How to Function as a Knowledgeable Professional AND Retain One’s Soul By Robert C. Powell, MD, PhD

11 May 2007 10:47 PM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

[CPSP Plenary 2007 – introduction to Heffernan’s acceptance of HFD Award] 

“How to Function as a Knowledgeable Professional AND Retain One’s Soul”

-- Comments Honoring Chaplain Henry G. Heffernan – 

delivered at the Plenary in Raleigh, NC, on 29 March 2007

The “Helen Flanders Dunbar (1902-1959) Award for Significant Contributions to the Field of Clinical Pastoral Training” was established 5 years ago, on the 100th anniversary of Dunbar’s birth and on the 10th anniversary of the 1st Plenary of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Yes, while the initial CPSP organizing meeting occurred on St. Patrick’s Day, 1990 – over a cup of hot tea, I am sure – the 1st full “gathering of the community” occurred two years later, 15 years ago.1 Yesterday, at the beginning of this meeting, this collegial band of spiritual pilgrims, intent on growing together in covenanted, professional, and personal relationship, entered its 16th year.2

Two years ago, the Dunbar Award recipient left us with the curious quotation highlighted on this year’s plenary brochure. Referring to clinically trained, educated, transformed chaplains as “responsible scavengers,” the suggestion was that they have survived because they know how to search, salvage, purify, and transform the elements of the world into that which nurtures and sustains life.3 As a trained, educated, transformed historian who has been learning from chaplains for over 35 years, I hope to share some of these skills and to have become adept at searching through lost tradition, salvaging neglected gems, purifying muddled thoughts, and transforming all into that which might nurture and sustain.

Let me now note and weave together a number of significant anniversaries worth celebrating today.

1927 – Eighty years ago, Dunbar graduated from Union Theological Seminary, New York City, where William Adams Brown taught “systematic theology” – then viewed as discerning axioms of faith – and Harry Emerson Fosdick taught “practical theology” – then viewed as concerning the art of ministry. Brown’s The Life of Prayer in a World of Science came out a dozen years after Fosdick’s immensely popular The Meaning of Prayer, and the same year as Dunbar’s now lost [during a flood] Bachelor of Divinity thesis, “Methods of Training in the Devotional Life …”, the spiritual search of the soul for God.4

1927 – Again, eighty years ago, Dunbar completed her now often reprinted Doctor of Philosophy dissertation, “Symbolism in Medieval Thought ….” This arresting study of Dante’s Commedia elucidated, in many ways for the first time, the continuing power of “insight symbolism,” to recreate and expand meanings, to reach out “toward the supersensible,” to “give a glimpse of the beyond,” and to effect individuals’ “adjustment to the Infinite.”5 Certainly there was a theologian within her. While Presbyterians and Methodists had women as ministers by 1927, Dunbar’s resonance with the multi-layered medieval mass led her to align, doctrinally, with “high church” Episcopalians – which meant that ordination would not have been even an option for her until the mid-1970s, over a decade and a half after her death.

1927 – While Dunbar focused on the integrating aspects of religious ritual, her colleague, Anton Boisen, then twice her age, focused on the attempted integrating aspects of some types of mental illness. His “Evangelism in the Light of Psychiatry” is a classic. Guided by an interview outline Dunbar and he had prepared together several years earlier, Boisen tried to emulate “the careful, painstaking, systematic methods of the psychiatrist,” and thereby to elucidate some of “the spiritual laws with which theology deals.” [p.79] His close observations of the mentally ill, you may recall, suggested that emotional “conflict and disturbance are not in themselves evils, but may be attempts at a needed reorganization of the personality.” That is, disintegration sometimes had to precede further integration. Boisen considered it “ever the task of the church to disturb the consciences of men [and women] in regard to the quality of the life they are living” – “awakening the careless and indifferent to the deeper meaning of life” – “in order that they may turn before it is too late and be made whole.” 6 Healing and wholeness was the central focus of Dunbar’s life. Boisen and Dunbar, it was said, sought to approach theology “from the ground up and not from the clouds down.”7

