then a traumatic failure on the part of a selfobject is just as dramatic during the adolescent stage of development as it is in infancy. In the case of our minister already described, I’ll call her Pastor Z, her mother failed to support her emotionally and failed to protect her physically. The mother did not and still does not acknowledge the fact of Pastor Z’s sexual abuse at the hands of her husband despite several attempts on the part of Pastor Z to have this conversation. Here then, we also see damage to the idealized self which this woman compensates for with somewhat self-destructive behavior. Her father sexually abused her.  Thus we see the damage to the grandiose self and, especially in her interactions with men, Pastor Z is aggressive and demeaning. At times Pastor Z takes up the same kind of role in her ministry that her father and brother took with her. Her brother was the privileged male child even if he was the second child and she frequently fought to get out from behind his shadow. Thus what we have is a traumatic failure of both parental selfobjects which leads to a fragmented self.  A daughter is not able to idealize important qualities of her mother and internalize them if the mother fails in her very basic responsibility to protect the daughter.  One would expect that a father would mirror back pride in his daughter’s accomplishments thus enabling her to feel like she has the potential to be creative in the world while at the same time accepting her personal limitations and the limitations of those around her. When a father perpetrates incest, the ability to admire him while accepting his personal limitations is destroyed. Damage to self-esteem and one’s ability to experience empathy is inevitable. Even in this very limited description of a minister in conflict we begin to see how the patterns of object-relating learned earlier in life have been regularly repeated to the point that conflict is stirred up in a situation where it isn’t helpful and isn’t warranted (i.e., a seminar). Within her family context she yearns for someone to acknowledge that a wrong occurred so that genuine forgiveness and healing can take place.  When Pastor Z was finally able to come to terms with the idea that her mother was also a victim of abuse she was able to share a holiday celebration with her family that was more meaningful than in the past. 

    The three major constituents of the self (ideals, ambitions, and talents) and the injuries that occur to them shape the three major groups of transference experiences in the analytic process.  As one might expect, the balance between these two poles of the self may be upset at a time later than infancy or early childhood.  In the case I’ve just related it was an adolescent experience of incest but based on how I’ve come to know this particular individual, I would expect that there was a history of emotional abuse from early childhood.  The birth narrative of this individual was not a story of celebration; rather, it was one of disappointment and dread.  This minister’s mother, in fact, experienced emotional abuse in relation to her husband because her first-born was a daughter. The long awaited first-born was not going to be a name-bearer but rather a girl, someone who would be viewed later in adolescence as trouble.

    So how exactly in this case do the three major constituents of the self (ideals, ambitions, and talents) shape the three major groups of transference experiences in the analytic process? And again, what I am suggesting today is that the three constituents of the self also shape the countertransference experiences of a minister in conflict. More importantly, what do we as therapists need to attend to when we assist ministers in conflict situations who have serious narcissistic vulnerabilities?  1) If the area of ambitions (grandiose self) is damaged the client will likely experience a mirror transference.  In the narrowest sense this means that a client will experience the therapist as a separate person (as opposed to an extension of the grandiose self) but only within the framework of needs that exist in the reactivated grandiose self.  Kohut notes  the offending trauma which produces a mirror transference occurs relatively late in development. If the injury to self occurs earlier in development the client is likely to experience a merger with the therapist or see the therapist as an extension of the grandiose self. Kohut’s own language describing the mirror transference reflects Erikson’s in Toys and Reasons,18  as he describes the “gleam in a mother’s eye which builds or confirms the child’s self-esteem.”19  What the client seeks most is confirmation and approval from the therapist. One could say that this was the case for Pastor Z.  At one point in my work with her she asked if circumstances were different if I would be able to accept her as my pastor. Since individuals who experience this kind of narcissistic injury often view others as extensions of their grandiose self, one could expect that conflicts arise when they don’t recognize boundaries between self and other.  Any form of disagreement is viewed as a threat to the self and Pastor Z has definitely sought my approval.

