Recovery of Soul... Book Review by Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD

12 Dec 2017 11:49 PM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

“The century-long clinical pastoral movement sparked by Anton Boisen was and continues to be a long struggle to implement ethical and effective therapeutic approaches for working with suffering people, particularly those suffering mostly in their minds. Boisen himself learned from Freud … that a disordered mind, at least in some cases, was the result of a struggle to find integration in the face of powerful internal conflicts.”1

 “Any reader might be puzzled by the recurring centrality of sexual issues in the history of the century-old clinical pastoral movement. …

The clinical pastoral movement, like Sigmund Freud, simply brought the issue out of the closet and into the light of day, at least in its early decades. …

Therefore, let it be said loud and clear, that the clinical pastoral movement is not an outlier in its peculiar helter-skelter history of attempting to sort out virtue from vice in the sexual arena.” 2

Recovery of Soul … merits inclusion in “The Great Books of Clinical Pastoral Chaplaincy”. You need to read it – along with Raymond’s other three books.3 Some years ago, Perry Miller, Raymond Lawrence, and I co-authored “Discrete Varieties of Care in the Clinical Pastoral Tradition”.4 That, too, still makes for good reading. In our editing, Perry and I were wise enough to retain Raymond’s unique verbiage, as he has a great way with words. That’s a point I want to emphasize – that Raymond’s rhetorical/ pedagogical style connects with the reader. He makes a fairly objective assessment of a situation – then adds a last phrase that tells us his real opinion about what he just wrote. Yes, the book is Pure Raymond. It is sort of like there is a “snarky Raymond” rendering the last word about what “academic Raymond” wrote. The method works.

Classic guidance for preachers says, “Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you told ‘em”. A colleague’s foreword to Recovery of Soul … warns that Raymond “pulls no punches,” “acknowledges all our brokenness,” yet “points out the redemptive power of love” – and that he “does not suffer fools lightly” but “acknowledges that he, too, has worn the foolscap”. Raymond himself provides a preface about his main trusted historical sources plus a prologue about grasping the clinical pastoral task. Thirty-one pithy chapters either set stages or ruminate over the works and quirks of Anton Boisen, Helen Flanders Dunbar, Seward Hiltner, Russell Dicks, Wilhelm Reich, Armen Jorjorian, George Buck, Joan Hemingway, Donald Capps, Myron Madden, and Wayne Oates – with Raymond’s own story tossed in – weaving the history of professional chaplaincy around these bits of real lives in real contexts.

Raymond devotes a specific chapter to “The Creation of The College of Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP)” in 1990. “Creation” indeed is the right word. The chapter includes a copy of the short but powerful CPSP “Covenant”—which is well worth digesting. Take a close look at it. CPSP, as “a theologically based covenant community, dedicated to ‘Recovery of Soul’,” took a shape and form that definitely was something new in the clinical pastoral world. As Raymond notes, “unbeknownst to us at the time, we were reenacting history. By the seat of our pants we were reasserting the philosophy and values of Anton Boisen and Helen Flanders Dunbar”. All became clearer starting around 1999.

Another chapter lists “10 axioms … for guidance in assessing and adjudicating alleged sexual violations by clergy”.

Raymond’s final chapter – “Last Words” – provides a clear, logical, and convincing summary of his wide-ranging argument about the conflicting forces that drove the field to where it is now. If nothing else, read the last chapter – but you really should read the whole book. Actually, let me suggest a course of reading that honors the “complex, accursed, and redemptive” story, as Raymond phrases it, of how clinical pastoral chaplaincy developed over the last 100 years. 7

Read Recover of Soul … now, but, if you get the chance, go back and read, in order,
first my writings (with the story starting around 1906),
then Allison Stokes’ book (focusing on the 1940s and 1950s),
then Edward Thornton’s book (overviewing all through the 1960s), then Raymond’s new book again plus maybe his three previous books. 8

Powell’s, Stokes’s, and Thornton’s studies of the movement are more academic, by design, but Raymond’s is both more insightful and more of a joy to read.

