Pastoral Report Articles 

  • 14 Jun 2016 6:59 PM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

    The news from Orlando reminds us that homophobia is a religious and psychological blight that those us in the healing professions must continue to address, for the good of the whole community. 

    Orlando also reminds us that some of our our political   leaders shamefully want to put this terrible incident on the backs of the Muslim community, which would be a disgraceful injustice to them. Adolph Hitler followed the political axiom, if one tells a lie often enough, it will be taken as truth. We cannot allow our Muslim brothers and sisters to be shamed by this terrible lie.

    Finally, this country is alone in all the world in allowing ordinary citizens to procure instruments of mass murder, such as assault weapons.  We must use what influence we may have to put an immediate stop to this.

    Raymond J. Lawrence
    General Secretary

  • 10 May 2016 9:19 AM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

    Dr. George Buck earned the lifetime achievement award several lifetimes ago.  His history in the Pastoral Care field goes back more than 50 years.  George is believed to be the last remaining chaplain who actually met Anton Boisen, the father of the clinical pastoral training movement, whom he met shortly before Boisen’s death. 

    George trained at Menninger’s clinic, in its heyday, after World War II, where the best in American psychiatry and psychology taught and trained in its classrooms.  A sign outside of town said, Welcome to Topeka Kansas, the psychiatric capital of the world.  You could hardly say a name in the field that George Buck had not known and worked with at Menninger’s.  Anna Freud, Murray Bowen, Robert Wallerstein.  As he tells the story, it was an extraordinary experience.  

    George’s greatest gift as a supervisor was as a model in his care for his chaplain trainees.  He gave us the support and acceptance that we, as chaplains, were asked to give to our patients.  

    George Buck always emphasized the importance of pastoral care as “communicating understanding love.”  George would agree with Carl Rogers,  the famous American psychologist, who wrote, “ We engage one another in a process, where tentatively, and with great hope and anticipation, we recognize the God in every man.”  

    I will end with a few comments from George Buck’s trainees’ evaluations of the Clinical pastoral education program here at UAMS.    

    • Dr. Buck is insightful but tough.  He is open and honest and though it was sometimes hard to hear, he really helped me see myself more honestly.
    • I always had the sense that Dr. Buck would do all that he could to help me.  He helped me to work through the obstacles that arose in supporting my patients and dealing with my own anxiety.    
    • Dr. Buck is unabashedly himself.  He could never be someone else.  He is extraordinarily comfortable with who he is.  I love when he joins our group when I am not the one presenting the case study.  

    Dr. Buck is loved and treasured by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Pastoral Care Department, and the hospital administration and employees.  Congratulations on a body of work that truly merits a lifetime achievement award.


    Susan McDougal

  • 03 May 2016 9:37 PM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

    CPSP members have found that participation in a residential group relations conference has a powerful, transformative effect on their own self-awareness and their ministries. In preparation for certification as a diplomate, all supervisors-in-training are required to participate in a residential conference but others are strongly encouraged to attend as well. This year's international AK Rice Conference is being offered in July in New Orleans. For those with a financial need, substantial scholarships are often available. Conference administrator Jack Lampl can provide more information.

  • 02 May 2016 8:34 AM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

    The Commission for the Accreditation of Pastoral and Psychotherapy Training (CAPPT) announces the election of two new board members, Rev. Deborah Kerr Davis and Bryan Bass-Riley.

    In his pubic announcement, Brian H. Childs, Chair, Board of Trustees, stated: 

    "The election of the Reverends Davis and Bass-Riley to the CAPPT Board marks two significant additions to an already impressive group of educators and and program administrators," stated Brian H. Childs, Chair of the CAPPT Board of Trustees. "Ms. Davis brings years of seminary field work education at Princeton and also her work prior to going to Princeton as a hospital chaplain. Mr Bass-Riley is a seasoned supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education/Training and a well known and respected leader in the field. The programs that CAPPT review for accreditation and those they serve will be the beneficiaries of the addition of these two good people."

    CAPPT is a specialized body that accredits post-graduate training in Clinical Pastoral Education/Training (CPE/T) and Pastoral Psychotherapy training programs in the United States, as well as Internationally. CAPPT was formed under the Arkansas General Corporation Law in 2014, and is made up of nine trustees. 

    For more information about CAPPT, visit  or email

  • 29 Apr 2016 8:04 PM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

    In his 2003 Address to the CPSP Plenary, Raymond Lawrence provided a most eloquent definition of the founding philosophy of CPSP, reminding us of the origins of our community, and the very meaning of our existence. Raymond speaks poignantly of his own clinical training as foundational and life changing.  One might say, life giving.  One of the most significant aspects of CPSP and its life together is the accountability and care that is ongoing from the small clinical training group to the depths of care one experiences in a CPSP Chapter.  I commend these words to you almost as a sacrament, or a means of grace, calling us to our best selves, personally and professionally, and with accountability in our lives together.  

    Listen to the Words:

    CPSP was formed out of the memories of our own experience in clinical training. It was not formed around the corporate bureaucratic model, which by its very nature smothers criticism with public relations and undermines collegiality by promoting patterns of domination and submission. We remembered the redemptive process of our own clinical training, an experience that was marked by deep criticism and deep respect and care, an experience that we would never demean or trivialize by calling it skill training. We experienced our own clinical pastoral process as transformative. We sought in creating CPSP to rekindle the transformative process that seemed to be diminishing in our professional lives. We constructed the Chapter model out of our memories of the clinical training group as the best hope for fostering continuing transformation, individually and corporately.

    -Raymond J. Lawrence, General Secretary
    2003 CPSP Plenary Address to the Community 


    George Hankins-Hull 
    Director of Pastoral Care, and Clinical Pastoral Education
    University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

  • 05 Apr 2016 5:45 AM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

    From Emotions and Bodily Changes …
    – in the Personal Body
    to Bodily Changes and Emotions
    – in the Social Body
    the organism in its environments
    both inner and outer 1

    March 2016
    Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD

    Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD– on the 140th anniversary of Anton Theophilus Boisen’s birth, before we begin the introduction to the Helen Flanders Dunbar Award presentation, let me note several additional anniversaries.

    – on the 100th anniversary of Boisen’s 1st published article – in which he spoke of “the hell of wrong habit, of diseased will, of missed opportunity, and of guilty conscience”.

    – on the 90th anniversary of Boisen’s “The Challenge to Our Seminaries” – and of his "Personality Changes and Upheavals Arising Out of the Sense of Personal Failure" – in which he proposed that many functional psychoses are not only “reactions to life situations,” but also “attempts at a new synthesis” and cure.                  

    – on the 80th anniversary of Boisen’s The Exploration of the Inner World: A Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience.

    – on the 70th anniversary of Boisen’s Problems in Religion and Life: A Manual for Pastors, with Outlines for the Cooperative Study of Personal Experience in Social Situations.

    – on the 60th anniversary of Boisen’s assistant, Carroll A. Wise’s Psychiatry and the Bible.

    – on the 50th anniversary of Wise’s The Meaning of Pastoral Care.

    – on the 40th anniversary of “the green booklet,” Anton T. Boisen (1876-1965): “Breaking an Opening in the Wall between Religion and Medicine”.

    “It is uncomfortable to
    become aware that we
    live in a sick society ….” 2                                                                              

    At first glance – at first consideration – viewing ourselves as part of a social body – as a personal body embedded in a social body – may seem a bit confusing, yet we do deal with this reality all the time. We just usually don’t talk about it.

    An example somewhat easy to consider is that presented in Anton T. Boisen’s essay, “What War Does to Religion”. 3 He was studying the comfort – or discomfort – of personal religious experience within “a world at peace” as compared to the comfort – or discomfort – of personal religious experience within “a world at war” – that is, of a personal body embedded in this social body as compared to a personal body embedded in that social body. We may or may not have paid that close of attention, but Boisen’s entire research life actually focused on “personal experience in social situations” – as, indeed, he subtitled one of his books. 4

    Likewise, we may or may not have paid that close of attention, but a recurring phrase in [Helen] Flanders Dunbar’s writings concerns “the organism in its environments – both outer and inner”. 5 While she is most famous for her explorations of the inner world – how the mind and personal body interact – in both directions – her essays, “What Happens at Lourdes …?” and “The Medieval Mass in the West” constituted explorations of the outer world – how the social body and the mind interact – in both directions. 6  Dunbar, for example, noted that those visiting the healing shrine at Lourdes fared well or fared ill according to whether they identified more with the social body of local helpers or identified more with the social body of those being helped. That is, she observed how the outer environment – social bodily changes – impacted intermediating emotions – and then how intermediating emotions impacted the inner environment – personal bodily changes. Similarly, she noted how engagement in the rituals of the medieval mass had a powerful effect upon both the personal body and the social body; as the personal body embedded in the social body, the two bodies, in essence, became one.

