IPT Book Reviews

Title: A Spiritual Strategy for Counseling and Psychotherapy  Positive Review Positive Review
Authors: P. Scott Richards and Allen E. Bergin
Publisher: American Psychological Association, 1997

American Psychological Association
APA Order Department
P.O. Box 92984
Washington, DC 20090-2984
(800) 374-2721
$39.95 (c)

This is a courageous book, and both the authors and the publishers are to be commended for making it available. It is courageous because it boldly enters a battlefield that has been fought over for a long time. The relationship between religious faith, science, and psychology has been contentious and hostile for several hundred years. Wisely, the first thing the authors do is to calmly and objectively describe the history of that prolonged troubled relationship. They clarify it and present it in a manner that defuses much of the historic enmity. They note a growing rapprochement between science and religion. The brief discussion of the changing influences of physics, philosophy of science, brain, cognition, and consciousness research, and the evidence for the positive influence of religion is both accurate, concise, and crucial to understand the current situation.

Having accomplished this, they address the fact that the religious convictions of people have been largely ignored in the mental health professions until fairly recently. The authors again present the mental health gap in a calm and objective manner. Their position is that it is a mistake to ignore the religious faith of patients. They maintain that religion is a vital, important, and ofttimes determinative influence on the lives of patients. It offers an opportunity to mental health professionals to find more effective, sensitive, and realistic ways to relate to patients.

Their understanding of religion seeks common grounds across religions but here they make a mistake. Their position is that religion is per se at some level nonempirical and requires invisible, private, and contextual experiences. This is not true of orthodox Christianity which is vividly empirical and recognizes that truth must be empirical truth. This is the impact of Paul's statement that if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain. If the resurrection is not an historical event, denoted by intersubjective confirmability of more than two witnesses, the whole thing is a sham. It is not happenstance that for both the Old and New Testaments, contacts between God and people always include some empirical reality, a burning bush, a floating axe head, 40 days of rain, a rainbow, the city and temple in Jerusalem, a living, dying, and rising man, water in baptism and bread and wine in the Eucharist.
This limitation does not affect the value of the second portion of the book that deals with how religious faith can meld into psychotherapy. Their treatment of several ethical issues is thoughtful, cogent, and well taken. Warnings about dual relationships and the potential difficulties for therapists who seek to find the strength and resources of religious conviction for themselves and their patients are necessary and wise.

The authors try hard, but do not quite manage to digest the issue of imposition of therapist values on patients. They imply that it shouldn't happen, but then support a frank and up-front disclosure of therapist values. They understand that psychotherapy is a value-loaded enterprise and cannot be presented as value-free. They include case studies by various psychotherapists to illustrate and suggest how psychotherapy can be conducted so as to honor and support religious conviction and find some of the healing potential therein.

The final section briefly discusses world views. The authors attempt to find a place for post-modern social constructionism and qualitative research methods, which is a bit disappointing, but they still insist upon the need for quantitative and empirical rational research methods as well. The 389-page book ends with 27 pages of references and name and subject indexes.

This is a good and helpful book and can be studied with benefit by all psychotherapists.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies.

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