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Relational Ministry

Integrating Ministry and Psychotherapy

Catherine Gibson

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.
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CHAPTER 1 - Background to the Research


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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.

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