    As already was noted, at first glance – at first consideration – viewing ourselves as part of a social body – as a personal body embedded in a social body – may seem a bit confusing, yet we do deal with this reality all the time. We just usually don’t talk about it. At this plenary this year, we are talking about it.

    Please let me detour for a moment, to consider another Dunbar – not our [Helen] Flanders Dunbar – but, rather, a notion referred to in anthropology as “Dunbar’s number” – the correlation between average brain size and average social group size. 7 For humans “Dunbar’s number” calculates that each person can maintain somewhere between 100 and 250 – roughly 150 – stable, persistent, consistent social relationships. Theoretically, in terms of meaningful relationships, a big-brained primate could maintain more and a small-brained primate could maintain less. For the sake of argument, let’s say that members of The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy have about an average brain size – which would suggest that our plenaries have been coming out at about the right size each year. CPSP also, quite consciously, has based itself upon more intimate and enduring chapters during the year as well as upon still intimate though more fleeting small groups during plenary. That is, CPSP has created – somewhat consciously – somewhat unconsciously – structures for ensuring that our personal bodies and minds are embedded in our social bodies and minds – with attention to our emotions – conscious and unconscious – as the “glue”.

    Our Dunbar, by the way, explicitly wrote of emotions as the intermediating variable – that one needed to study “emotions from the point of view of [both] their physiological significance on the one hand and their social significance on the other”.  8 In many ways, through pushing both the psychodynamic and the crucial public health aspects of professional chaplaincy, our Dunbar was among the first to focus on both the personal body and the social body simultaneously. 

    There is ample reason why this clinical pastoral chaplaincy organization has “psychotherapy” in its name. There is ample reason why this clinical pastoral chaplaincy organization views collegial “supervision” – up, down and sideways – as essential. We recognize that our internal relationships indeed mirror our external relationships. We are – each of us is – our brother’s and sister’s keeper. 9 The goal is to reflect on all this – to carry out all this – with tolerance and encouragement. 10

    Back to our opening quote, by one of Dunbar’s close friends:

    “It is uncomfortable to
    become aware that we
    live in a sick society ….”         

    Once upon a time I probably would have had to explain that – the notion of ours being a “sick society”. Taking into account the current entire human race, that phrase now seems to be all too self-evident. For the sake of argument, please consider even one point in time:  that day we’ve come to call “Nine Eleven” in the year 2001. As a personal body embedded in a social body, were you the same individual a month after Nine Eleven as you had been a month before that point in time? Are you the same individual now – almost 15 years later – as you had been before that event?

    Again, for the sake of argument, please consider another point in time: that evening in Pittsburg in 2012 when, in the CPSP governing council meeting, the chairs were arranged differently than they ever had been arranged before. 11 Yes, little changes here and there for several years had been leading up to that point in time, but the changed arrangement of the chairs signaled that something was amiss and that CPSP had to begin re-thinking its situation.

    CPSP as an entity had to crumble a bit and to arise in a new form. The personal bodies embedded in the social body – the clinical chaplains embedded within CPSP – were impacted by how the social body, CPSP, felt that evening – and they realized that the social body had to accept experiencing a new stage of growth. The social body had to change in minor but important ways in order not to change in major and essential ways – so that the embedded personal bodies once again could feel comfortable belonging.

    In Dunbar’s terms, the central organism – the CPSP Chapter – realized that the organism’s outer environment – the world of CPSP – had to grow in a manner that would sustain comfortable homeostasis within the organism’s inner environment; likewise, the central organism – the CPSP Chapter – realized that the organism’s inner environment – the world of clinical chaplains – had to grow in a manner that would sustain comfortable homeostasis in the organism’s outer environment. During 2012 and ‘13 and ‘14 and ‘15, CPSP, its chapters, and their chaplains found a slightly new path toward wholeness.

    As a final thought, let me go back to Boisen’s essay: “What War Does to Religion”. The world – the outer environment – the larger social body – now has been at war – whether clearly declared or not – for a good 15 years. Has it been assumed by clinical pastoral chaplaincy – year after year after year – that the war will end tomorrow? Perhaps we should be considering, “What Religion Does – or Could Do – to War”. Certainly clinical pastoral chaplaincy’s stance of ministering to all – to anyone who is suffering, bewildered, or vulnerable – is a start. This stance can and does serve as a model of how to relate to others – especially “the others” who in some way are different from us. Is there any way in which the impact of the professional chaplaincy movement on the broader world can be magnified and multiplied? Is there some way in which a multitude of personal bodies – clinical pastoral chaplains – can exercise larger influence on the world-wide social body?

    The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy organized itself in 1990 as a clinical pastoral chaplaincy movement that was “back to Boisen – back to Dunbar”. With some help from a congenial outside consultant the movement now examines more closely the dynamics of what that orientation means and how it carries into the future – and perhaps also into the broader world.                                                                                                                                 

    Please join me now in congratulating the next recipient of The Helen Flanders Dunbar Award

    for Significant Contributions to Clinical Pastoral Training, therapist Richard Morgan-Jones.



    1. Dunbar, H. Flanders. Emotions and Bodily Changes: A Survey of Literature on Psychosomatic Interrelationships, 1910-1933. New York: Columbia University Press, 1935 – for the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation; the 4th & final edition, to 1953, was published in 1954; virtually every authority across the decades credits this intricate volume as launching the American psychosomatic movement; up until about 1937, Dunbar ran the psychosomatic movement and the Boisenesque branch of the professional chaplaincy movement out of the same office in New York City.

    Morgan-Jones, Richard. The Body of the Organization and Its Health. [additional material by Torres, Nuno & Dixon, Kevin] London: Karnac, 2010.

    Dunbar, Helen Flanders. “Third Annual Report to the Council for the Clinical Training of Theological Students,” August 1932, “Dunbar Materials,” Burke Library, Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, New York, NY; p.7, “the relation of the total organism to its environment, inner as well as outer ....”

    2. Halliday, James Lorimer. Psychosocial Medicine: A Study of the Sick Society. London: Heinemann, 1947;.p.220.

    3. Boisen, Anton Theophilus. “What War Does to Religion.” Religion in Life 14 (1945) : 389-400.

    4. Boisen, Anton Theophilus, Problems in Religion and Life: A Manual for Pastors, with Outlines for the Cooperative Study of Personal Experience in Social Situations. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1946.

    5.  Powell, Robert Charles. “Helen Flanders Dunbar (1902-1959) and a Holistic Approach to Psychosomatic Problems. I. The Rise and Fall of a Medical Philosophy.” Psychiatric Q. 02/1977;49(2):133-52.

    Powell, Robert Charles, “Helen Flanders Dunbar (1902–1959) and a Holistic Approach to Psychosomatic Problems: II. The Role of Dunbar's Nonmedical Background.” Psychiatric Q. 06/1978;50(2):144-157

    6. Dunbar, H. Flanders. “What Happens at Lourdes? Psychic Forces in Health and Disease.” Forum. 1934;91:226-231.

    Dunbar, Helen Flanders. “The Medieval Mass in the West.” circa 1923-24. typewritten draft in the Mary Anita Ewer Papers, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, accessed through Olin Library, a division of Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY; Ms Ewer was one of Dunbar’s secretaries – one who shared some of her research interests.

    7. Dunbar, R. I. M. "Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates". J Human Evolution. 1992;22 (6): 469–493; p.469: “…It is suggested that the number of neocortical neurons limits the organism's information-processing capacity and that this then limits the number of relationships that an individual can monitor simultaneously. When a group's size exceeds this limit, it becomes unstable and begins to fragment.It is suggested that the number of neocortical neurons limits the organism's information-processing capacity and that this then limits the number of relationships that an individual can monitor simultaneously. When a group's size exceeds this limit, it becomes unstable and begins to fragment.It is suggested that the number of neocortical neurons limits the organism's information-processing capacity and that this then limits the number of relationships that an individual can monitor simultaneously. When a group's size exceeds this limit, it becomes unstable and begins to fragment. It is suggested that the number of neocortical neurons limits the organism’s information-processing capacity and that this then limits the number of relationships that an individual can monitor simultaneously. When a group’s size exceeds this limit, it becomes unstable and begins to fragment. …”

    8. Dunbar, “… Lourdes …,” p.231.

    9. Powell, Robert Charles. “Religion in Crisis and Custom: Formation and Transformation – Discover and Recovery – of Spirit and Soul.” Opening address, The 8th Asia Pacific Congress on Pastoral Care and Counseling, Tsuen Wan, The New Territories, The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,The People’s Republic of China, August 8, 2005.

