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Faith and therapy

07 December 2012

Anne Holmes looks at changes in practice


Understanding Religion and Spirituality in Clinical Practice
Margaret Clark
Karnac £15.99
Church Times Bookshop £14.60 (Use code CT226 )

THIS excellent volume is one of a series of clinical-practice monographs from the Society of Analytical Psychology.

The series is aimed at students on psychotherapy and psychodynamic-counselling courses. Traditionally, these courses have tended to exclude training about the religious and spiritual dimensions encountered in therapy. This has been largely due to the repercussions of the quarrel between Freud and Jung about the importance of religion. Since then, Jungians have been loyal to their founder's views, but other classical psychoanalytically based trainings have continued Freud's secular focus.

This helps to explain why some Christians are wary of entering into psychotherapy as a patient. As a consequence, churches have often favoured those in-house practitioners who may lack rigorous training. Meanwhile, attitudes have changed within classical psychoanalysis, and Clark's book is a welcome sign of the attention increasingly given to religion and spirituality in mainstream psychodynamic training.

The book comprises eight chapters, of which the first two summarise the impact of Freud and Jung. The following two look at the way in which we form our image of God, and Winnicott's overturning of Freud's negative view of illusion. Three succeeding chapters enable clinicians to discern the significance of different types of spiritual phenomena. The final chapter looks briefly at New Age spirituality and fundamentalism, including that of some therapists. Throughout the book, theoretical points are illustrated by appropriate clinical material drawn from an amalgam of experiences with different people.

Clark paints on the broad canvas of religion and spirituality, that is, the human experience of believing or not believing in a "God" of any kind. She considers how people's spiritual needs can be helped or hindered by the kind of religious beliefs they hold. She reflects on how therapists work with the psychological and spiritual relevance of such choices, and with belief and non-belief, in order to be as useful to their patients as they are in other areas.

This is a timely and well-researched monograph, which could usefully become required reading for all those wanting to practise pastoral care in a professional way, whether in a secular or faith-based setting.

The Revd Anne Holmes, a former NHS mental-health chaplain, is a psychotherapist and self-supporting minister in Oxford diocese




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