A Call to Arms – by Raymond J. Lawrence, General Secretary

08 Jun 2020 11:51 AM | Krista Argiropolis (Administrator)


You received a lot of material in the Pastoral Report last week, both Robert Powell’s Dunbar Award presentation and Jennifer Harper’s even longer document, her acceptance speech on receiving the 2020 Helen Flanders Dunbar Award. All of us should read both as vitally important documents concerning our life together.

But I want to pass on to you what Robert Powell wrote to me yesterday via email: “Tell the community to read Jennifer Harper’s paper without fail.” It is so long that it is in two sections. As Robert Powell says, it is a must-read for anyone who cares about our discipline, our community, and our future.

What Jennifer Harper does is to link pastoral care unambiguously with psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. She does this as only a person in her position can do– this our future– this is the future of CPSP, if we are to have a future at all.

We should have known this all along. Boisen told us a century ago that a clinically trained minister can do anything a psychiatrist can do. (Of course, we don’t prescribe drugs, and arguably psychiatrists should not either.) But we have developed amnesia about Anton Boisen. We have buried him in the history books, to our significant loss.

We must cut ourselves off from the prayer-warrior chaplaincy mentality and become the pastoral psychotherapists that we should already be. If we continue in the prayer warrior chaplain mode, as exemplified in virtually all the current literature of our so-called cognate organizations, we will all personally suffer the fate of the unicorn. You and I will soon become extinct.

We must all become pastoral psychotherapists, and we must learn to get comfortable with that label. And we must do that soon. Not next year. Not in the next century, but now. Whether you are a Clinician or a Diplomate, you must reclaim the identity of a pastoral psychotherapist that Anton Boisen assigned us. You may be a novice pastoral psychotherapist, or you may be an experience pastoral psychotherapist. But you must be one or the other. Psychotherapy is the Greek word for the “cure of souls.” It’s our calling, our vocation. For generations, we have let the medical doctors take it away from us. If you are not doing the work of curing souls, AKA psychotherapy, you need to find other work. A psychotherapist heals principally through listening, not through talking and praying. When you’re talking and praying, you’re not listening.

We all understand that It may not be easy to reframe our work in an institutional context, especially when some nurse says to us, “Go say a little prayer over Mr. Smith in room 101. He’s upset.” We cannot as a profession continue to go around, saying little prayers over people. Prayers can be comforting to people, but they cannot be a substitute for listening. Institutions will discover, if they haven’t already, that they can train a retired short-order cook and high school graduate in a couple of days to take on such a task as praying over patients and do it as well as we can. It takes a very well-trained person actually to listen and do the work of pastoral psychotherapy.

Jennifer Harper is pointing the way forward. She has joined our community with delight and hope. We must allow her to help us get up to speed, as only someone like her can do. She is teaching psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as we speak. And she is a minister with an M.Div. Jennifer’s joining us and requesting credentials from CPSP is an enormous blessing and opportunity.

The great psychoanalyst of the twentieth century and close colleague of Anton Boisen, Harry Stack Sullivan, used to train his more promising orderlies with no formal education to function as beginning level psychotherapists. If all you Clinicians and Diplomates do not reframe your thinking and language very soon, Sullivan will return from the grave and give your jobs to his orderlies. We in CPSP already have excellent preparation and training. But we lack the audacity and self-assuredness to declare what we can do. Even Freud argued that one does not need a Ph.D. or an M.D. degree to become a competent psychotherapist or psychoanalyst.

If I seem a bit over the top in this short epistle, I think I see the future, and I fear what’s at stake. If we amble along doing things, as usual, praying over people and moving on down the road, I fear there will be no future for us as a discipline.

Jennifer Harper, Robert Powell, and others among us like them can lead us in a new direction, and to a new future, and a clearer and stronger pastoral psychotherapeutic identity. We need only give them permission and make use of their wisdom. Time is of the essence.

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Raymond J. Lawrence
General Secretary
lawrence@cpsp.org