    10. Powell , Robert Charles. 2011, “Tolerance and Encouragement [I]: Among the Roots of the Clinical Pastoral Tradition.” 2011. on the internet at

    Powell, Robert Charles. 2011, “Tolerance and Encouragement [II]: At the Core of the Modern Clinical Pastoral Tradition.” 2011. on the internet at .

    Powell, Robert Charles. 2011, “Tolerance and Encouragement [III]: Within a Covenant of Mutual Accountability.” 2011. on the internet at .

    Powell, Robert Charles. 2013, “Tolerance and Encouragement [IV]: Having Strong Feelings – Without Being Self-Righteous.” 2013. on the internet at .

    Powell, Robert Charles. 2013, “Tolerance and Encouragement [V]: Making Room for Divine Presence – instead of ‘Paging’ Him or Her; Interfaith? Multifaith? Engaging Others in Their Faiths.” 2013. on the internet at

    11. Traditionally, those on the Governing Council sat around a large table in the middle of the large room – while other miscellaneous general members sat in chairs lining the walls at the periphery of the room, facing the Governing Council that conducted its business in the middle. It is totally unclear how or why but in 2012 the meeting started out with the chairs arranged all facing forward toward a podium and with those on the Governing Council vague seated in the front rows with the miscellaneous general members sitting in the rows directly behind. There was no clear boundary between those on the Governing Council and those not – and instead of the equality of members of the Governing Council there was that podium suggesting that there might be a specific leader – or a rotating leader – or something. What developed was the person standing at the podium being addressed by miscellaneous vaguely identified folks sitting in the back rows. The situation was totally confusing. Finally, one of us suggested rearranging the front rows to face in the opposite direction, so that it could become clearer who actually served on the Governing Council – and the podium was abandoned. While the situation probably was more accidental than not – perhaps arising because the size of the organization had increased significantly – the situation did illustrate that the previously understood structure of CPSP was breaking down.  


    From the Editor:  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 PR's search engine 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 here.

    The limits of the Pastoral Report's publishing platform does not allow for accurate formatting of his scholarly and yet poetic manuscript. You can download is a PDF version of From Emotions and Bodily Changes …  by clicking HERE.


  • 01 Mar 2016 9:36 PM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

    Photo:  Columbine Memorial Website

    Sue Klebold, mother of 17-year-old Dylan, who killed others and himself in April 1999 at Columbine High School, said that her love fell short of stemming his depression. Dylan, she said, was unforgiving of himself when he failed at anything, "and his humiliation sometimes turned to anger." A review of her book, "A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy," appeared on Valentine's Day in The Denver Post, along with a recap of an interview the week before on 20/20 and with mixed reaction by victims and families. 

    Living so close to Columbine, and during this season of Lent, I'm moved by her reflections. As Chaplains we witness in our work the severe effects of depression, including anger and feeling unloved. Mrs. Klebold "simply -- and drastically and lethally -- underestimated the depth and severity of his pain and everything he was capable of doing to make it stop." He did not learn violence in their home, and her fault was not amorality or indifference, but ignorance. "I wish I had listened more instead of lecturing; I wish I had sat in silence with him instead of filling the void with my own words and thoughts," she writes. "I wish I had acknowledged his feelings instead of trying to talk him out of them." 

    I'm moved by this story as we are in a season of reflection on God's love for us. That love surpasses our understanding and anything we can show others. What we can do is to use silent listening to show our love.

    Domenic A. Fuccillo is a retired Clinical Chaplain who lives in Littleton, Colorado.

  • 12 Feb 2016 8:03 AM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

    There are moments in life, call them moments of insight, when an encounter, a conversation, or even a word can take hold of you and begin to shape and guide your life's journey in an unanticipated and new direction.  Sometimes, it is an encounter with another person that begins to catapult your life in ways unexpected and previously unimagined.  Twenty-two years ago, I met such a person and unbeknownst to him, he became a mentor to me in the field of pastoral care and clinical pastoral education.

    It was a most unusual of pairing because he is a white man 28-years my senior,  who spoke with a mild southern-inclined drawl, and I am a Latino, born and raised in the great metropolis of New York City. To be sure, my graduate education taught me that a mentor is not assigned, mentoring is a matter of trust, a mentor is chosen.  But why choose this man of such disparate origins? 

    I recall the words that began to give shape to the moment that it happened. It was a clinical setting, there were over 12 seminarians in an intensive summer unit of CPE at a prestigious medical center in NYC, reviewing a clinical case of a chaplain intern and the clinical pastoral education supervisor broke the silence of the group and spoke only three words: he said, “What is commanded?” It was as if the question itself came from another time, another century.  The very question “What is commanded?” captured my attention to ask additional questions about who is doing the commanding, and the authority of the command itself.  Was I doing the commanding, was the circumstance doing the commanding, were the teachings of my faith doing the commanding? It was as if I were grasping for terra incognita  and so I kept these things in my heart to ponder.

    As I began to engage this new mentor, I discovered that when he spoke of what is commanded, he was invested in Paul Tillich's theology of justice; what he meant was, “What does Justice command of you to do?” Never did the mentor say what it was that I should do.  No, instead that had to come from me.

    It is true that Paul Tillich's notion of justice is rooted in Jesus Christ`s teaching of loving one`s neighbor as oneself, as the fulfillment of the classic decalogues of the Hebrews passed down from Moses.  Yet, recalling that Tillich was a friend and contemporary to Diedrich Bonhoeffer during the injustices and inhumane mass extermination of human beings throughout Europe by the Third Reich, lends greater significance to Tillich's theology of love by justice. To wrap my head around the mentor's question, I drew the connection that Tillich's notion of love required a dynamic response to love.  A dynamic and contextualized response to love becomes the very thing called justice. Ergo, actionable love is justice.  When justice is commanded, love is contextualized, concretized and applied to the circumstances requiring our action. It requires our actionable presence and not cowardice retreat.   Occasionally I heard the mentor whisper, “Don't be a coward.”

    Now this becomes all the more pointed and unexpected as I engaged an intensive summer unit of CPE among a group  of seminarians thinking they were participating in another seminary course to meet a requirement for graduation. As we presented case studies of our work with patients and staff, it became apparent that this was not a seminary course and the supervisor was not like any professor we had ever encountered in the classroom.  Most of the seminarians resisted the feedback received from the supervisor and their peers, believing it was arbitrary and capricious. I was no exception. But when I heard the question: "What is commanded?" it was as if a light was turned on.  I began to listen more intently, not so much only  to what was being said, but also to what remained unspoken. The question: “What is commanded?” had prompted in me a greater degree to seek to put my faith to action—actionable love with the patient and the strangers all around me. The question placed me square in the middle of the very integrity of my obedience and authenticity as a person of faith. 

    So what of this white male mentor that to some appeared seemingly arbitrary and capricious, whose wealth of clinical experience, pastoral training, and desire to pass onto a new generation small gems of theological wisdom in the form of actionable love?  I am sincerely thankful to him for his indomitable courage to dare to think that he can make a difference.  He made of me a believer that even in the midst of the sick and the dying, one person can make a transformative difference in the life of another.  His supervision pointed the way to a different kind of learning  by challenging his trainees to honestly engage and to first discover the truth about who they are as human beings, to give voice to the idiosyncratic-self; then with honesty and truth to engage and relate with the other, the stranger, the patient, the sojourner with the wisdom that is borne from the transformative experience of human life itself.

    The mentor remains among us as a respected, esteemed, indomitable sentinel of change and transformation.  Certainly, he has not been everyone’s favorite person. He does have his critics for better or for worse.  I don't want to sugarcoat that his sprachgefühl-ness has always been welcomed by the masses. To the contrary,  his prolific pen has been characterized by some as irreverent and even anathema. Yet, who among us has had the support and adulation of all those we encounter on the journey? Life teaches that such is the tempering experience we are all destined to walk from the womb to the tomb. Dare I use the metaphor: We all carry our own crosses.

