Relational Ministry

Integrating Ministry and Psychotherapy

by Catherine Gibson (Author)
©2016 Monographs VIII, 221 Pages


Historically, the relationship between religion and psychotherapy has been more negative than positive. Are there inherent contradictions between the two, or can advances in the area of mental health care offer insights that are useful for the work of those in ordained ministry? This book presents an analysis of the relationship between ordained ministry on the one hand and counselling and psychotherapeutic practice on the other. It draws on extensive interviews carried out with current and former clergy in three churches (the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland) in order to clarify why some have stayed in ministry and combined it with psychotherapy, while others have left and continue their practice as psychotherapists. The book explores possible links between the sense of ministry in these two important areas of human experience – religion and psychotherapy – and goes on to investigate how combining these might lead to a different form of ministry.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1 - Background to the Research
  • Chapter 2 - The Societal Context of Ministry in Ireland
  • Chapter 3 - The Ecclesiastical Context of Ministry
  • Chapter 4 - Three Rites of Ordination
  • Chapter 5 - Causal Conditions
  • Chapter 6 - Contextual and Intervening Conditions
  • Chapter 7 - Strategies
  • Chapter 8 - Consequences
  • Chapter 9 - Institutional Structures
  • Chapter 10 - Socialisation, Culture and Organisations
  • Chapter 11 - Power and Clericalism
  • Chapter 12 - New Possibilities: Relational Ministry
  • Afterword: Toward Further Dialogue
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices
  • Index

| ix →

List of Figures

Figure: 5.1 Model of ministry as mediation

Figure: 5.2 Model of ministry as integration

Figure: 6.1 The conditional matrix

| xi →

List of Tables

Table 4.1 Convergences and divergences between ordination in the three churches

Table 5.1 Bands of participants

Table 5.2 The paradigm

Table 7.1 Organisation of strategies

| xiii →


I found the daunting task of producing a book possible only because of the advice and support of many people, too numerous to name here for reasons of space. However the contributions of some must be acknowledged.

Very particular thanks go to the research participants, without whose generosity and trust the work could not have been done.

I am very grateful also to Professor Gerard Leavey, who supervised my research, and to Dr Bernadette Flanagan, Dr Eugene Curran CM and the academic and administrative staff of All Hallows College and Dublin City University.

Dr Marjorie Fitzpatrick, a member of staff in All Hallows College, motivated me to begin the process of publication. A fellow PhD graduate, Sr Bonaventure Higgins RSM, generously shared her experience in relation to publishing and gave me both encouragement and invaluable advice. I also had the great good fortune of working with Christabel Scaife and Liam Morris, of Peter Lang, and I thank them most sincerely for their enthusiasm and patience. Special thanks are due to Eibhlin Hegarty OP, who took time out from a busy life to read the text and who drew my attention to inaccuracies. Those that remain are mine. Clare Harkin OP gave her time and artistic talents to making the cover design. In doing this she took time to read large tracts of the text and to meet me so as to enter into the thinking behind the themes.

I appreciate very much the love and patience of my family and friends, who have forgiven my neglect of them when the work filled up my days.

The cover design incorporates a combination of fixed, boundaried elements and a free-flowing Celtic spiral. These pick up the thematic contrasts in the research between a world-view that is static as opposed to a more dynamic concept of life. It is my hope that the research may encourage those who see possibilities for growth and change to continue their efforts to integrate new insights into the best that tradition can offer.

| 1 →


Background to the Research

My motivation to undertake this research came from several sources. I am a qualified psychotherapist currently working in professional practice and am aware of the historically negative attitudes of churches to psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy, which may be reflected in the fact that I have met very few clergy in the course of my professional experience. Those whom I have met seemed to be working under constraints on the part of their institutions which, in some cases, led to their choosing to leave ordained ministry. In addition, I have met several professionals who had left ministry and then retrained as psychotherapists. As a result of these factors I became curious about the links between these phenomena and so I undertook the work of exploration and research. The research was concerned with the relationship between religion and psychotherapy, and the experience of ordained ministers who operate in the healing professions of psychotherapy and counselling. It was done with particular reference to three churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Church of Ireland (Anglican Communion) between 1960 and 1980.

In general conversation the terms “psychotherapy” and “counselling” are sometimes used interchangeably but among professionals that is not always the case. In order to be inclusive, therefore, I have decided to use both terms – counselling/psychotherapy – because participants in the research came from both fields.

The specific focus of the research is on the tension between different expressions of ministry. In the present context these are on the one hand an approach centred on sacramental administration where forms of pastoral care flow from and are closely related to this; and, on the other, an approach which, together with the sacramental dimension, uses pastoral methods that incorporate various skills drawn from secular professional ← 1 | 2 → expertise, that is, counselling/psychotherapy. The research showed that the distinction between these two approaches was a matter of emphasis and priorities, and that tension arose from the difficulty involved in trying to maintain a balance between what were at times competing priorities. In the case of some participants the level of tension became unsustainable and they left ministry.

Because the interaction between ordained ministry and counselling/psychotherapy has not been researched before, and has become a significant area of human experience, this work is offered as an initial step that may lead to further research.

The sources of tension between religion and counselling/psychotherapy are deeply rooted in Western culture. The philosophical inheritance of dualist thinking in Western Europe (Coleman 1985; McCarthy 2003) has been integrated into religion as a body-soul opposition (Van Ness 1999), which has in turn affected the relationship between religion and mental health. As a result, the relationship between those in religious leadership and mental health professionals has not always been positive. Distrust of psychology and psychiatry on the part of religious personnel may date back to Freud, who saw religion as a form of neurosis (Freud 1927, 1930), and also to fear of theories of the unconscious that place it, by definition, as being beyond conscious control. For their part, mental health professionals “… have traditionally been sceptical and even hostile towards the personal and social benefits of religion, perceiving it as guilt-inducing and dependency-promoting” (Casey 2009, p. 10).

What has been said above suggests a stalemate between professionals on both sides: on one side clergy focusing on the spiritual and, on the other, mental health professionals focusing on the psychological/psychiatric, with each side viewing with suspicion the other’s contributions to the situation of distressed persons. However, there is another view.

During the research, participants expressed their convictions that on the basis of their experience neither religion nor secular therapies are enough in themselves to meet either the spiritual or mental health needs of people in contemporary society. This being so, they saw a need to find ways to build connections between the resources offered by both religion and therapy so that each can contribute more effectively to the spiritual well-being and mental health of individuals and of society. ← 2 | 3 →

This view is shared by others outside the clerical sphere. For some time there has been a growing awareness of the limitations of the scientific approach in managing some of life’s difficulties:

This quotation expresses some of the areas of human experience that can trouble people and acknowledges the difference between treating the body and healing the person. Many times in their interviews the participants in the research talked about their hope as clergy of bringing healing and the harmony of “fullness of life” (cf. John 10:10) to people and, in trying to achieve this, they utilised skills they had learned as counsellors/psychotherapists.


VIII, 221
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (June)
Menthal health care Psychotherapy Religion Ministry Irland Roman catholic church
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. VIII, 221 pp., 3 fig.

Biographical notes

Catherine Gibson (Author)

Catherine Gibson began her career as a teacher and later trained in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin, where she qualified as a systemic psychotherapist. She holds a PhD from All Hallows College (Dublin City University) for her thesis on the relationship between psychotherapy and religion. She worked for the Health Service Executive for several years and is currently working in private practice in Dublin.


Title: Relational Ministry
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
238 pages