    2) If the area of ideals is damaged then the client experiences an idealizing transference.  Here one would expect to learn of an early trauma that occurred in relation to the child’s early caretaker.  This person failed to protect the child and/or soothe the child when it was upset.  Self-esteem is easily upset and the client looks to the therapist to provide soothing and tension-regulating functions, which they lack, and the therapist needs to be able to tolerate the client’s idealizations.

    3) And finally, if the area of skills and talents is damaged then the patient looks for reassurance in an alter ego or twinship transference. This means that the client will seek to experience the therapist as like him or herself.20   How then, does analysis change from Freud’s original understandings according to Kohut’s theory of the self? In other words, how does analysis provide a cure?  What can those of us who do not practice analysis per se learn here in order to assist those who seek out our help?

What has changed?

    Freud maintained that a narcissist was not curable because a narcissist was not accessible to the influence of psychoanalysis; thus, the patient lacked the ability to invest in a transference relationship. (See “On Narcissism,” 1914.) The noteworthy difference is Kohut’s focus on the treatment and cure of narcissistic personality disorders. One touchstone in Kohut’s analytic process is empathy which he understood as a data-gathering  tool within the analytic relationship, not a cure in itself.21   In my own work with ministers and students who have experienced traumatic injuries to the self, I try to focus on their abilities or inabilities to feel empathy. One may want to ask: Why is empathy in and of itself not a cure? 

    Kohut, using an illustration from Nazi Germany, demonstrated that empathy (or the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes) can be used for good or ill.  The Nazis used empathy to exploit the vulnerabilities of their victims to inflict emotional pain. Nevertheless, Kohut contended that empathy is what ultimately affirms our humanness and makes psychological existence possible.22  In an attempt to correct the many misunderstandings and misappropriations of empathy in the analytic relationship, Kohut offered the following toward the end of his life (1981), empathy is “the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.”23   Indeed, the capacity to experience empathy is one of five qualities identified by Kohut, which signal the transformation of narcissism in the therapeutic relationship.  The origin of empathy is located in the earliest mother-infant relationship as the developing self of the infant takes in the mother’s feelings toward the infant.

    Other determinants of a healthy self include creativity, transience, humor and wisdom.  The therapist is able to observe these qualities developing in the transference relationship. Creativity, quite simply, is a person’s ability to idealize his or her work; it suggests a capacity of playfulness and imagination. One may observe that a client is now able to celebrate his or her innate skills and talents instead of seeking reassurance. 

    Transience is the ability to accept one’s own mortality.  The client demonstrates an ability to surrender the need to be omnipotent, first in relationship to the therapist, and then subsequently in other relationships.  Another way to think about this in relation to the case I have shared this morning is:  transience started to be observable in Pastor Z’s ministry in her handling of a difficult situation with a paid youth group leader in her church.  He had not lived up to her expectations as a paid staff member but instead of berating him for poor performance she was able to sit down and talk about expectations.  She was able to provide the young man with a second chance. Another example of transience was her ability to surrender her need to be “right” in the classroom. Humor, if it is not a defensive posture (e.g., sarcasm may be a defensive signal), suggests an acceptance of transience.  When humor is indicative of a transformation of narcissism, the client has experienced a strengthening of his or her values and ideals.  The therapist witnesses a genuine sense of humor, according to Kohut, as the patient’s ego is able to experience amusement when reflecting upon old rigid configurations of the ego (e.g., grandiose fantasies and exhibitionistic strivings).  Said more plainly, do we have the capacity to laugh at ourselves?

    Last on my list this morning but certainly not least is the quality of wisdom. Wisdom or at the very least a modicum of wisdom may emerge at the end of a successful therapeutic relationship. Like Freud, Kohut suggests that analysis never truly ends but a successful analysis is eventually terminated.  During the concluding phases of analysis, wisdom attained by the client helps to maintain self-esteem even upon recognizing personal limitations.  The patient may exhibit a friendly disposition toward the analyst even though there are conflicts remaining; the patient has recognized the analyst’s limitations as well.  In brief, human frailties are now tolerated with composure instead of being defended against with tendencies toward self-aggrandizement or infantile idealization. This leads me to one final case illustration, also the story of an incest survivor; I’ll call her Pastor X.