    There is much about which the mentor and I fundamentally will disagree regarding our respective creeds and traditions. And there is also much we agree on about conviction of conscience, human decency, and justice.   Retrospectively, I  think that I have become a more caring  and humane man for having had him as a mentor earlier in my career.  I sensed a yearning at this time in my life to put these few thoughts to words and I want to extend my appreciation to a supervisor of many, Raymond Lawrence, a supervisor of supervisors, a mentor, and a friend. Thank you Raymond. 



     Reverend Dr. Belen Gonzale y Perez

  • 25 Jan 2016 1:24 AM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

    “Anton T. Boisen: A Vision for All Ages”
    Glenn H. Asquith, Jr., PhD.
    CPSP Plenary, Chicago, Illinois
    CPSP March 15, 2015 

    I want to express my sincere thanks to all of you in CPSP for inviting me to give this address and to receive the 14th annual Helen Flanders Dunbar award.  I am honored to be in the company of the other esteemed recipients of this award, including Robert Powell, Allison Stokes, Bob Dykstra, Myron Madden, and Harold Ellens.  Edward Thornton (2008) taught me at Crozer Theological Seminary and then, when Wayne Oates retired, Edward arrived at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary just in time to supervise my doctoral dissertation on Boisen.   Rodney Hunter (2009) is my “blood brother” from our work on the original Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling during 1987-88 (Hunter, 1990).  Orlo Strunk (2011) was editor of the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling while I was on the editorial committee and, more importantly, was the impetus and the producer of my book on Anton Boisen that was originally published by Journal of Pastoral Care Publications in 1992 that all of you have been given at this meeting (Asquith, 1992).  Orlo really pushed to make this a quality publication, including the wonderful drawing of trailing arbutus on the front cover and the historic picture of Boisen on the front page.

    I am aware that this is a dinner meeting and that all of you are settled in after a big meal, which means that I probably need to be funny in order to keep you awake.  Is there anything funny about Anton T. Boisen?  I believe so.  When I was in graduate school, my mentor Wayne Oates introduced us to Boisen’s foundational work in pastoral theology and Clinical Pastoral Education.  We began speaking the language of Boisen.  Whenever we encountered someone who was obviously mentally ill, some brilliant diagnostician in our midst would inevitably say, “Wow, THERE is a real Living Human Document!”  

    But aren’t we ALL Living Human Documents?  This was part of Boisen’s theological and psychological genius.  We are all children of God, we are all sacred texts, and therefore we are allworthy of study and care by religiously and theologically trained professionals as well as by physicians.

    As was mentioned in the publicity, I have been researching and writing about Boisen for about 40 years.  I was indeed introduced to him by my main mentor, Wayne E. Oates, during my Ph.D. study at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Oates knew Boisen personally, he had visited him at Elgin State Hospital, and he respected Boisen’s message and approach.  Oates’ message was Boisen’s message: that the “long memory” of Biblical and theological understanding must never be left out of our care of individuals.  This made a lot of sense to me.  I began my journey in Clinical Pastoral Education in 1970, and I remember being bothered by an emphasis on psychology at the expense of theology.  We would give theology an obligatory nod as we discussed cases, but then we would quickly turn to psychology to answer the question of “what’s really going on.”

    When I started reading Boisen, a very brilliant light went on when I got to the part about “living human documents.”  His insights about how the study of theology is completed by a study of real human experience tapped right into my own experience in theological education.  My Introduction to Theology course at Crozer Theological Seminary took a very classical, systematic approach to teaching theology.  Through the course of the semester we were assigned to write 5 pages on the Doctrine of God, followed by 5 pages on Christology, followed by 5 pages on the Holy Spirit, etc.  How does a 22-year-old person write 5 pages on the Doctrine of God ex nihilo?  For this 22-year-old, that was basically impossible!  The well was dry!  In spite of reading classical theology, which at that point made little sense to me, I realized that I still had nothing real—from the heart—to say about the doctrine of God.  It was agonizing!  I’d sit up all night, and by dawn I’d manage to squeeze out 3 pages, and get a “C!”

    I muddled through my entire M.Div. degree with a severe case of theology phobia.  I could never quite get it.  Then I got to graduate school with a mentor who strongly believed in living human documents.  He never wanted us to be without a clinical assignment.  We called Oates the “Godfather” because he gave us offers for clinical assignments that we couldn’t refuse.  My first one was as chaplain at Woodsbend State Boys’ Camp in eastern Kentucky.  Three weeks after I got there, a 17 year-old boy died almost instantly after slamming his head on a paved parking lot during a scuffle with other residents of the camp.  For the next 8 months I sat with grieving parents and family, shell-shocked adolescents who didn’t know that 17 year-old people could die, and grieving and anxious staff who had to rebuild the reputation of this premier treatment facility for troubled boys.  This 22 year-old man who was now 26 suddenly learned more about death and its meaning than I ever really wanted to learn, from the multiple living human documents who had to cope with it.  I even wrote a Master’s thesis on it, and grief as my first clinical specialty was born.

    But then, I went from being a “delinquent” chaplain to an “elderly” chaplain at Woodhaven Medical Services south of Louisville.  The living human documents there were scary, especially the restrained, demented, and very sick men who looked like me 50 years later.  As Henri Nouwen said, I had to befriend the “aging stranger within me” so that I could relax and listen to their stories (Nouwen, 1976).  Then, I began spending a lot of time with Bert.  When I first came to Woodhaven, I thought Bert was a staff member; I was surprised to learn later that he was actually a resident who volunteered to deliver the mail daily to the other residents.  As he made his rounds, he was a cheering, upbeat presence for all that he met.  I got to know and appreciate him as he assisted me with chapel services, and he always had a joke to tell.  But after about 2 years, Bert became very disabled and too sick to deliver the mail.  I went to visit him and learned that he had cancer of the bone marrow, a devastating disease that left this once-able and cheerful man languishing in severe pain.  During our visit, he looked at me with an anguished face and asked, “Preacher, why do I have to suffer like this?”

    Bert’s question rattled me to the core.  What did I believe?  Why DO people have to suffer?  I was taken back to square one of my faith.  I retreated to the sanctuary of my office and began pouring over my Bible for something that could make sense out of that question.  In the midst of my desperate quest, I was led to Romans 8:38-39:   “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  I ran back to Bert’s room, read him this passage, and expressed my own faith as a possible source of hope for him.  I’m not sure exactly how much it helped him, but I do know one thing:  Listening carefully to his narrative and having to deal with it in my heart and soul cured me of theology phobia!  My particular pathway to full theological understanding was through a reading of the living human documents of real human experience.  The books helped; the books gave me an important framework for thought and theological reflection.  But, just as Boisen had taught me, my theology was incomplete until I completed it with living human experience.  NOW I could think theologically about my ministry encounters.  NOW I could see human suffering and crisis through the lens of faith and spiritual understanding as well as through the lens of behavioral science.  NOW, I was a pastoral counselor and not “just” a counselor.

    After Boisen had redeemed my ministry and cured my phobias, I had to know more.  I had to know what his method was.  I had to know what he did with living human documents, and I had to know what theology did those human documents complete in him?  Thus began the odyssey of my in-depth journey into the life and work of Anton T. Boisen almost exactly 40 years ago, when I made my first trip to the Boisen archives right here in Chicago at Chicago Theological Seminary.

    So what did I learn in 40 years?  There are 3 areas that I want to share with you that I think are good examples of this AGELESS VISION of Anton T. Boisen—ways in which his thought and work remains—and will remain—vital and relevant to our ongoing work as pastors, pastoral psychotherapists, and chaplains.  As I read through the covenant of CPSP, I understand all the more fully why Anton Boisen is so important to your organization.  The principles and aspects of his vision are very consistent with your covenant “to address one another and to be addressed by one another in a profound theological sense.”  Boisen always demanded that we remain aware of the theological dimension, and that we always use the “Queen of the Sciences” in our pastoral work.  That is why he became my hero and I became his advocate.