1937 – Seventy years ago, Dunbar’s article, “The Psychic Component in Disease …” similarly carefully reiterated that the goal is not so much to “treat” the suffering person – to “do” something to the person – as it is to alert him or her to the fact that something is amiss, that something must be changed, and that outsiders, at best, might serve as guides. “A good rule,” she reminded, “is to observe all things and [to] do as little as the situation permits …”. Dunbar had great faith in people’s abilities to think and act on their own once they were emotionally free to see things as they really were. In this complex article, Dunbar spoke of all illness as going “through a reversible phase before becoming irreversible,” just as her colleague, Boisen, had emphasized that one must “turn before it is too late.”8

1942 – Sixty-five years ago, a protégé of both Dunbar and Boisen, Carroll Wise, published Religion in Illness and Health – a classic in its own right – which focused on the usefulness of symbol and ritual in pastoral care – what Dunbar’s era called "the relation of religion to health" as "a factor in directing and controlling emotion.”9 That same year, Dunbar and colleagues founded “The American Society for Research in Psychosomatic Problems” – now known as “The American Psychosomatic Society.” Our country was in the opening months of a foreign war. The National Research Council wanted data on mind-body interaction – and it wanted the data “now”.10 The mobilizing troops also wanted a lot of chaplains. Close to 9,000, with varying degrees of clinical pastoral training were sent abroad without delay. Dunbar’s fingerprints were all over both projects.11

1947 – Sixty years ago, Dunbar’s Mind and Body: Psychosomatic Medicine hit the bestseller lists. Your Child’s Mind and Body, Your Pre-Teenager’s Mind and Body, plus Your Teenager’s Mind and Body followed at intervals soon thereafter. Just as American culture absorbed a memorable version of Freud’s psychoanalytic notions, it soon absorbed a memorable version of Dunbar’s new psychosomatic notions, including her focus on recognizing patterns, for more effective intervention, and on helping a person find the path to his or her own healing.12

1957 – Fifty years ago, Dunbar first reported her research on centenarians. We will come back to this. While her colleague, Boisen, made it to almost age 90, and 50 years ago this year, Chicago Theological Seminary honored him after his 80th birthday as a Doctor of Letters, Dunbar made it to only age 57. Her 105th birthday would have been next May 14th. The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy was among the first – besides Dantean scholars who kept buying her 1st book – to honor Helen Flanders Dunbar.

Now let me jump ahead quite a bit, before jumping back.

1982 – Twenty-five years ago, an editorial, “The 'Secret' of Clinical Pastoral Education," noted that the soul of the process HAD been in that supervisors' goal was "not education but transformation – transformation of themselves first of all and ultimately of their students." Consigning, however, this “mystery of the laying on of CPE hands” to the dustbin, the editorial went on to praise "objectification, quantification, and verification."13 That brief essay, in a nutshell, defined a key tension that has remained within the movement – how to function as a knowledgeable professional AND retain one’s soul.

1987 – Twenty years ago, during Christmas week, the 1st issue of the infamous Underground Report arrived in the mailboxes of supervisors of clinical pastoral education. As most of you know, the short essays and many letters appearing in subsequent issues of this renegade publication led directly to the founding of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy.14 These chaplain supervisors valued knowledge and professionalism, but they also longed for a committed community of colleagues that would foster creativity and growth.

1992 – Fifteen years ago, as we noted earlier, the CPSP held its first plenary gathering of the community.

2002 – Ten years later, 5 years ago, once again, our country was in the opening months of a foreign war. The CPSP Governing Council noted Solomon’s prophetic warning, that vision must precede action.15 The pastoral care community was not being called upon to provide almost 9,000 chaplains, as it had 60 years ago. Chaplains were called upon to provide vision – even action. Apparently the pastoral “vision thing” – and action – is still “in committee”. The challenge has not gone away.

Now let me jump back, before ending up at the present time.

1937 – Seventy years ago, tonight’s honoree attained the age of reason.

1962 – Forty-five years ago, he was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in the committed community of Jesuits.

1967 – Forty years ago, as best I can tell, tonight’s honoree began toying with a versatile programming language the computer world calls “MUMPS” – officially the Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System – which made many healthcare information systems possible. Our honoree views himself as a simple, clinically trained parish priest. Apparently for 40 years, however, various communities have been served by someone who appreciated both silicon and communion wafers.