    Pastor Z had a tendency toward self-aggrandizement, which turned to aggression in congregational relationships when she felt threatened.  Pastor X tended to compensate more with infantile idealization or I could make the case for immature behavior.  At one point I challenged her seminar group to be more supportive of her ministry experience and the presentation of it.  I asked them to stop their process for a moment and see if they couldn’t find a blessing in the paper they were discussing.  There was again, a moment of silence (that seems to be a red thread running through my experiences) and this Pastor burst into tears and ran from the room.  I was experienced as an authority figure and idealized by Pastor X but I was unaware of all this at that point in time.  My interrupting the group process pressed on her frailty or narcissistic vulnerability.  After she was able to regain her composure she talked with me privately and recounted part of her story of abuse.  When I challenged her group to be more supportive she was already feeling attacked and as the “mother figure” or idealized selfobject in the group it now felt as if I was being unsupportive.  She described her experience like this:  she asked me if I was familiar with the Kelloggs’ miniwheats breakfast cereal commercial on TV which showed an adult sitting at the table eating one minute; the next minute there was a disproportionately small child with a tiny, squeaky voice eating the cereal sitting at a huge table. In the moment that I had taken charge of the group process this image or metaphor reflected her internal world experience.  I thought this was a profound insight on her part and we worked through some of these issues in a directed study together. Tears were one way of defending against her vulnerability and represent a pattern of object-relating that arouses sympathy if not empathy from those in her web of relationships. I say sympathy and not empathy because eventually those who are close to her become immune to the somewhat dramatic if not histrionic outbursts.  The small, powerless child image became a pattern of object-relating for Pastor X which caused her to blur boundaries in ministry, react in child-like ways when threats were perceived and intensified her feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy.  Again, I want to emphasize that this individual had spent years in therapy and even had a background in social work. The “frosted miniwheats” experience became somewhat of a turning point but I would argue that Pastor X will always need to be diligent in her self-care and attentive to ways in which she unwittingly colludes in conflict that becomes self-destructive.  Two stories of incest survived with two very different sets of defense mechanisms or coping skills.  Yet both are congruent with Kohut’s theory of the self and his proposal for a cure. 

A Few Final Words

    Raising our own self-awareness and that of the students, clients and ministers we seek to help is, I’m confident, a goal we all share.  If I have one hope today it would be that we do more intentionally and deliberately to assist those in our care to see how their patterns of object-relating have direct connections to conflict situations.  Herbert Anderson wrote an article back in the mid-90s entitled:  “When You Come to A Fork in the Road, Take It”24  which focused on the importance of paradox in pastoral theology especially as it relates to the interdisciplinary nature of the field.  I’m stretching his metaphor somewhat but I view the work I am undertaking in a similar light.  Family systems theory is enormously helpful for understanding and managing conflict in church settings.  I advertise clinical competence in family systems approaches but I think we have for too long emphasized the system at the expense of the self.  So “when you come to a fork in the road” with your clients or your CPE residents, I’m making a plea that you take it.  Even if you are a purist who is more comfortable with one way of being, find ways to help those in pastoral professions to bring systems theory into conversation with more psychodynamic approaches. Countertransference was a word that had all but disappeared from use when I was an M.Div student and my experience was diminished I believe, as a result.  Countertransference, or the use of self, the understanding of self and our personal histories is vitally important to preventive care for clergy. The first time I use the word psychoanalytic with new students in a classroom setting there is usually an audible gasp.  Then there is somewhat of a silence and someone usually raises a question about Freud and whether or not it is appropriate to think along these lines in a seminary?  What about faith after all?  I reassure the students that I do believe in Jesus and that though I don’t agree with everything Freud ever wrote, I have learned much about human behavior from him which has been invaluable for my ministry. So in closing, let me say that I don’t blame ministers for church conflicts, nor do I believe that we are always our own worst enemies.  I do strive to find ways to help those in ministry or who are seeking to be in ministry to understand their personal losses and the ways that unresolved loss can contribute to conflict situations.  I’ve examined one type of serious loss—incest—that leaves a self with serious narcissistic vulnerabilities and unhealthy patterns of object-relating.  There are many other kinds of losses, which could also be examined in this same way.   These losses are the experiences that intensify our feelings of being strangers to ourselves.  I hope in some way you’ll be encouraged in your own work to focus on the recognition of or reconciliation with the stranger within because it makes a small contribution to the cessation of violence.  So let me end, where I began this morning:  “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.  A time to keep silence, and time to speak.”  Thank you.