    The sacredness of individual texts and narratives

    The first aspect of Boisen’s ageless vision is the sacredness of individual texts and narratives.  Charles Gerkin really helped to define the depth of this principle in his 1984 book, The Living HumanDocument, in which he applied the methods of Biblical hermeneutics to pastoral care and counseling (Gerkin, 1984).  The hermeneutical method of reading a Biblical text begins with the assumption that the text is sacred—it contains a truth that is important to human experience.  We have to read that text with respect—respect for who the author(s) were, who the audience was, and what was the cultural, historical, and linguistic context in which the text was written.  As Robert Powell (1975) pointed out, this was exactly the primary premise behind Boisen’s patient, respectful reading of the living human document—the narrative—the text—of psychiatric patients.  He did not begin with global assumptions, he began with a listening ear, as he made a collegial and cooperative inquiry into the story of that particular person.  In contemporary practice, Pamela Cooper-White (2004) calls this  “intersubjectivity”—a context in which I do not approach you as a superior, wise person who knows the answer to all of your problems, but as a fellow human being who, while listening with a trained ear to your story, might reflect it back to you in a way that helps you make sense out of that story and, by the way, might help ME make some more sense out of my own story.  That even becomes part of my reflection to you, obviously within therapeutic limits and boundaries.

    This is what Boisen did.  Psychologist Paul Pruyser observed that nearly all of Boisen’s work was “intensely autobiographical” (Pruyser, 1967).  Yes, indeed it was.  In talking to other patients, Boisen was indeed on a quest to make sense out of his own experience, to validate the meaning of the suffering that he went through in the midst of psychosis, self-flagellation and enormous internal conflict.  Because of that autobiographical dimension, Boisen was discounted for years by theologians and professionals, including his former colleague Dr. Richard Cabot, who basically viewed Boisen as a crazy man running to other crazy people and looking for validation.

    As you might guess, I completely disagree with that assessment.  There is a difference between being autobiographical and being narcissistic.  Who among us is not in the work we’re in because of a passion that developed out of our own life experience?  At a workshop at a professional meeting, I became very interested in a study showing that 80% of social workers in one particular state came from dysfunctional families. We all have some autobiographical element to what we do, or we wouldn’t keep doing it for very long.  Yes, Boisen’s work was autobiographical, but it was not narcissistic.  He was not making it all about him.  He wanted to bring people hope and courage.  He was sensitive to how mentally ill people responded to certain Biblical passages and certain phrases in hymns and prayers, so he published four editions of a hymnal that would be appropriate for care of psychiatric patients (Boisen (Ed.), 1950).  If Boisen were narcissistic, would he and his students spend hours typing up 8-10 single spaced pages of details of a person’s life from an interdisciplinary perspective?  He did this to help them tell their narrative so that both he and the patient could find meaning in it.

    This revolutionary method and vision, developed in the context of 1920’s medicine and psychiatric care, laid the groundwork for what we now know as contemporary narrative theology and narrative psychology.  The tenets of these fields closely reflect Boisen’s method and vision.  Narrative therapists propose that people make sense of their lives through a narrative form—through telling the story of their living human experience.  Dr. Christie Neuger notes that

    “Narrative therapists believe that the counselees who consult them are the experts on their own lives and values. The counselor does not represent expert knowledge about health or normalcy. Rather, the counselor brings a certain level of expertise in how to generate and structure therapeutic conversation in such a way that deconstruction of problem stories and re-authoring of alternative stories can occur.” (Neuger, 2010).

    It is interesting that contemporary Narrative Therapy can be regarded as growing out of the postmodern movement, although its co-founders, Michael White and David Epston, prefer to call it post-structuralist.  Neuger makes the following, very helpful observation about these movements in relationship to psychotherapy:

    Postmodernism, especially as it is relevant to psychotherapy, questions the existence of grand narratives or universal explanations and, instead, values the particular, the local, and the importance of difference.  Post- structuralism does not assume that there are deep structures or fixed truths that explain “human nature,” “personality,” or human difficulties. Therefore, therapists that operate out of a poststructuralist perspective tend to reject pathologizing or diagnostic approaches to people’s problems and, instead, rely on counselees’ explanations for and meanings of the problems they bring to counseling.  (Neuger, 2010)

    This indeed sounds like Anton T. Boisen in the 21st century.  Nearly 90 years ago, Boisen was proposing a postmodern perspective on psychotherapy before we even heard the term “postmodern!”  The reason he proposed this, of course, was because he knew he was a square peg in the round hole of psychiatric care of the 1920’s.  Nobody was listening to him or to HIS particular living human experience.  In the 1920’s, being too religious was regarded as a symptom of mental illness, so anyone who came into the hospital with a Bible or other holy book had it taken from them, and any discussion of religious issues or concerns was completely discouraged.  In very non-holistic, non-contextual fashion, it did not matter in this setting that a person like Boisen, who had a theological degree and was an ordained clergy person, would naturally think, feel, and reason in religious terms and language.  That aspect of Boisen’s selfhood that was normal was regarded as abnormal in the psychiatric care of that era.  He was a “man out of order,” a “mentally ill person” who was being viewed from “the top down” by a psychiatric establishment that needed to view him according to their categories (Sujai, 2010).  Boisen was demanding that, instead of being “pathologized,” people would listen to HIS meaning from HIS context.  That was why he so diligently and quite compulsively wrote very detailed case studies of Oscar O., Harrison Wells, and dozens of others that filled his filing cabinets and got copiously distributed to his students.  Listen to their stories, and as we listen to their stories, we help them arrive at their meaning.  While this sounds like narrative therapy, it is also a profoundly PASTORAL approach to pastoral psychotherapy, because it honors the Imago Dei, the person whom God created.

    When I began teaching at Moravian Theological Seminary, I became steeped in the German pietistic tradition that was behind much of Moravian belief and practice.  I soon discovered that the early Moravians were very interested in the power of memoir— life story—especially when conducting funerals.  When someone died, their written spiritual journey was completed by a family member or the pastor and read as the main message at the funeral service.  The Moravians believed that hearing the full journey of a person’s life with God would be instructive to the rest of the community and help them in their spiritual journey.  It was an effective way of both honoring and remembering the deceased while also building up the community with the narrative of their departed brother or sister’s  living human document.

    This narrative, or memoir, was called a lebenslauf, a German word literally meaning “life path.”  The intended meaning of the word lebenslauf is that the path is like a stream of water flowing down a mountain.  That stream never gets to flow in a straight, uninterrupted line.  It has to go around barriers that it encounters—rock formations, trees, or berms.  It might also occasionally go into a free fall off of a cliff, only to land at the next level and keep flowing.  It’s the path of life and how we cope with whatever we encounter—but the key to it is the question of how did we or did we not encounter the presence of God in the midst of all of these twists and turns.  For the Moravians, that testimony, that living human document,  made someone’s spiritual life instructive for others. (Asquith, 1995)

    Early in my time at Moravian, I picked up on this concept of lebenslauf and used it as a method in the teaching of pastoral theology.  Boisen, of course, had a lot to do with that; I was always fascinated by living human documents, and here was a religious tradition that revered them!  I developed my own form for the telling of a lebenslauf, based on an approach to religious history developed by Wayne Oates.  I asked students to give an account of the meaning of their birth, injunctions received from family or significant others, losses and significant events, religious experiences, medical and cultural history, and key relationships, along with their understanding of how God was present in these various aspects.  

    I used this approach in two basic required courses.  The first was in the introductory course “Learning as Ministry,” a first-semester requirement for all incoming students.  As they began their journey of seminary education, I wanted them to become more conscious—more aware—of what brought  them to seminary.  How did God work in their lives up to this point?  My assumption, again based on Boisen, was that the starting point in understanding theology was in being able to name our own theology—that is, how do we understand God in our particular experience?  Our view of God is always seen through the filter of our own experience, so what are the nature and dimensions of that filter?  Students found that realization quite enlightening, especially as their peers responded and reflected on their story.

    The second place where I used lebenslauf was in the Pastoral Care and Counseling course, where the student’s own story was viewed alongside the student’s case presentations.  I wanted to assist them not only with their theological reflection on the case, but also with their awareness of the parallel process that might exist between their story and the story of the parishioner or counselee.  With feedback from their peers and supervisor, this exercise gave students a greater awareness of the pastoral theological perspective from which they do their work and, more importantly, insight into ways that they might be projecting their story onto the client’s story (Asquith, 2000).

