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Moving Beyond Individualism in Pastoral Care in Counseling

Author: Barbara J McClure
Published By: The Lutterworth Press (Cambridge)
Pages: 293
Price: £23.25
ISBN: 978 0 7188 9245 6

Reviewed by Alison Kennedy.

Structured around a pastoral encounter with a woman from the other side of the tracks, Barbara McClure challenges her profession to look beyond the individual in the counselling room to where the problem might really lie.

She argues that, in becoming so focussed on the individual's inter-personal relationships as the root cause of psychological pain, counsellors ignore the wider social issues affecting a client.  McClure contends that this reluctance to embrace a person's social context not only excludes many in most need of help, but is an abdication of a proper responsibility for radical societal transformation.

This is a dilemma not unique to professional counsellors and one with which those in ministry will be familiar. Pastoral counselling is a smaller enterprise in the UK than in America, and its structure very different. Nevertheless, many of the tensions (such as balancing professionalism against faith and ensuring that a business model of healthcare still provides for those unable to afford fees) will resonate with those offering pastoral care in the UK, either as trained counsellors or more generally.  

An academic with a practitioner background, McClure has produced a concentrated book, its strength lying in its breadth of theoretical analysis. For non-specialists, her excellent summary of the development of the counselling movement stretching from Freud to the present-day is helpful. Weaker is her theological analysis of individualism within theology (Tillich and Barth), while her embracing of process and liberation theology is so wholehearted as to be uncritical. 

By the author's own admission this is still a work in process, so her suggestions for the reformation of pastoral care practice are more theoretical than practical, but for the thoughtful pastor seeking to understand why one-to-one counselling alone may not suffice, this book may provide the necessary impetus to challenge the root causes of the pain.

Alison Kennedy

Team Vicar of St Peter's, Vauxhall, London

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You are reading Issue 57 of Ministry Today, published in April 2013.

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