1 Lloyd Rediger, Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox, 1997).
2 Michael P. Nichols, The Self in the System:  Expanding the Limits of Family Therapy (New York:  Brunner/Mazel, 1987).
3 See a discussion of emotional reactivity in Ronald W. Richardson, Creating a Healthier Church:  Family Systems Theory, Leadership, and Congregational Life (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1996),  91-101; 86.
4 Ibid., 91
5 Roy M. Oswald, Finding Leaders for Tomorrow’s Churches (Alban Institute, 1993), 60 as cited by Richard Lischer, The End of Words:  The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2005), 144.
6 See U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Child Maltreatment 2003 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005). Online summary: as cited by M. Neddermeyer, last checked on 27 March 2007. 
7 James Dittes, Minister on the Spot (Philadelphia:  Pilgrim Press, 1970).
8 See for more information.
9 Paul Tillich, The Meaning of Health:  Essays in Existentialism, Psychoanalysis, and Religion, ed. Perry LeFevre (Chicago:  Exploration Press, 1984) 1-15.
10 Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 13. 
11 Ibid., 1.
12 See for more information.
13 Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York:  W.W. Norton, 1979), 35.  See also, Otto Kernberg, Borderline Conditions and Pathological 14 14 Pamela Cooper-White, Shared Wisdom: Use of the Self in Pastoral Care and Counseling (Minneapolis:  Fortress, 2004), 23.
15 See U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Child Maltreatment 2003 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005). Online summary: as cited by M. Neddermeyer, last checked on 27 March 2007
16 Herbert Anderson and Kenneth R. Mitchell, All Our Losses, All Our Griefs:  Resources for Pastoral Care (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1983).
17 For a helpful introduction to Kohut’s thought see:  Allen M. Siegel, Heinz Kohut and the Psychology of the Self (New York:  Routledge, 1996).
18 Erik Erikson, Toys and Reasons:  Stages in the Ritualization of Experience (New York:  W.W. Norton, 1977), 87.
19 Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self (Connecticut:  International Universities Press, 1971), 116.
20 Heinz Kohut, How Does Analysis Cure? ed., Arnold Goldberg and Paul Stepansky (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1984) 192-93.
21 Ibid., 172-191.
22 Heinz Kohut, The Search for the Self, vol. 4 (New York:  International Universities Press, 1990),  531-32.
23 How Does Analysis Cure? 82.
24 Herbert Anderson, “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take it,” Journal of Pastoral Theology 5 (1995) 56-64.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 3:47 PM

May 2, 2007

Finding Purpose Through The Lens of Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Traditions by Kay Myers, Ph.D.


Recently, through a resident in my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program, I was introduced to the twelve traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA can arguably be deemed the most dynamic spiritual movement of North America in the twentieth century. The 12 traditions of AA are the “rudder” of the movement. Whereas the 12 steps of AA instruct devotee on the path of recovery, the 12 traditions instruct AA groups on how to maintain a culture of recovery.1 Therefore, the traditions attend to the culture of the movement.

At the outset of this study, it was my plan to compare and contrast the 12 traditions with the CPSP Covenant. However the hermeneutic of this translation developed a voice of its own. As I worked my way through the 12 traditions I was confronted with intriguing, but nonetheless, disturbing questions. In addition, the conversation that I engaged with the 12 traditions was not linear. Again, my plan was to begin with tradition #1 and work through to tradition #12. However, I quickly discovered that viewing CPSP through the lens of recovery changed the order in which I addressed the traditions. I have attached all of the 12 traditions at the end of this article.