    Modern medical care could learn much from Boisen’s approach to persons as a sacred text.  In the last six years I have accompanied my wife to multiple physicians as her illnesses became more complex and more debilitating.  We became more and more frustrated as we encountered physicians who would not listen to Connie as the patient.  We learned that many physicians, when encountered with something they don’t understand or that they don’t want to deal with, have a very standard answer:  “It’s all in your head—go see a psychiatrist.”  Some of them outright lied on their reports of tests.   We finally figured out a primary source of our frustration:  The major hospital in our area had dealt with a lawsuit from someone claiming to have Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (Connie’s illness—also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy), and their response to that lawsuit was to declare—as a teaching hospital, mind you—that that diagnosis DOES NOT EXIST.  After enough people, sometimes abusively, tell you that you’re crazy, you start to believe it!  But this is obviously a complete dismissal of the sacred text—it’s like saying that YOU don’t exist.  It is the exact opposite of understanding your patient as Imago Dei.  And, it is the exact opposite of being a healer; Boisen would have a lot to say about that.  We did finally find some real healers in Philadelphia who acknowledged that Connie and her illness DO exist and that she was NOT crazy.  Thanks be to God!  It’s because of those healers that she is able to be here tonight.

    Theological reflection in individual and corporate experience

    The second, eternally enduring aspect of Boisen’s vision is his call for theological reflection in both individual AND corporate experience.  This was a distinct part of Boisen’s genius that many in our field initially overlooked.  Yes, Boisen focused on individual experience as we just discussed.  But he ALSO devoted nearly as much energy to theological reflection on the religious experience of social groups.  He declared this in 1936 in The Exploration of the Inner World.  He said, “I have sought not to begin with the ready-made formulations contained in books but with the living human documents and with actual social conditions in all their complexity.”  (Boisen, 1971, 185)  Just as he wanted to know how religion functioned in the healing of individuals, so also he applied his same method to the study of how religion functioned for social groups.  He studied the history and function of religion in the county in which he grew up in Bloomington, Indiana.  For Arthur Holt he studied religion in the Roxbury section of Boston.  He studied the religion of Pentecostal groups, known then as “holy rollers.”  He published these and other group studies in his 1945 book Religion in Crisis and Custom.  In 1946 he published Problems in Religion and Life, which he described as “a manual for pastors with outlines for the co-operative study of personal experience in social situations.”  (Boisen, 1946, 3)

    My point is, just as pastoral and medical care could be redeemed by the view of patients, parishioners, and clients as Imago Dei, we still live in an age that is desperately in need of serious theological reflection on our social conditions.  In 2010, pastoral theologian Ryan LaMothe eloquently stated that there is a serious “hermeneutical crisis” in all aspects of society—business, government, religious leadership—and we are still desperately in need of religious leaders and organizations that can serve as interpretive guides, and thus as agents of hope, in these hermeneutical crises (LaMothe, 2010).  Every day as we listen to world news, we are reminded again that we still don’t know how to solve ethnic, racial, and gender violence; we see business and personal irresponsibility; we see corrupt and deceitful governments and dictatorships; there is addiction to personal and political power that destroys governments, academic institutions, and churches; there is marginalization of the poor; and any other of numerous sins of humanity against humanity.  Even the corporate models of institutional churches and denominations could also be redeemed by serious reflection on each person in the church system as Imago Dei.  We are religious leaders, and many of us educate religious leaders.  We continue to address the whole person and the whole society in every way that we can.  To that end, I believe we can still learn from Boisen’s call for theological reflection in both individual and corporate experience, so that we can stop abusing and killing one another and start revering each other as Imago Dei.  I am VERY happy that CPSP is committed to that goal, because God knows that we could all use a little more theological reflection!

    Method is Content

    Finally, I just want to lift up an ongoing theological challenge that is left for us by the work of Anton T. Boisen—the idea that our theological method IN ITSELF provides us with theological content.  As I mentioned earlier in this address, I became impassioned in 1974, in the course of my doctoral study, with the desire to know more about the results of Boisen’s theological inquiry.  How did he take these case studies, the living human documents of individual and social experience, and translate them into a theology that informed his pastoral work?  At that point I agreed with the assertion of Seward Hiltner that pastoral theology was the theological reflections of the pastor while engaged in the practice of ministry.  But I also wanted to say that pastoral theology was the theology and understanding of God that informs the method and practice of ministry. So what was that theology for Boisen?  Surely he had to have some set of systematic beliefs that guided him in his work, which came from his study of experience.  This was the final “holy grail” that would cure the last piece of my theology phobia.  If I could show and prove that a systematic theology came out of experience, I would be validating the assertion of John Wesley and other reformers that experience is indeed the fourth source of theological content.  That assertion is rejected, of course, by many classical theologians who believe that sola scriptura is the only valid source of belief.  It is why pastoral and practical theology is still a second-class citizen in the curricula of some theological schools.

    So, with the help of a systematic theologian at my school who became my first dissertation advisor, I proposed to the faculty that I wanted to study “the clinical method of theological inquiry of Anton T. Boisen.”  (Asquith, 1976)  One of my objectives of that study was to show the theology that resulted from that inquiry.  I came up here to Chicago and hung out at the archives of the Alice Batchelder room for three weeks.  I grabbed and copied everything theological that I could lay my hands on—lecture notes, letters, unpublished and published papers—and, of course, multiple case studies.  I looked through all of Boisen’s published writings, and I found especially helpful the short theological definitions that he included in The Exploration of the Inner World.  But wait!  After all of this work, I saw no systematic theology!  In some cases, the theology that both informed and resulted from his work sounded quite evangelical, such as his beliefs about sin and salvation.  But then his view of God as the “fellowship of the best” sounded like a product of the liberal theology of his alma mater, Union Theological Seminary.  No systematics here!  So what is it?  I finally threw my hands up and called it “dynamic experientialism.”  For Boisen, that was a theology.  It was the theological understanding that grew out of a study of persons and groups and, as such, it was changeable based on the living human documents that informed it.  It was indeed an empirical theology, but you could also liken its method to that of Liberation/Feminist/Womanist Theology, which is based on the lived experience of particular groups; you could compare it to process theology, which holds that God and the nature of God evolve in interaction with humanity and society; and you can certainly find its method in narrative theology as mentioned earlier.

    So, is Boisen’s theology and, by inheritance, pastoral theology, method or content?  For me, the answer is YES.  One part of Boisen’s legacy is that method IS content.  Method gives us an understanding of how faith works for real people and real social groups.  And therefore, we can take that theology and apply it to our practice.  It gives us an answer to the Berts of the world that are desperate to know if God still loves them in the midst of personal tragedy.  It gives us an ability to respect the Biblical and theological beliefs that sustain people through the twists and turns of their life, regardless of whether we agree with those beliefs.  It gives us a framework to care for each person we meet as imago dei.  In my view, that idea, that method, and that content is both timeless and priceless—it is the key to effective ministry, and it is the gift of a man who battled many demons in this life and yet triumphed with a vision for all ages.


    Anton T. Boisen was the victim of the very inadequate medical and psychiatric care of his day.  He was also the victim of large church structures, into which he never seemed to fit.  It is no wonder, then, that he approached psychiatric patients with a sincere desire to carefully read their living human document and assist them to be all that they could be—and to provide them with the respect and care that he himself desperately needed but had not received.   

    I found it to be very theologically revealing to learn that the Chinese write the concept of “crisis” with two characters, one of which represents “danger” and the other of which means “opportunity.”  Boisen’s personal crisis with severe mental illness could have defeated him and resulted in his being warehoused and locked away for the rest of his life—that was the “danger” in it.  But, with the help of a caring community, Boisen was able to turn that severe personal crisis into an opportunity—an opportunity to provide real, spiritually-based help to people in crisis, and an opportunity to guide highly skilled theological students in reading the living human documents of life experience, so that pastors, chaplains, and pastoral counselors are not just rote clinicians but the “wounded healers” that Henri Nouwen spoke of in his classic book by that title (Nouwen, 1972).  A wounded healer is a listener, someone who is willing to listen fully to the details of someone’s pain, examine the nature of individual “soul injury,” (Grassman, 2012) and become a companion in the difficult journey to wholeness.  In my own life, and with the “soul injuries” that I have had to face over the years, Boisen became my hero, and I became his advocate.  I am very grateful to all of you in CPSP that you have given me this chance to speak for him, and to celebrate the timeless legacy that he has left for all of us who labor in clinical and pastoral work.  



    Asquith, G.H. (1976).  The clinical method of theological inquiry of Anton T. Boisen (Doctoral dissertation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY)

    Asquith, G.H. (1995).  The lebenslauf as a source of theological understanding.  Transatlantic Moravian Dialogue-Correspondence (TMDK) 7, 53-62.