2007 – This evening, we are honored to have Chaplain Henry G. Heffernan, as the 6th recipient of the Helen Flanders Dunbar Award for Significant Contributions to the Field of Clinical Pastoral Training. We are especially honored since this may well be the year that we see the full fruition of a project he has been working on for several years, the “Ideal Intervention Paper,” a structured description of a patient visit that attempts to capture, nourish, and sustain the soul of pastoral care – albeit it with an eye on research.

While previous clinical pastoral notes focused on what actually occurred in the interaction with a specific actual patient, the Ideal Intervention Paper asks the chaplain or chaplain-trainee to reflect upon the clinical visit but then imagine what might be a more ideal pastoral intervention – for future patients with “closely similar characteristics, spiritual needs, and existential problems”. 16

As best I can tell, this approach starts with only the broadest of assumptions about what might be best, and then lets the serious interaction of one human with another help elucidate what might be most useful. Priority is given to respecting the mystery of transformation, while making some movement toward, in an appropriately loose sense, objectification, quantification, and verification of what seems to support positive change – healing and wholeness. Again, as best I can tell, the Ideal Intervention Paper has nothing to do with “so called” third parties. It has everything to do with relationship, of the suffering person – including those like him or her in the future – and of the attending chaplain – including those filling that role in the future.

The earliest eras of professional chaplaincy spoke of trying to discover the axioms of faith, the art of ministry, and the laws of the spirit. This new era of professional chaplaincy might entail the re-discovery of how – in a more effective way – to help those suffering to find deeper meanings of life. The Ideal Intervention Paper appears to start with real, engaged service, move toward active inquiry, move on to contemplation, and move still further toward guiding a future generation. The problem continues to be how to function as a knowledgeable professional AND retain one’s soul.

Let me now begin to pull to a close.

A moment ago I referred to Dunbar’s research 50 years ago on centenarians. Five years ago I suggested that, if the clinical pastoral community hoped to be flourishing at the 100-year mark, it might want to internalize some of the values Dunbar outlined as characteristic of centenarians.17 As I quickly list her findings once again, I would like you to consider the extent to which CPSP might want to sign on to these values. Also, I would like you to appreciate the degree to which these attributes characterize our honoree.

Based on her research on almost 100 centenarians followed for 10 to 25 or more years, Dunbar concluded that they tended to 

nourish inventiveness, 

embrace change and unknowns,

take catastrophe in stride,

avoid frustration in life,

not avoid making fresh starts, and

foster self-observation, 

while remaining





straightforward, and


For the clinical pastoral community, that challenge, too, still stands. Perhaps CPSP will choose consciously to embrace some, most, or all of these values. Perhaps our honoree, Chaplain Henry G. Heffernan, can help to show the way.




1. 12-15 March 1992.

2. The concise phrasing, “covenanted, professional, and personal relationship,” is from James Gebhart, “Presidential Address [to CPSP, March 2005],”

3. The original story of the pastoral scavengers is from Valerie DeMarinis, Critical Caring: A Feminist Model for Pastoral Psychology [Louisville, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993], p 12.

Robert C. Dykstra’s 2005 Plenary address, “Who We Shall Be,” was drawn from the manuscript of his then soon-to-be-published anthology, Images of Pastoral Care: Classic Readings [St. Louis, MO: Christian Board of Publication, 2006]; this edited volume includes readings by Anton Boisen, Alastair Campbell, Donald Capps, James Dittes, Robert Dykstra, Heije Faber, Charles Gerkin, Brita Gill-Austern, Karen Hanson, Seward Hiltner, Margaret Zipse Kornfeld, Bonnie Miller-McLemore, Jeanne Stevenson Moessner, Henri Nouwen, Gaylord Noyce, Paul Pruyser, and Edward Wimberly.

4. “Methods of Training in the Devotional Life Employed in the American Churches.” From references elsewhere we know that her thesis, which was destroyed, with many others, when the seminary library basement flooded, focused on the use of ritual. Seminary records indicate that William Adams Brown had her in at least two courses and one tutorial. 

