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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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March 29, 2015

What to do best with what you have left By J. Harold Ellens, PhD


Lecture: CPSP Chicago 15 March. 2015

What to do best with what you have left

J. Harold Ellens


Boisen was psycho-spiritually both a pragmatist and a mystic. His capacity to see both the transcendent dimension and the practical opportunities of his unfolding experience led him to the kind of perspective he adopted for both faith and life. He turned his five episodes of psychosis into the stage for a sturdy pursuit of practical healing moves, and enlightened teaching regarding the forms of mental illness and pastoral relevance. He saw that “some forms of mental illness can be a profound and productive experience, equivalent in some respects to a religious experience, and experience of radical upheaval and spiritual healing” (Aden and Ellens, p12). Herein is seen both his pragmatic perspective and his mystical sense.

Boisen was not focused primarily on psychotherapy but on the meaning of the specific mental illness itself, which he viewed as a moment of potential divine illumination. For him these numinous events had a transcendent dimension that thoroughly changed his life and led to a profound and durable sense of personal calling. His psychoses set the agenda of his life, namely, “to study acute mental disturbances of the functional type in order to increase both our understanding of them and our ability to minister to those experiencing them.” (Op Cit , p11).

Today progressive Christian scholarship and much church programming are devoted to issues of justice. This emphasis is honored more in the breech than in the practice. Nonetheless, it is a cardinal virtue to be insisted upon. However, for it to become a passionate inner drive it must well up psycho-spiritually from a force that is much deeper and more profound in the human spirit/psyche than the force of politics. All forms of motivation to healing of the individual and society surely had that inner depth and spontaneity for Boisen.

For justice, or any social healing, to become a moving force in our souls, and thence in our institutions, and pervasively in our society, it must derive from a profound understanding of the radical, unconditional, uncalculating, and universal nature of the grace of God. It must draw deeply from the well of God’s and our forgiveness for everybody, for everything, for evermore. I do not want to experience mere justice - to get what I deserve - ; I need grace, a consequence of which may be the behavioral symptom of a passion for justice. To acquire this kind of sense of grace one needs an authentic Theology of Scripture which sorts out clearly the cultural-historical garbage in the Bible from the gospel - the clean word of grace therein. Boisen seemed intuitively to possess such a Theology of Scripture, though he did not formulate it in that way. He would have appreciated what seems to me the consequence for the Practical Theology Boisen practiced, namely, Ellens’ three laws of psychological hermeneutics that apply the sound scriptural theme to health-affording pastoral care. This seems to me what was the controlling perspective that made Boisen successful in his quest.

Ellens Three Laws of Psychological Hermeneutics of The Bible.

Pastoral Care came to function as the central issue of Boisen’s life and work. To service the issues of Pastoral Care redemptively and honestly one needs to achieve a sound and and authentic Theology of Scripture. Most church leaders and laity in Boisen’s day did not have a correct theology of scripture that was true to scripture, and that state of affairs, unfortunately still reigns today. I think a theology of scripture that is true to scripture itself, requires a scientific and thoroughgoing psychological biblical hermeneutics.

My approach to the Psychological Hermeneutics of biblical themes and texts has always been from the operational and applied side to the conceptual models, constructed in the light of my own personal mysticism.. I have been reflecting lately on how I can epitomize both the content and method of my work in psychological hermeneutics of scripture. I think I have been able to conceptualize it articulately. I operate, like Isaac Newton, with three basic laws that I think must reign in the field of biblical interpretation if one is to get at the essential biblical truth (psybibs). They are as follows:

1. Ellens' first law of biblical hermeneutics:

It is necessary to separate the garbage from the gospel in the Bible in order to discern what is the word of God in the biblical narratives or essays. The garbage is the cultural-historical matrix in which the essential message is conveyed. The gospel is the clear and clean word of grace which is conveyed, wherever it breaks out and can be discerned clearly and cogently in the biblical text.

2. Ellens' second law of biblical hermeneutics:

That which, in the Bible, is psychospiritually destructive for the Living Human Document is not the divine word. That which is psychospiritually constructive for the Living Human Document is the divine word of God. That word will always be a word about grace.

3. Ellens' third law of biblical hermeneutics:

Use of the psychological lens is essential for determining what in the biblical narratives is psychospiritually constructive and what is destructive for the Living Human Document. The warrant for divine truth in anything is that it is psychospiritually healing for humans. Whether a word is psychologically sound and constructive is the criterion for divine truth.

1. That the word of God is always the word of grace is not arguable. It is simply the claim I make and its warrant is that only it heals and enhances the lives and character of persons.

2. In my model, God is, by definition, a God of thoroughly unconditional, radical, and universal grace. Any God that is not a God of such grace, is, by definition, not God, but a monster. Any idea that any human conjures up of God as not, by definition, a God of grace is corrupt, monstrous, and confused, because it demonstrably damages rather than heals the humans.