As soon as the planned new editions of Boisen’s books come out, read those, too. You won’t at all regret that decision. You will be amazed at the depth of Boisen’s thinking.

The Exploration of the Inner World: A Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience (1936);
Religion in Crisis and Custom {A Sociological Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience} (1955);
Out of the Depths: An Autobiographical Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience (1960). 9

Let me repeat: “If nothing else, read the last chapter” of Recovery of Soul …. It should become a common reading for anyone involved in clinical pastoral chaplaincy. “That [Freud-Boisen-Dunbar] thesis asserts that healing comes when an intelligent and informed pastoral person listens carefully and mostly silently to the accounts of a suffering person. And in that listening always keeping the unconscious and its perverse and unpredictable ways clearly in view – at least in the corner of the eye – and observing whatever connections can be made that might promote healing. … And we must add, supplemented by attention to community building, a calling in which religious communities have historically demonstrated some expertise.” 10

1. Recovery of Soul …, p.176. It should be noted that Boisen himself called for the recovery of zeal, inner experience, and faith – for a “living fellowship with a certain body of beliefs in which there is room for growth and for discovery”. Boisen AT. Religion in Crisis and Custom …. (1955); pp.232, 237.

2. Recovery of Soul …, pp.175-176.

3. Lawrence RJ. Nine Clinical Cases: The Soul of Pastoral Care and Counseling (2015).
Lawrence RJ. Sexual Liberation: The Scandal of Christendom. (2007).
Lawrence RJ. The Poisoning of Eros: Sexual Values in Conflict. (1989). All are available on Amazon. If possible, read the books in the order of their publication.

4. Miller PN, Lawrence RJ, Powell RC. “Discrete Varieties of Care in the Clinical Pastoral Tradition.” J Pastoral Care Counsel. 2003 Summer;57(2):111-6; re pastoral care, counseling, & psychotherapy; abstract:; full text:

5. Taking a look at the following examples of “academic” comments followed by “snarky” comments, note that they almost constitute a concise summary of the entire book.

p.6. “… he abandoned French [literature] altogether and began majoring in forestry. The sexuality of trees would not disturb his psyche.”

p.8. “… Boisen never had any psychoanalytic treatment subsequently. (Of course, neither did Freud have any psychoanalytic treatment! It seems that the only real treatment for either man was what he gave himself.)”

p.22. “… the battle was over the question of the role of the pastor, whether pastors were going to be psychoanalytically oriented therapists in their own rights or adjuncts to the real therapists, the physicians. This ongoing dispute could by now be called another Hundred Years War.”

p.31. “Kinsey could have walked over to Boisen’s childhood home. The ghosts there might have told him a lot about sex.”

p.31. “… Hiltner deserves great credit for a willingness to face the sexual music publicly as a prominent religious leader and scholar. Apparently, no one else had such nerve.”

p.48. “… he could talk for hours about the wonder of dialogue but was completely inept at engaging in it.”

p.69. “The following pages will elaborate on some of the evidence of this developing state of affairs – or should we say, this developing crisis.”

p.81. “My colleagues seemed quite delighted with the change [toward diversity] …. After all, what could be more boring than working exclusively with Protestant heterosexual males?”

p.83. “… now that they [women] were included they found passivity at the helm. Passivity is worse than hostility.”

pp.88-89. “… some of the most vicious women in their dealings with strong heterosexual males were themselves proponents of a liberated sexuality ….  The times were crazy-making.”

p.112. “They had found something life giving in this connection to Anton Boisen and Sigmund Freud. But while they were followers of Boisen, he was not leading.”

p.140. “Their hearts were in the right place, but their brains were obviously in neutral.”

p.170. “… she too is theologically untrained, and it shows.”
My point, again, is a “snarky” comment seems to help one to remember the more “academic” comment.

