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Spiritual Resources in Family Therapy (2nd edition)

Author: Froma Walsh (Editor)
Published By: The Guildford Press (New York)
Pages: 412
Price: £30.50
ISBN: 978 1 60623 022 0

Reviewed by Terry Hinks.

This is a substantial textbook for those studying or working in the area of counselling, care and therapy, drawing together a range of writers and themes.   It recognises at its outset how spirituality has been considered ‘off limits’ by many in clinical practice.  In fact, there continues to be considerable debate here in the UK as to its place within ‘professional’ care.   Reading this collection of essays, it was good to see a positive recognition of faith and spirituality within the life of individuals and families and the need to take account of this in therapeutic work.  

The textbook is in three parts: an overview provided by Froma Walsh in the first two chapters; eight essays on spiritual resources for healing or strengthening resilience in a variety of therapeutic contexts; and ten essays on spirituality in therapeutic practice.

The book sees spirituality in a very broad way - as “a dimension of human experience involving transcendent belief and practices” according to Froma Walsh in her first essay, and one that is “the heart and soul of religion”, but which “can also be experienced outside formal religious structures”. 

The essays that follow explore a whole variety of religious / spiritual traditions.   Herbert Anderson (in an essay of A Spirituality for Family Living) makes a helpful point when he writes: “Spirituality that is not embodied is in danger of drifting towards disembodied vagueness or unrestrained individualism”.  Readers of the book have to be prepared for a very broad multi-faith approach and one that comes from a US context and from a clinical approach.  Inevitably the essay writers are at times torn between a ‘professional approach’, being sensitive to the varied beliefs and practices of their clients, and a personal expression of their own ‘spirituality’.  The best essays are when the writer is aware of the difficulty and of their own preconceptions, but also willing to challenge the preconceptions of ‘professional’ care culture.  

One interesting example is the essay by Melissa Elliott entitled Opening Therapy to Conversations with a Personal God.  There she recognises that no therapist is completely neutral and no therapy session completely open.  The secular psychotherapy culture can constrain people from speaking about God - ‘we don’t do God talk here’ - while the religious counselling culture can constrain how people speak about God - ‘we encourage God talk here, but only in a certain way’.   Giving a variety of examples she writes: these “teach me that if ‘I think I know’ the basic story of someone’s experience with God, I am probably beginning to close off therapeutic possibilities.”  She goes to encourage the therapist / counsellor to move from ‘certainty’ to ‘wonder’, from ‘already knowingness’ to curiosity and creativity.  She gives four examples of certainties (I know what God is like for you....) that can develop in our work with another person - false assumptions we make about people according to their denomination, language, family background and therapeutic need.  The fourth ‘certainty’ is fascinating: ‘I know what God is like, and you need to know God as I do’ - in other words, our attempt to correct what we see as false images of God, but she says: “a God of grace imposed is still imposed”.  Though aimed at therapists, that statement is also something to ponder in our pastoral work as ministers.

This is a sizeable and rather diffuse book that will be of particular value to those involved in professional counselling, but also has things of interest for all involved in pastoral work. It could encourage bridge-building between secular and religious caring professions, but perhaps is more a textbook for libraries than ministers’ studies.

Terry Hinks

United Reformed Church Minister and Ministry Today Board Member

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You are reading Issue 46 of Ministry Today, published in July 2009.

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