3. God is subtle and not obvious in the world and in human experience. So we must take a psychological lens and look at the subtle intimations of God’s presence and nature in history, life, and our personal experience. These subtle intimations include a) the mindfulness of creation, b) the benevolence of providence: we grow from our pain, c) the natural urge in all things toward beauty, d) the fact that unconditional acceptance and forgiveness is the only ultimate healing force in life, e) the fact that this kind of service of grace is precisely tailored to our central need for healing that sets us free for growth, f) and the fact that it is this kind of grace that manifests itself in continuing incarnations in history in persons of notable quality

4. The warrant for what is real and true is what works. Only the equation of grace works in the ultimate healing, growth, maturation, and wholeness for which the humans have the potential and therefore are inherently destined.

5. Therefore, we must conclude that by definition God is a God of grace. The fact that only this definition of God works for our healing, growth, maturation, and wholeness confirms that it is the only rational and psychospiritually authentic way to conceptualize God. All other conceptualizations are deficient, destructive, and hence, monstrous.

Boisen seems to have come through his psychotic episodes with the enduring confidence that whatever it was that was happening to him, it was taking place in a divine economy that was radically disposed toward him in unconditional goodwill. Thus he could assume that since God did not avert the evil from his life, God intended to turn it to his profit, and so his task was to find out how that worked. Suffering takes place in an economy of positive regard and we can figure out what that positive aspect of suffering is if we are willing to look the anguish forthrightly in the eye, so to speak. I cannot as yet see the positive grace outcome of my youngest daughter suffering and dying from Multiple Sclerosis, which confines her to a wheel chair, but I am waiting and watching.

So Boisen boldly proceeded to study his psychotic breaks, sort out the specific aspects and dynamics of those events of suffering, find the core issue which he discerned to be an underlying unconscious flaw, and deal honestly with the carefully analyzed outcome. The flaw he found to be some aspect of personality dysfunction that distanced him from the ideal in himself; something that distanced him from the company of the committed, the “fellowship of the best.” This fellowship he thought to be the idealized church, which represented the nature and character of God and the godly. The pathogenic dynamics of carrying in us this unconscious aberration is that it sets us in unidentified inner conflict with our own real self. He felt that the illumination that comes with the discovery of this inner conflict, and the freedom afforded by being saturated with a sense of the radical nature of unconditional grace, are the combination of forces that bring healing and redemption to suffering humankind.

From the minute when we are conceived in the womb we all face one main question: What can we do best with what we’ve got left? Boisen seemed to have lived his life in that consciousness and he found the way to do it very well.


Aden, Leroy and J. Harold Ellens, ed. (1990), Turning Points in Pastoral Care, The
legacy of Anton Boisen and Seward Hiltner
, Grand Rapids: Baker.

PsyBibs, website of the Psychology and Biblical Studies section of the Society of Biblical

Studies (SBL), accessed 22 Feb 2015 from

J. Harold Ellens

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 11:21 AM

March 25, 2015

AKRI Dialogues 2

AKRI Dialogues 2 will convene April 30 and end May 3, 2015.


The A. K. Rice Institute's AKRI's Dialogues 2 will meet at The Cenacle Chicago 513 W. Fullerton Parkway, Chicago, IL.

By clicking here you will see a full report of the rich variety of workshops and presentations. For example, The Tavistock Learning Group: Exploration Outside the Traditional Theoretical Frame Group Relations, Existentialism and the Lacanian Discourses with Clive Hazell, PhD & Mark Kiel, PsyD as presenters.

A further discription of this one among many workshops and presentations:

In the forthcoming book, The Tavistock Learning Group: Exploration Outside the Traditional Theoretical Frame, authors Clive Hazell and Mark Kiel attempt to expand the heuristic, theoretical, and applied dimensions of Group Relations paradigms by pairing classical Group Relations concepts with typically non-Tavistock psychology paradigms and social sciences concepts. Under the broad domain of psychologically-informed constructs, Lacanian psychoanalysis, existential philosophy and body psychotherapy are applied.

As many know, Tavistock has been a significant component of CPSP as a means for understading groups and the unconscious processes. For those seeking CPSP Diplomate certification, participation in Tavistock or Intensives, or similar group training experiences, is required.

Register Online

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 1:54 PM

March 24, 2015

A Report of the CPSP 2015 Plenary in Chicago By Raymond J. Lawrence, General Secretary


2015 Plenary - our Twenty-fifth Anniversary - was a Plenary to remember, for many reasons. It was also the fiftieth year since the death of Anton Boisen in 1965. We celebrated both our longevity and Boisen's contribution to our religious and psychological health.

David Roth chaired the meeting as he had the Plenary Planning Committee. With the help of Evan Boyd, the librarian and archivist of Chicago Theological Seminary, he also constructed a stunning display in what he set up as "The Boisen Room," which contained a large collection of Boisen memorabilia, books, letters and photographs. This collection in one place of Boisen artifacts was unprecedented and highly enlightening.