I am posting my dialogue with AA’s 12 traditions. My question is: Do the 12 traditions translate into CPSP? Often I “hear” best when I write. By writing I can share my conversation with the 12 traditions and invite you to share your experience too.

Tradition #3: The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Tradition #3 quickly became pivotal in this conversation: The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.1 This tradition came to the foreground because embedded within it is the purpose of AA. Consequently, within a hermeneutic of translating the 12 traditions to CPSP the question is: “What is the purpose of CPSP?” I found myself unsure. Is CPSP’s purpose to offer pastoral certifications? Is CPSP’s purpose recovery of the soul? As I reflected on these questions I wondered if, at the heart of many debates around certification, accreditation, and ratification, is the debate of the purpose of CPSP.

How CPSP answers the question of her purpose has a galaxy of implications. Of course, pastoral certifications and recovery of the soul are not mutually exclusive nevertheless, defining CPSP’s purpose is critical. I also suggest that the nature of a movement is that it has one purpose. That purpose may have many expressions but the purpose is singular. Therein lies one of the defining differences between a movement and an organization. I also suggest that the reason that AA has changed the spiritual landscape of America is because it is a movement.

What is the nature of a movement?2 A movement is the servant of a higher purpose. It is willing to be owned by that purpose and all else is ordered from this position. A movement is deputized with the fiduciary duty to provide an environment where the higher purpose will thrive. It is within a community that a movement finds a home, a home that provides an environment for the well-being of the higher purpose, and solace from fickle cultural winds. Story is respected and sacred within the community and, through story, truth makes herself known. The truth that is embedded within a community's stories is revered, whether the truth is a comfort or a discomfort. Truth is always welcomed. In other words, the work of the community is to create a culture that supports, nurtures, and promotes a higher purpose. Dare it be said that the community is called to live by faith, and, thus, it will gather to herself kindred spirits. The legacy of a movement is that it changes the way other communities approach their work.

In contrast, an organization seeks to possess a purpose.3 When the purpose is objectified, the corrupted form is to reduce it to a product, i.e., an outcome. For example, educational institutions can seek to own education; healthcare systems can seek to own health; organized religion can seek to own spirit. Organizations are organized for power. Power, in and of itself, is neither good nor ill, but when it is born out of fear it breeds an unholy trinity of control, fear, and denial. Thus, when the purpose of power is to create control-over, it creates a culture of oppression and nothing is spared its oppressive control. The “other” becomes suspect and truth is wedged into structures of control.

Many of us who work in healthcare have seen the latter principle carried out. Yet, its presence is also within CPSP. Well engrained within the history of CPSP is rivalry with the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE). To make competition with ACPE the organizing principle, i.e., purpose of CPSP, will inevitably result in CPSP becoming an organization. When control, or fear of control (two sides of the same coin), is the purpose of the community, then the community will create structures aimed at controlling the other and create structures that oppress the community as much, if not more, than they control the other. The oppression may come in the form of a mandate to keep the “law” or, it can be manifested by writing, re-writing, and re-re-writing the “law.” Both are oppressive. Consequently, when a person or group assume the identity of a victim, it quickly becomes blind to its own propensity to victimize. Provoking becomes a way of blaming others, and abdicating the power of an authentic self. Thus, purpose, and our relationship to purpose, is paramount. Purpose creates relational constellations and realities.

This is why tradition #3 is compelling for CPSP. It asks the community: What is your
purpose? If recovery of the soul is the organizing principle for CPSP then two implications for the community are clear. First, pastoral certifications are a means for recovery of the soul, but there are also other expressions. CPSP is then placed in the position of exploring in what way(s) is it to be a steward of recovery of the soul. Recovery of the soul can, and indeed should, be viewed as a much broader work than pastoral certifications. It includes offering recovery of the soul that is not linked to pastoral certification. This can include fostering recovery of the soul for religious workers and leaders. However, the horizon is much broader than those directly involved with religious leadership and work. Another area to consider is to offer recovery of the soul to other professions. The group that many, many persons with pastoral certifications rub shoulders with everyday are healthcare workers. This is a group where many experience pressures and tensions that tear at the souls of their professions, and at their own souls as individuals. How could CPSP be a spiritual resource to these persons?

