Ecumenical Psychodynamic - Exegetic - Clinical Pastoral Chaplaincy: Attempting to Understand Before Intervening – by Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD

31 May 2020 8:45 PM | Krista Argiropolis (Administrator)

Welcome to the 
          95th anniversary of when Helen Flanders Dunbar met Anton Theophilus Boisen –
 thus founding professional chaplaincy;
and to the
            30th plenary of The College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy;
and to the
            20th introduction of the person – and the work of the person – receiving
            The Helen Flanders Dunbar Award for Significant Contributions to the Clinical Pastoral Field.

     “Anton Theophilus Boisen [1876-1965], who founded the clinical pastoral training movement                                 
…[95] years ago, [in 1925,] was insistent from the very beginning that effective help for others cannot be achieved by assuming that ‘one size fits all.’

Boisen spoke repeatedly of the need for a ‘systematic attempt to diagnose’ where the suffering person stands, so that ‘we may be able to bring to bear, according to the needs of the particular case, the forces of healing and power’ which lie within religion.

One must assess the situation in order to apply the most appropriate assistance.” 1

            That summary statement appeared in the introduction to a manifesto that Perry N. Miller, Raymond J. Lawrence, and I painstakingly crafted 15 years ago. Raymond has tried to drive that message further home in two of his recent books on the clinical pastoral approach.

            “One must assess the situation in order to apply the most appropriate assistance.” 2

              In a similar vein, Helen Flanders Dunbar [1902-1959] spoke of ascertaining the individualized “point of effective intervention”.

            An obvious question is, “How do we do this?”

            Just as clinical pastoral chaplaincy asks that the chaplain be grounded in a specific faith tradition while being prepared to minister to suffering, bewildered, or vulnerable persons of any faith tradition, an organization closely associated with our newest Dunbar Awardee asks that psychodynamic therapists be grounded in a specific psychoanalytic tradition while being prepared to work alongside therapists of other psychoanalytic traditions.

            This ecumenical psychodynamic collegiality welcomes clinical pastoral chaplains as well as psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers to join its ranks.

            Members of these discrete professional groups have worked together mostly informally for decades, but now these professionals formally can share values and – in some cases – official certification and licensing.

            Let me here note just some of the common elements of assessment and intervention shared by those clinicians who are making efforts to think and to act psychodynamically.

            “Respect the patient’s socio-environmental and intrapsychic realities.”

            “Understand the interaction of affects and psychopathology.”

            “Navigate the emotional content of sessions, including shifts and endings.”                            

             “Work with both a patient’s internal and external realities.”

            “Facilitate the exploration of unconscious experience.”

            “Be aware of, process, and effectively engage the transference.”

            “Be aware of, process, and effectively engage the counter-transference.”

            “Recognize and work with the patient’s defenses and resistance.”

            “Recognize various domains of patient experience in prioritizing interventions.”

            That is, systematically appreciate how this person uniquely is dealing with life. 3

               A reasonable goal is to attempt to understand both the person’s conscious and unconscious agendas.

            Part of the beauty of the writings of Boisen, Dunbar, Carroll Wise, Wayne Oates, Pamela Cooper-White, Donald Capps, and Raymond Lawrence – among others in this field – is that they can portray the usefulness of these notions in very clear ways – generally without using the word “psychoanalysis”.

              There are very good reasons why Dunbar’s book, Mind and Body …, was a Book of the Month Club selection – and best seller – for decades. There are very good reasons why CPSP is encouraging “The Boisen Books” project, whose first republication is of Boisen’s book, The Exploration of the Inner World … . 4

            Both Boisen and Dunbar recognized that a person’s “actual difficulties” might lie beneath their manifest words. 5

              Boisen spoke of “co-operative inquiry” as to the nature of the problem. Dunbar spoke of entertaining multiple simultaneous views of an issue. Both focused not on “eisegesis” – of bringing preconceived interpretations and understandings from outside to a clinical situation, but on “exegesis” – of slowly, mutually discovering interpretations and understandings from inside of a clinical situation. 6

            The Graduate Institute of The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy offers a Doctor of Ministry degree that recognizes the centrality of psychodynamic assessment in clinical pastoral care, counseling, and psychotherapy.