6. Recovery of Soul …, pp.155-156.

7. Recovery of Soul …, p.xx.

8. Revised and updated editions of my main writings – each with extensive new documentation – are to be published in the next year or so.
Powell RC. C.P.E. [Clinical Pastoral Education]: Fifty Years of Learning, through Supervised Encounter with “Living Human Documents” (1975); the initial print run was for 10,000 copies; reviewed in J. Pastoral Care. 1982;36(3):210; reprinted, 1987; translated into Spanish, 2009, by Chaplain [Maria] Magdalena Garcia [Orozco], at the request of Chaplain [Romulo] Esteban Montilla as Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE): Cincuenta Años de Aprendizaje: A través del Encuentro Supervisado con Documentos Humanos Vivos.

Powell RC. “Questions from the Past (on the Future of Clinical Pastoral Education)”. [ACPE] Conference Proceedings: 1-21, 1976.

Powell RC. Anton T. Boisen (1876-1965): “Breaking an Opening in the Wall between Religion and Medicine”. AMHC Forum 29(1), supplement, 1976; the initial print run was for 2,000 copies; reviewed in J. Pastoral Care. 1982;36(3):209.

Powell RC. “Anton T. Boisen's ‘Psychiatric Examination: Content of Thought’ (c.1925-31): An Attempt to Grasp the Meaning of Mental Disorder.” original version: Psychiatry 40: 369-375, 1977; abstract on the internet at

Powell RC. “Empirical Theology, 1916-1946: A Note on the Contribution of Anton T. Boisen.” original version: Chicago Theological Seminary Register 67: 1-11, 1977.

Powell RC. “Whatever Happened to ‘CPE’ – Clinical Pastoral Education?” 1999; original version on the internet at (an update on “Questions ….”)

Powell RC. “Emotionally, Soulfully, Spiritually ‘Free to Think and Act’.” original version: Journal of Religion& Health 40(1): 97-114, 2001; original version on the internet at .

Powell RC. “Religion in Crisis and Custom: Formation and Transformation – Discovery and Recovery – of Spirit and Soul.” original version on the internet at ; translated into Spanish, 2011, by Chaplains Rafael Hiraldo Román & Jesús Rodríguez Sánchez, with the assistance of Chaplain R. Esteban Montilla, as “Religión en Crisis y en Costumbre: Formación y Transformación - Descubrimiento y Recuperación - de Espíritu y Alma”; on the internet at  .)

Powell RC. “Anton Theophilus Boisen (1987-1965), Clinician.
I.   Assessment:  Persistent and Provocative ‘Co-operative Inquiry’: Empathic and Enlightening ‘Exploration of the Inner World’.

II. Therapy:  Patient and Creative ‘Co-operative Interpretation’: ‘Thinking and Feeling Strongly Together about Things that Matter Most’.” 2012. to be published.

Stokes A. Ministry After Freud (1985). A new edition is forthcoming.

Thornton E. Professional Education for Ministry: A History of Clinical Pastoral Education (1970). For an appreciation of how Thornton’s insightfully conflicted thinking about the primacy of “clinical pastoral transformation” presaged, in a way, the controversy leading to the founding of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, see Powell RC. “Discerning Spirituality in Everyday Life – and Allowing Oneself to Be Transformed.” 2008; on the internet at

9. See . Each of these will be cleanly composed editions, with scholarly introductions, forewords, and afterwords.

10. Recovery of Soul …, pp.181-182.

Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD

Editor's Note: Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD, is the leading historian of the clinical pastoral movement. Many of his published writings are posted on the Pastoral Report. Readers can use the search field, located in the upper right corner of the website, to locate his articles. As a practicing psychiatrist, his writings reflect his daily investment in his clinical practice of providing psychotherapy and care to his patients. Contact Dr. Powell by clicking his name, above. -- Perry Miller, Editor