“Anton Theophilus Boisen as Clinician – in Favor of Psychotherapy.” -- by Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD

29 Nov 2017 7:22 PM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

The following is a brief excerpt from the 90-minute seminar I presented in 2012 in Malibu and in 2015 in Chicago on “Anton Boisen (1876-1965): Clinician”:

“The Rev. Dr. Anton Theophilus Boisen (1876-1965), according to a recent book, ‘was not at all interested in psychotherapy …’. [Myers-Shirk SE. Helping the Good Shepherd: Pastoral Counselors in a Psychotherapeutic Culture: 1925-1975. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. p.30]. How anyone could have studied Boisen’s writings and come to such an erroneous conclusion I do not know. Boisen definitely was interested in psychotherapy. That being said, neither I nor anyone else, apparently, directly has portrayed Boisen in his role as a clinician.”

“One part of the problem, of course, is that Boisen already is viewed as a sociologist/ psychologist of religion, as a theologian/ psychiatric investigator – not to mention as a language-teacher/ translator/ forester.  Another part of the problem is that Boisen believed in treating ‘official’ patients and novice theologs in the same manner. He believed in trying to point those who were suffering, bewildered, or vulnerable – for whatever reason – in the right direction – in fact, in trying to get them to aim high – but he was not going to do the work for them or to hand them ready-made answers.  Becoming one’s best as a clinical pastoral chaplain was an individual task, albeit one that benefited the entire world. Too many would-be clinical pastoral chaplains, he believed, wanted ‘to be told at once what to do’ – and wanted ‘rules of procedures … [to] apply’. He believed they should discover for themselves the meaning of the different forms of illness and that psychotherapy depended less on technique than on caring relationships between people. [Boisen, Exploration of the Inner World, pp.239, 240] Boisen did not try teaching psychotherapy per se; he did try encouraging 

 genuine interest in     

the patient and his [or her] problems

– as well as [in]   

the discovery and solving of    

the patient’s actual difficulties

[Boisen, The Exploration of the Inner World (1936), p.245]

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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