Integrating Theology and Psychology in Pastoral Counseling Practice
Integrating Theology and Psychology in Pastoral Counseling Practice Family life chaplains in the U.S. Army are trained in both theology and psychology with graduate or seminary degrees in each area. However, few are able to integrate both of those disciplines in their clinical practice. The result of not having a model for integrating theology and psychology is that these highly trained chaplains appear bi-vocational, acting as clinical counselors in their family life centers and then playing the role of ordained ministers in their worship or ceremonial settings. The result of this dual presentation of their work is confusing to their colleagues in the chaplaincy, to the clients in their office, and to their congregations and endorsing denominations.
In this project I have appropriated a model for integrating theology and psychology from Dr. Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger, associate professor of pastoral theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Using a pattern from Karl Barth of keeping two concepts together without synthesis, she explores how pastoral counselors can successfully integrate theology and psychology without reducing them into one set of concepts. Dr. Hunsinger offers the metaphor of being "bi-lingual." With this metaphor and model, I taught the family life chaplains in Europe how to speak the languages of psychology and theology more fluently and in their appropriate settings. In particular I had them learn this model in the context of treating couples recovering from adultery, by far the most challenging form of family therapy. While they learned the language of psychology in a protocol for treating this relational wound, we also explored theologies of marriage and forgiveness. Learning these two distinct areas of psychology and theology offered them an example of how these two domains inform their clinical work. This learning experience showed that psychology and theology are always together in the clinical practice of pastoral counseling, but that they are not synthesized into one, nor does one domain silence the other.
I measured the success of my teaching and their learning by having a mock Fellow board patterned after the requirements of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. Nine of the eleven participants met with the board to present their papers and to discuss how they integrate theology and psychology. Of those nine, eight were given passing evaluations by the AAPC Diplomates. The project was moderately successful. A significant majority of the participants grew in their ability to integrate theology and psychology.