5. H. Flanders Dunbar, Symbolism in Medieval Thought and Its Consummation in the Divine Comedy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929 [= PhD dissertation, New York: Columbia University Press, 1929] reprinted New York: Russell and Russell, 1961, and again by Atlanta, GA: SOLINET, 1994; pp 11,14.

6. Anton T. Boisen, “Evangelism in the Light of Psychiatry,” Journal of Religion 7(1):76-70, 1927; pp 79, 76.

7. Anton T. Boisen, “Exploration of the Inner World,” Chicago Theological Seminary Register, 17, 1927; p 11. Yes, Boisen used the title for an article a full 8 years before he used it for his most famous book.

8. H. Flanders Dunbar, “The Psychic Component in Disease: From the Point of View of the Medical. Social Worker’s Responsibility. Bull Am Assoc Med Soc Work 10: 69-80, 1937; pp 76, 70.

9. Carroll A. Wise, Religion in Illness and Health. New York: Harper's Brothers, 1942. See also, Malcolm B. Ballinger, “My Interest in Pastoral Psychology,” [go to “News”]: “Section II of his [Wise’s] book was based on the experience and symbols in religion in the experience of Mary Jones.”

Helen Van Voast and Ethel P.S. Hoyt, "History of the [Joint] Committee on Religion and Medicine of The Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America and The New York Academy of Medicine, 1923-1936," ?1936, p 9; in folder "Religious Healing, 1923," Subseries 6, Association for Clinical Pastoral Education records, Archives & Manuscripts Department, Pitts Theology Library, Atlanta, GA.

10. Psychosomatic Medicine 5(1):97, 1943;

11. William J. Hourihan, compiler, Brief History of the US Army Chaplain Corps, Chapter 6. United States Army Chaplain Center and School, Fort Jackson, SC,

12. Flanders Dunbar, Mind and Body: Psychosomatic Medicine. New York: Random House, 1947; as a "Book-of-the-Month Club" selection, this had numerous printings; a "new, enlarged" edition was issued in 1955.

Flanders Dunbar, Your Child’s Mind and Body: A Practical Guide for Parents. New York: Random House, 1949.

Flanders Dunbar, Your Pre-Teenager’s Mind and Body, edited by Benjamin Linder. New York: Hawthorn, 1962.

Flanders Dunbar, Your Teenager’s Mind and Body, edited by Benjamin Linder. New York: Hawthorn, 1962.

13. Edward E. Thornton. J Pastoral Care 36 (3): 145-146, 1982, p 146.

14. The web page has a number of quotations from the Underground Report; note also footnotes 42-53 there. While most of the “old folks” of CPSP know that Raymond J. Lawrence, Jr. was the founder of the Underground Report, this fact is here recorded for the benefit of newer members and posterity.

15. “The CPSP Governing Council Meeting in Washington, DC Issues Position on War with Iraq,” October 15, 2002.; Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish ….” 

16. Henry G. Heffernan, “The Ideal Intervention Paper Exercise: The Learning and Maturing Experience for the CPE Student,” “preliminary draft,” May 2006, See also his “An Approach to the Specification of Chaplain Visits,”; “Update on the ‘Structured Descriptions’ Project, with a Draft of a Student Manual.”; “Update on the ‘Structured Descriptions / Ideal Interventions’ Project” [which has links to printable PDFs for "A Databank Resource for Pastoral Research: Detailed Descriptions of Chaplains’ Visits with Patients" and "The Terminology and Concepts of Pastoral Practice,"]; and “A Report on the Pilot Phase of the Ideal Intervention Paper (IIP) Project: Introducing Pastoral Research into Clinical Pastoral Education,” October 2006, [has printable PDF].

17. Robert Charles Powell, “‘The Continued Ability to Create and Invent’: Going for One Hundred Years of Clinical Pastoral Transformation,” The First Annual Helen Flanders Dunbar (1902-1959) Award for Significant Contributions to the Field of Clinical Pastoral Training, 3/21/02, Virginia Beach, VA, at the Plenary Meeting of the CPSP, citing, Flanders Dunbar, Psychiatry in the Medical Specialties, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959, pp 465, 461, 464, 153, 459, 460.