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Pastoral Care and Intellectual Disability: A person-centered approach, by Anna Katherine Shurley

15 February 2019

Anne Holmes considers intellectual disabilities

THIS thoughtful contribution to the literature of pastoral care, while aimed at those practising in the American context, has much to offer pastoral carers in other countries, including the UK.

The author has a clear missional intention: to promote the reciprocal nature of pastoral care to those with an intellectual disability. She advocates the combination of a person-centred approach and a confessional Christian context. In short, both the pastoral carers and the congregations to which they and those to whom they offer pastoral friendship are attached need to model a two-way approach to those whom they seek to serve. She speaks of the vocation of those receiving the care, whose gifts may be different from those of people without intellectual disabilities, but who,nevertheless, can be seen as full human beings rather than people with a disability.

After an introductory chapter, there are five chapters on the following themes: Collaborating; Empowering; Calling; Playing; Witnessing. References are presented in an accessible and yet scholarly way. Not all the authors quoted will be familiar to non-American readers, but many will recognise the key sources of Donald Winnicott and Karl Barth, cited to support Shurley’s case both psychologically and theologically. Additionally, references to the important work of John Swinton will be welcomed by pastoral and practical theologians.

There are three examples of actual pastoral friendships in the fourth chapter on playing. More examples would have supported further what the author tends to present as assumed knowledge rather than that illustrated from pastoral practice.

One ideological problem presents itself to anyone familiar with psychodynamic principles. The author seems oblivious of the long debate about the different contributions made to pastoral care and counselling by person-centred and psychoanalytic thinking. While the safe base advocated by Carl Rogers is a sine qua non of any useful pastoral or therapeutic encounter, the rigorous thinking offered by the psychoanalytic approach is more controversial.

Shurley’s liberal use of Winnicott’s writings about the importance of play disregards his context as a psychoanalyst drawing on a Freudian/Kleinian inheritance. She appears to mix and match without knowing that she is doing so. The main danger of her person-centred idealism is the lack of a framework within which to consider projections and transference between the pastoral care-giver and the person to whom care is offered.

Despite this intellectual dissonance, this book could help to rebalance the tendency for carers and congregations either to avoid those with intellectual disabilities or to define them by their disability. Such attitudes fall short of the inclusive practice most likely to facilitate the full flourishing of all members of a church community.

The Revd Dr Anne C. Holmes, a former NHS mental-health chaplain, works as a psychotherapist and SSM in the diocese of Oxford.

Pastoral Care and Intellectual Disability: A person-centered approach
Anna Katherine Shurley
Baylor University Press £26.99
Church Times Bookshop £24.30

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