Spiritual Accompaniment: Bridging faith and person-centred
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BRIAN THORNE left teaching
for a career in person-centred psychotherapy. For more than 30
years, he has practised and taught, and written about his work. He
is renowned for building a lasting bridge between psychotherapy and
Christian belief, long deemed mutually incompatible.
It was an encounter with
Carl Rogers which shaped Thorne's development as a person-centred
therapist, and which also influenced his personal, long-held
commitment to Christianity. Instead of seeing God as demanding,
judgemental, and punitive, as many did, Thorne experienced him as
loving, accepting, and affirming. This, in turn, formed his belief
in man's potential for love and goodness, which would lead to a
life-enhancing relationship between therapist and client.
That meant embarking on a
spiritual pilgrimage that itself required spiritual discipline.
Thus, unusually, he concluded, a therapist can be seen in a
Writing a decade after that
observation, Thorne remained comfortable with the analogy, and
wryly noted that he was now asked to lecture on spiritual
discipline most; this indicated just how much the therapeutic world
The four main parts of this
book enable readers to trace the development of the author's
thinking and practice, from being a lone voice to the
world-renowned academic he became. While much of it has been
previously published, the parts that date back to the late 1970s
and '80s are valuable in showing how he reached his final
It is Part 3 of which he is
proudest, where "I explicitly elaborate my belief that
person-centred therapy is at heart a spiritual undertaking. What is
more, its essentially positive and hopeful view of the human person
- and its openness to the transcendent - make it particularly
relevant to those in the 21st century who have become disenchanted
with institutionalised religion."
The final part, "Ceasing to
be a Therapist", focuses on the bypass surgery that forced his
retirement. As happens so often with significant illness, Thorne
also took stock of his life's work and practice, and accepted that
his personal odyssey was steering him along a different route, of
one who travels alongside others on their spiritual journey. For
him, this was a natural sequitur of the growth of spiritual
awareness in an increasingly complex world; but, having made the
move, he felt greater freedom and "a new form of mutuality in a
common quest for the divine in the pursuit of humanness".
The book concludes with a
discussion about the personal and the political in the future
organisation of therapy and the protection of clients. He cannot
accept the limits that formal structures to "protect" the client
would bring. "These issues must be permeated by another dimension,
In Norwich, where he remains
Emeritus Professor of Counselling at the University of East Anglia,
and a lay canon of the cathedral, he and others have tried to grasp
the significance of this shift in the spiritual landscape.
This book is a demanding
read, on a very serious subject. It is well written: clearly,
humorously, honestly, and empathically. We owe Thorne an enormous
debt for courageously opening his heart, mind, and soul to share
the truth about a loving God walking with his people. It has been a
privilege to review a book that amounts to his magnum
opus, and I hope I have done it justice.
His is a unique
understanding of the person-centred approach to psychotherapy, and
the interface between Christian spirituality and the challenging
"secular" spirituality penetrating our caring professions.
The Revd Jenny Francis is a retired psychotherapist and a
priest in the diocese of Exeter.