I have often pondered the question: If CPE is such a great resource to healthcare then why aren’t administrators and healthcare decision-makers beating a path to our door? If we improve the “holy” bench marks of patient satisfaction, length of stay, and reduced pain medication, then why have we been generally ignored by the healthcare conglomerates? Perhaps this neglect is inherently a blessing; the ravishing appetite of the conglomerate to consume pastoral care is limited. However, perhaps the ability of CPE to teach students the life giving lessons within the human experience has been too sequestered. Perhaps we have preserved our “professional integrity” at the expense of being true to our purpose. In the Christian tradition, this harkens back to the debate of whether the church should let Gentiles into their community.

The second implication of recovery of soul as the purpose of CPSP is that certification MUST be a vehicle that supports, nurtures, and promotes recovery of the soul. Thus the certified person has a fiduciary responsibility to employ the grace of certification as a trusted servant for her/his recovery and sharing that recovery with others. In like manner, pastoral certification can NEVER be devalued by using it to instill recovery of the soul. In other words, those with the right and responsibility of granting pastoral certifications must do so because the inquirer has demonstrated a commitment to recovery of soul, both in her/his own life and in his/her ministry to others. To grant pastoral certification in HOPE that an inquirer will make such a commitment adulterates the higher purpose of the community. In the Christian tradition the admonition is to whom much is given, much is required.

What is the purpose of CPSP? It is a critical question. For some CPSP’s purpose is to give ACPE a black eye. To maintain that position will inevitably result in CPSP becoming an organization, because fear breeds structures that ultimately oppress oneself. One of the intended, or unintended, consequences of this purpose has been to create “gang-land” warfare between pastoral cognate groups. Rebellion against ACPE is not a worthy purpose, and it certainly is not a purpose that can survive the first generation of CPSP’ers.

In like manner, if rebellion against ACPE is the organizing principle then all else will be ordered from that purpose, including how CPSP understands the role of certification and recovery of the soul. However, if our community is to mature, then we need to be clear about our higher purpose and use it as the organizing principle for all aspects of our life. AA has survived and thrived because it embraced its higher purpose and orders all else by that purpose. What is the purpose of CPSP?

AA has cut a unique path through the twentieth century. Just as Hammurabi’s Code was the precursor to the Mosaic Code, and the Magna Carta was the precursor of the American constitution, so, AA is the precursor for any community, including CPSP, that seeks to make recovery the centerpiece of its existence. This too describes the connection between AA’s 12 traditions and any group that is dedicated to recovery. The traditions communicate a spirit; and I suggest, it is the same spirit, that the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy seeks to embody through the CPSP covenant.

1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose - to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
1 Alcoholics Anonymous. (1976) New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

2 Tilly, C, (2004). Social Movements, 1768 - 2004, Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. 2 2 3 Weber, M., (1978). Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, Los Angeles: Beacon Press.

3 Weber, M., (1978). Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, Los Angeles: Beacon Press.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 11:22 PM

Correction Regarding Funeral Arangements for Rev. Robert Cholke

The information provided the PR regarding the funeral arrangements for Rev. Robert Cholke was incorrect. We've made the changes and suggest you return to the original article for the correct information.

Perry Miller, Editor

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 1:07 PM

May 1, 2007

A CPSP Robert Cholke Memorial Fund

In loving memory of Robert Cholke, the New York/New Jersey CPSP Chapter created the Robert Cholke Memorial Fund. Contributions to the fund will provide scholarship support for CPSP CPE trainees. Donations should be sent to the Chapter Convener, Rev. Steven Voytovich:

Department of Pastoral Care
125 Sherman Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
(203) 789-3248

Perry Miller, Editor

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 12:52 PM