            I strongly urge you to read over – carefully – the curriculum of the CPSP DMin program. 7                 

            In 2007, our Dunbar Awardee helped to organize a consortium of the various umbrella organizations that promote psychoanalytic training programs – toward coming up with a common set of notions about psychodynamic education, assessment, & treatment.

            In 2014, our awardee helped to organize a symposium, sponsored by almost 3 dozen organizations, that focused on one question, “How might a conversation fundamentally change the structure of the human mind?” 8

            In summary, it can be said that our awardee – as a member of the clergy – has been a “mover and shaker” in the US psychoanalytic world for at least twenty years.

            Let me repeat that: “our awardee – as a member of the clergy – has been a ‘mover and shaker’ in the US psychoanalytic world for at least twenty years”.

            That is, our awardee has widened the door for those clergy who wish to embark on psychodynamic education, assessment, and treatment.  9

                  Please join me in welcoming our 20th recipient of The Helen Flanders Dunbar Award for Significant Contributions to the Clinical Pastoral Field!

                        The Rev. Dr. Jennifer R. Harper.

Robert Charles Powell, Jennifer Harper, and Raymond J. Lawrence(Left to Right) Robert Charles Powell, Jennifer Harper, Raymond J. Lawrence



1. Anton T. Boisen: “What a Country Minister Should Know.” Christian Work, 1923;114(25):795; this citation is a correction to the bibliography in Anton T. Boisen: Out of the Depths: An Autobiographical Study of Mental Disorder and Religious  Experience (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1960), p. 211.

2. Perry N. Miller, Raymond J. Lawrence, Robert C. Powell: “Discrete Varieties of Care in the Clinical Pastoral Tradition.” 9 July   2005;                            

Raymond J. Lawrence: Nine Clinical Cases: The Soul of Pastoral Care and Counseling (North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, September 2015).

Raymond J. Lawrence: Nine More Clinical Cases: Case Studies in Pastoral Care, Counseling & Psychotherapy (North Charleston,  SC: Kindle Direct Publishing, 2020).

3. American Board for Accreditation in Psychoanalysis: “Core Competencies for Psychoanalysis. © ABAP 2017; .

4. Flanders Dunbar: Mind and Body: Psychosomatic Medicine (New York, Random House, 1947).

Anton T. Boisen: The Exploration of the Inner World: A Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience (Chicago: Willett,   Clark & Co., 1936). .

5. Robert Charles Powell: “Anton Theophilus Boisen as Clinician – In Favor of Psychotherapy.” 29 Nov 2017;  .

6. Robert Charles Powell: “ ‘Cooperative Inquiry’ in Pastoral Care ….” 2001. on the internet at                                                .

Robert Charles Powell: “Emotionally Free – UN-stuck in a Rut! Emotionally ‘Free to Think and Act’ – Consciously!” (2019;   publication forthcoming – hopefully in 2020).

Robert Charles Powell: Boisen as Clinician. I. Assessment: Persistent and Provocative “Co-operative Inquiry” Empathic and  Enlightening “Exploration of the Inner World” (2012; publication forthcoming – hopefully in 2020).

7. .

8. symposium: Therapeutic Action: What Works in Psychodynamic Therapy. NYC, 2014; the question was from the following key   study: Jonathan Lear. Therapeutic Action: An Earnest Plea for Irony (New York: Other Press, 2003).

9. This is the second time that CPSP has honored someone who legislatively has broadened opportunities for clinical pastoral  chaplains. Rev. Dr. A. Patrick L. Prest was so honored in 2006.



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 visiting his website at or clicking here.