    Asquith, G.H. (2000).  Symposium: Teaching pastoral theology as part of the M.Div. curriculum.   The Journal of Pastoral Theology 10:1, 28-32.

    Asquith, G. H. (Ed.). (1992).  Vision from a little known country: A Boisen reader. Decatur, GA:  Journal of Pastoral Care Publications, Inc.

    Boisen, A.T. (1971).  The exploration of the inner world.  Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

    Boisen, A.T. (Ed.). (1950)  Hymns of Hope and Courage. 4th rev. & enl. ed.  Chicago, IL: Chicago Theological Seminary.

    Boisen, A.T.  (1946).  Problems in religion and life.  Nashville, TN: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press.

    Boisen, A.T. (1955).  Religion in crisis and custom.  New York, NY: Harper and Brothers.

    Cooper-White, P. (2004).  Shared wisdom.  Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

    Gerkin, C. V. (1984). The living human document: Re-visioning pastoral counseling in a hermeneutical mode.  Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

    Grassman, D.L. (2012). The hero within: Redeeming the destiny we were born to fulfill.  St Petersburg, FL: Vandamere Press.

    Hunter, R.J. (Ed.) (1990).  Dictionary of pastoral care and counseling.  Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

    LaMothe, R. (2010)  Reflections on pastoral leadership in the face of cultural-communal “ruin.”  The Journal of Pastoral Theology 20:1, 1-21.

    Neuger, C.C. (2010).  Narrative therapy.  In Asquith, G. H. (Ed.), The concise dictionary of pastoral care and counseling (pp. 17-20). Nashville, TN:  Abingdon Press.

    Nouwen, H.J.M. & Gaffney, W.J. (1976).  Aging: The fulfillment of life.  New York, NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell.

    Nouwen, H.J.M. (1972)  The wounded healer: Ministry in contemporary society.  New York, NY: Doubleday.

    Powell, R.C. (1975).  CPE: Fifty years of learning through supervised encounter with living human documents.  New York, NY:  Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc.

    Pruyser, P.W. (1967).  Anton T. Boisen and the psychology of religion.  The Journal of Pastoral Care21:4, 209-219.

    Sujai, A. (2010). A Sufi teaching on reshaping the conditioned mind through mindfulness awareness: A key resource for paying attention to racial differences in pastoral care. Plenary presentation to the annual study conference of the Society for Pastoral Theology, June 17-19.


    Glenn H. Asquith, Jr., PhD.


  • 25 Jan 2016 12:28 AM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

    “Amid the Complex Entanglements of Actual Life”:
    How Are Clinical Pastoral Chaplains to Gain Perspective?1

    I seek not
         the ready-made formulations contained in books. 

    I seek to make
         empirical studies – of 
              “living human documents” – particularly those who 
                   are breaking or 
                        have broken – in the midst of 
                             moral crisis – the 
                             inner day of judgment.

    I seek 
         the basis of spiritual healing in understanding the
              “living human documents” and their
              actual social conditions – in
                       all their complexity and in
                       all their elusiveness – respecting the
              tested insights of the wise and noble – of 
                       the past as well as of
                       the present.2


         We lack perspective … [in] our knowledge... and
         [we] are confused in our concepts. [Yet]
         we know more than we know we know.3 

    So, how are clinical pastoral chaplains to gain perspective? Both [Helen] Flanders Dunbar(1902-1959) and Anton Theophilus Boisen (1876-1965) gave similar answers – which is no great surprise since they worked as colleagues for a decade – and remained friends until the end. They said chaplains must study closely, intensely large numbers of people in both their social as well as in their psychological contexts

    Dunbar defined religion as “a technique ... for the handling of emotional life, particularly those emotions involved in the relation[ship] of the individual to the group” – as well as those emotions involved in the “evaluation of the ideal and the real”.  She noted that chaplains “must work with” “bringing about alterations” in a man’s or woman’s “external world” of social involvement as well as with his or her “inner world of … emotions and … goals”. Dunbar viewed chaplains’ task as one of “guiding” those who are suffering, bewildered, and vulnerable “in their adjustment to their total environment, outer and inner …”.4

    Similarly, Boisen defined religion as those experiences that promote “identification with … fellowship” that is “universal and abiding” – as well as those experiences that promote “unification with the finest potentialities of the human race”.5As far back as 1905, in forestry school, he picked up the notions of social ecology – of the mutual developmental relationships between a transitioning forest and its growing trees – between an environment and its organisms– between a society and what its individuals were trying to become. Around 1924, in the social work department at Worcester (MA) State Hospital, he further came to appreciate studying “the entire person in his [or her] social setting”.6One of the most arresting conclusions of Boisen’s research was that “crisis experiences … tend to set in motion forces which have the capacity to transform the personal and social life”.7Like the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, Boisen’s focus was not just on training or on education but on transformation – clinical pastoral transformation – on both the personal and social levels. As Boisen pointed out, “The end of … all vital religious experience” is “the transformation of the personality” – in the context of a “quickened sense of fellowship”.8 

    Dunbar, as early as 1935, emphasized the public health aspect of clinical pastoral chaplaincy, noting that chaplains, like social workers, generally are welcomed into peoples’ homes – parts of their social contexts – “before illness has developed”.   That is, chaplains are able “to spot the first signs of incipient disease, physical or mental, before” these individuals have realized “even … the need of coming" for care.9 

    By 1936, in his second book, Boisen stated explicitly his focus on dealing “with the living human documents and with actual social conditions in all their complexity”. His third book, ten years later, specifically carried the subtitle, “the Co-operative Study of Personal Experience in Social Situations”.10

    This year’s Dunbar Awardee pointed out quite effectively, in a much quoted essay, that Boisen “had a two-fold objective for his case study method”.11 Boisen explicitly noted that he “sought to begin not with the ready-made formulations contained in books but with the living human documents and with actual social conditions in all their complexity”.12Let us repeat that yet again: “with the living human documents and with actual social conditions”. 

    As our awardee observed, many chaplaincy supervisors picked up on Boisen’s study of individuals’ internal experiences but missed his study of their important social external experiences.13Perhaps part of the problem has been that the notion of studying “the living human documents” – actually listening to those who were suffering, bewildered, or vulnerable – instead of just preaching at them – was so extraordinary that chaplaincy supervisors missed the second part of Boisen and Dunbar’s message, that attention must be paid to the social situation of those who are suffering, bewildered, and vulnerable.

    Perhaps another part of the problem has been that Boisen’s The Exploration of the Inner World …– including both its 1936 and 1952 editions – was read by far more pastors than hisReligion in Crisis and Custom …, published in 1955 – which was clearly subtitled, “A Sociological and Psychological Study”. I strongly urge you to read both books – both of which will be coming out in new editions. Both books concern the relationships between mental disorder and religious experience – as does Boisen’s autobiography,Out of the Depths …– which also will be coming out in a new edition.14

    Today’s Dunbar Awardee noted that  
         “unless … [a] pastor has done some serious reflection on 
         the meaning of his or her own experience” 
         “it is impossible for a pastor to meet fully 
         human beings at the point of their growth and pain”.15 

    Our awardee also emphasized that the 
         “in-depth case study method, 
         with attention to theological issues” 

    – a point upon which both Boisen and Dunbar insisted – 
         “has the potential of increasing 
         the pastor’s skill in relation to others”.16

    What starts as a personal experience leads to an improved social experience. Boisen indeed noted this in most of his writings – and as did Dunbar in at least one of hers. Rather than focus on just training or education per se, The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, now 25 years old, dedicates itself to “searching for the meaning of human experience and human relationships” – the meaning of personal and social experience.17

    Normally this introduction to the Dunbar Awardee focuses, understandably, on Dunbar. I will note that, as a child, she lived in Hyde Park, Chicago – at what became 5210 Harper Avenue and at 5109 Kimbark Avenue – only blocks away from where Boisen taught, at Chicago Theological Seminary. Today, for the Chicago Boisen Conference, however, it seems quite reasonable to yield the focus to Boisen. 

    Thus, let me begin pulling this introduction to a close by noting several more anniversaries. We meet today

    – on the 110th anniversary of Boisen’s first call to the ministry –
         followed by a collapse of faith –  
         followed by the entry instead of this instructor of French into a forestry school – anécole du bois.

