|| A Spiritual Strategy for Counseling and Psychotherapy
||P. Scott Richards and Allen E. Bergin
||American Psychological Association, ©1997
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P.O. Box 92984
Washington, DC 20090-2984
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
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.