We awarded the Helen Flanders Dunbar Award this year to the Rev. Dr. Glenn Asquith, who followed up with a memorable address that will be available on our website. Asquith is of course a preeminent Boisen scholar, now a retired professor of the Moravian Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.

The Rev. Dr. Allison Stokes also gave a memorable address. She is one of the leading authorities on Boisen. Helen Flanders Dunbar's only child, Dr. Marcia Dobson, was also present. She is a psychologist and therapist living in Colorado Springs where she teaches classics and established the program in psychoanalysis at Colorado College. Dr. Dobson responded to the lecture by Stokes. She attended the meeting accompanied by her husband, the philosopher Dr. John Riker, and two grandchildren.

Dr. J. Harold Ellens also addressed the Plenary. He is one of the most widely published pastoral clinicians in our field and last year’s Dunbar awardee. He has also joined CPSP as a Diplomate in Pastoral Psychotherapy, and received his diploma at this meeting.

And of course our own Dr. Robert Powell was with us and addressed the Plenary, sharing with us, as usual, his wisdom and erudition.

All of these presentations will be available in cyberspace in due course.

As in previous years the small groups were evaluated as a highly significant part of the Plenary. With one exception, groups reported being highly satisfied with their small group experience.

Ed Outlaw served as Chaplain, and declared on his own authority that CPSP was now in a process of healing after a brief contretemps.

Our eleventh president, Brian Childs, passed the torch to Bill Scar to begin his two-year term as our twelfth president.

Raymond Lawrence, General Secretary

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 10:44 PM

March 21, 2015

A Brief Report to the Members By Rev. Dr. David C. Baker


The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy's 25th Anniversary Plenary was one of celebration and connection.

The formal presentations addressed the history of the Clinical Pastoral Movement, especially Anton Boisen's contribution.

As usual, CPSP's commitment to small group interaction where clinical and life material is the focus, continued to give meaning to the declaration that CPSP Plenaries are "working conferences". These groups being a prominent structure within the Plenaries underscores CPSP's commitment to the clinical arena and the continued development of its practitioners. In addition to learning, general networking and fellowship, the Plenary was imbued with a good spirit and celebration.

The hotel facilities, rooms, and food were great. Ed Outlaw, functioning as chaplain for this gathering, set a nice tone for our meetings. Special thanks to David Roth for making the Anton Boisen recognition event special; Raymond Lawrence, our General Secretary, for his visionary leadership; Dr. Brian Childs for his statesmanship over the past three years; Cynthia Olsen, for her tireless coordinating efforts as Interim Administrator; and the support of Past CPSP Presidents, Francine Hernandez, John Develder, Ken Blank and Esteban Montilla.

The Governing Council met on Wednesday morning, and CPSP's President, Bill Scar, conducted a fruitful, collegial meeting, the minutes of which should be coming out in the near future.

Dates and location of the 2016 (Salt Lake City, UT) and 2017 (Orlando, FL) plenaries will be announced soon.

The fall Governing Council will be September 20-21, 2015 at the Loyola Retreat Center in New Jersey.

Our Treasurer, Charles Kirby, announced his resignation after serving the past ten years. This has been a demanding volunteer role but one that Charles Kirby managed with great expertise and grace.

Several logistical matters were discussed and assigned for further discussion and recommendations at the fall meeting. The most urgent issue at hand is the need to employ an administrator to manage the many practical administrative matters that need attention. A task force was appointed to come up with a recommendation within 30 days. The cost of this new position will most likely necessitate raising our dues.

Overall, I was very pleased with the event. The new structure seems to be offering a responsive and responsible leadership.
The Rev. Dr. David C. Baker,
Chapter of Chapters Member
Baltimore Chapter Convener

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 8:30 PM

March 6, 2015

The Commission for the Accreditation of Pastoral and Psychotherapy Training (CAPPT) --By Brian Childs, CPSP President


The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy is pleased to announce the formation and establishment of an independent organization that will assure the proper thorough accreditation of its training programs and its training organizations.

The Commission for the Accreditation of Pastoral and Psychotherapy Training (CAPPT) in the independent commission that will audit and attest the work of the CPSP process of training accreditation. While related to CPSP CAPPT is independently incorporated, has its own board of trustees, and consists of professionals outside of CPSP  as well as within CPSP.

Having such an independent accrediting commission is consistent with other specialized professional organizations such as the American Association for Marriage and Family Counseling, the American Psychological Association, and the American Association of Medical Colleges. Each of these organizations and others like them submit their own accreditation reviews to such independent organizations in order to assure the public and potential employers that an independent commission can attest that an accredited training center fulfills the standards for quality professional training.

The Commission for the Accreditation of Pastoral and Psychotherapy Training has its own website: Take a look at the site to learn how CAPPT works and to meet the Board of Trustees.

The Commission for the Accreditation of Pastoral and Psychotherapy Training

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 12:11 PM

March 5, 2015

VIDEO:Diversity & Inclusion – Love Has No Labels

Perry Miller, Editor

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 6:44 PM