    – on the 95th anniversary of Boisen’s consequential delusional 
         discovery that he had “broken an opening in the wall 
         which separated religion and medicine” – his first 
         encounter with “valid religious experience which was at 
         the same time madness of the most profound and unmistakable variety”.18

    – on the 90th anniversary of Boisen’s founding of professional 
         chaplaincy – which began at Worcester (MA) State Hospital and 
         eventually moved worldwide – as well as of Boisen’s first becoming 
         a “research associate” (1925>), then a lecturer on “practical theology” (1930>),
         then a lecturer on “pastoral psychology” (1935>1942) 
         at Chicago Theological Seminary.

    – on the 80thanniversary of Boisen’s classic comment to his psychiatrists, 
         “I started in despair and began to sing and then felt better ... . 
         When I began to sing I began to get some hold of myself ...”.19

    – on the 75th anniversary of the first “Standards for Chaplains”
         – that included specialized clinical pastoral training, functioning in a clearly clergical role, and close interaction with other professions.20

    – on the 70th anniversary of Boisen’s “Co-operative Inquiry in Religion”.21

     – on the 60th anniversary of Boisen’s Religion in Crisis and Custom:
         A Sociological and Psychological Study.

    – on the 55th anniversary of Boisen’s Out of the Depths: 
         An Autobiographical Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience.

    – on the 50th anniversary of Boisen’s having left this earthly abode.22


    So, how are clinical pastoral chaplains to gain perspective “amid the complex entanglements of actual life”? Our clinical pastoral ancestors suggested that chaplains must study closely, intensely large numbers of people in both their social as well as in their psychological contexts.

    Please join me in welcoming our 14th recipient of the Helen Flanders Dunbar Award for Significant Contributions to Clinical Pastoral Training – a chaplain who appreciated the social as well as the psychological aspects of Boisen’s work: the Rev. Dr. Glenn Hackney Asquith.23



         1. Anton T. Boisen. The Exploration of the Inner World: A Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience. Chicago: Willet, Clark & Co, 1936; reprinted, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1941, 1952, 1962, 1966; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971; p.191. A fresh edition of Anton Theophilus Boisen, The Exploration of the Inner World …is to be published, by Benicia, CA: VerbumIcon, with an introduction by Robert Charles Powell, a foreword by Raymond J. Lawrence, Jr., and an afterword by Pamela Cooper-White;;

         2. This is an amalgamated paraphrase of Boisen’s clinical approach as enunciated in his second book,The Exploration of the Inner World ..., pp.10, 185, 248-249, and in his last book,Out of the Depths: An Autobiographical Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960, p.187. A fresh edition of Anton Theophilus Boisen,Out of the Depths …is to be published, by Benicia, CA: VerbumIcon, with an introduction by Robert Charles Powell. This formulation first appeared in Robert Charles Powell, “Anton Theophilus Boisen (1876-1965), Clinician. I. Assessment: Persistent and Provocative “Cooperative 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”; two lectures delivered in Malibu, CA, on 8 & 9 October 2012 at the National Clinical Training Seminar – West, of The College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy, in Robert Charles Powell,Anton T. Boisen (1876-1965): Clinician: A Guide to Clinical Pastoral Assessment & Therapy, revised and updated essays, to be published.

         3. H. Flanders Dunbar,Emotions and Bodily Changes: A Survey of Literature on Psychosomatic Interrelationships: 1910-1933. New York, Columbia University Press, 1935, for the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation; “Introduction,” p.xi; appeared on the same page in revised editions published in 1938, 1946, and 1954.

         4. H. Flanders Dunbar, “Fifth Annual Report of The Council for the Clinical Training of Theological Students [September 21, 1934].” New York, Union Theological Seminary Library, pp.12,13,14; Italics mine.

         H. Flanders Dunbar, "Mental Hygiene and Religious Teaching," Mental Hygiene, 1935, 19:353-372, pp.361,362,369,370; Italics mine.

         5. Anton T. Boisen,Problems in Religion and Life: A Manual for Pastors: With Outlines for the Cooperative Study of Personal Experience in Social Situations.New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1946; p.100.The Exploration ..., p.305.

         6.Out of the Depths ..., pp.60,180,148; Italics mine.

         7. Anton T. Boisen.Religion in Crisis and Custom: A Sociological and Psychological Study. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955; reprinted, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973; pp.41-42; Italics mine. A fresh edition of Anton Theophilus Boisen,Religion in Crisis and Custom …is to be published, by Benicia, CA: VerbumIcon, with an introduction by Robert Charles Powell.

         8.Religion in Crisis ..., p.209; Italics mine.

         9. H. Flanders Dunbar, “The Clinical Training of Theological Students,” Religion in Life, 1935, 4:376-383, pp.380,379.

         10.The Exploration ..., p.185; the third book wasProblems in Religion and Life ....

         11. Glenn H. Asquith, Jr., “The Case Study Method of Anton T. Bosien,” Journal of Pastoral Care, June 1980, 34(2):84-94; p.86; reprinted in his edited volume,Vision from a Little Known Country: A Boisen Reader. Decatur, GA: Journal of Pastoral Care Publications, 1992, pp.199-211, p.202. I strongly recommend 93% of Dr. Asquith’s collection of articles by and about Boisen. My only caveat concerns the chapter by North and Clements regarding Boisen’s diagnosis. Theirs is a carefully considered study, but, as a psychiatrist myself, I do not believe their analysis supports their conclusion. As I have documented extensively elsewhere, including clinicians’ direct observations across the course of his life, I believe that Boisen’s self-diagnosis of “catatonic schizophrenia” was accurate;  see,Anton T. Boisen (1876-1965): “Breaking an Opening in the Wall between Religion and Medicine,” New York: Association of Mental Health Clergy, 1976 [revised & updated edition, to be published].

         12.The Exploration ..., p.185.

         13.Asquith, “The Case Study Method ...,” p.86; crediting Robert Charles Powell, "Questions from the Past (on the future of Clinical Pastoral Education)," speech given at the 1975 annual conference of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc., October 17, 1975, p.4; revised and updated version of “Questions ...” inClinical Pastoral Training. Education, and Transformation: The First Fifty Years of Learning through Supervised Encounter with “Living Human Documents” (1925-1975) & Some Thoughts about the Second Fifty Years(1975-2025), to be published.

         14. A number of items by and about Boisen are to be expected via Benicia, CA: VerbumIcon;; 

         15. Asquith,Visions ... , p.236; Italics mine.

         16. Asquith,Visions ... , p.236; Italics mine.

         17. Raymond Lawrence; “Psychology, Sexuality, and the Clinical Pastoral Movement”; pp.257-272, in J.Harold Ellens, ed.,Psychological Hermeneutics for Biblical Themes and Texts: A Festschrift in Honor of Wayne G. Rollins, London: T&T Clark, 2012; p.271.

         18.Out of the Depths ..., pp.91,196.

         19. “Staff Conference” “for diagnosis,” chart note, the Sheppard-Enoch Pratt Hospital, Towson, MD, November 11, 1935; re Boisen’s last psychiatric hospitalization.

         20. Seward Hiltner, “A Descriptive Appraisal, 1935-1980,” Theology Today. July 1980;37(2):210-20, p.213;

         21. Anton T. Boisen, “Cooperative Inquiry in Religion,” Relig. Ed.1945;40: 290-297.     

         22. Boisen died on October 1, 1965; half of his ashes were scattered over the cemetery at Elgin (IL) State Hospital and half were interred at Chicago Theological Seminary.

         23. The Helen Flanders Dunbar Award for Significant Contributions to Clinical Pastoral Training is notable in that the recipient (a) must be alive, (b) must not (yet) be a member of The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, and (c) must have made “significant contributions” to the field; CPSP did not want the award to be viewed as “patting its own on the back”. The past recipients have been myself (2002), G. Allison Stokes (2003), Myron C. Madden (2004), Robert C. Dykstra (2005), A. Patrick L. Prest (2006), Henry G. Heffernan (2007), Edward Everett Thornton (2008), Rodney J. Hunter (2009), John Edwin Harris (2010),Orlo C. Strunk, Jr. (2011), Kenneth Holt Pohly (2012), Donald E. Capps (2013).J. Harold Ellens (2014). Glenn H. Asquith, Jr. (2015); since 2007, an educational introduction of each has been published on the web; as of December 2015 these are available at

    Robert C. Powell, M.D., Ph.D., is the leading historian of the clinical pastoral movement. Many of his published writings are posted on the Pastoral Report. Readers can search the PR's archives 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 here