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Helping the Good Shepherd

Pastoral Counselors in a Psychotherapeutic Culture, 1925–1975

Susan E. Myers-Shirk

Publication Year: 2009

This history of Protestant pastoral counseling in America examines the role of pastoral counselors in the construction and articulation of a liberal moral sensibility. Analyzing the relationship between religion and science in the twentieth century, Susan E. Myers-Shirk locates this sensibility in the counselors’ intellectual engagement with the psychological sciences. Informed by the principles of psychology and psychoanalysis, pastoral counselors sought a middle ground between science and Christianity in advising anxious parishioners who sought their help for personal problems such as troubled children, violent spouses, and alcohol and drug abuse. Myers-Shirk finds that gender relations account in part for the great divide between the liberal and conservative moral sensibilities in pastoral counseling. She demonstrates that, as some pastoral counselors began to advocate women’s equality, conservative Christian counselors emerged, denouncing more liberal pastoral counselors and secular psychologists for disregarding biblical teachings. From there, the two sides diverged dramatically. Helping the Good Shepherd will appeal to scholars of American religious history, the history of psychology, gender studies, and American history. For those practicing and teaching pastoral counseling, it offers historical insights into the field.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

As the setting for one of her Peter Wimsey mysteries, Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers chose an imaginary women’s college at Oxford University. Sayers was familiar with the scholarly life and created a character named Miss Lydgate who had spent a good bit of her academic life writing a history of prosody ...

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pp. 1-15

On a cold and snowy eve ning in the middle of the nineteenth century, “Mrs. E” trudged the half-mile from her house to the home of her minister, Ichabod Spencer, pastor of Brooklyn’s Second Presbyterian Church. The story of that visit has survived because, unlike most of his nineteenth- century counterparts, ...

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1 Anton Boisen and the Scientific Study of Religion

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pp. 16-39

In november of 1935, Anton Boisen suffered his fourth major psychotic episode and ended up hospitalized through mid- December.1 Between two earlier episodes, Boisen had joined with an eclectic mix of medical doctors, psychiatrists, Protestant ministers, and social welfare workers to establish a new program in ministerial education ...

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2 The Methodology of Clinical Pastoral Education

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pp. 40-61

The numbers of clinical training programs for seminary students grew steadily in the years after Anton Boisen and his colleagues formed the Council for the Clinical Training of Theological Students in 1930. Some of the programs followed Boisen’s model for training and his emphasis on the “mental” hospital, ...

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3 The Minds of Moralists

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pp. 62-85

In the 1930s a growing number of clergy became interested in offering counseling to their parishioners. Whether they were graduates of clinical pastoral education programs or learned about counseling from the books, sermons, and radio programs of men such as Harry Emerson Fosdick, John Sutherland Bonnell, or Norman Vincent Peale, ...

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4 From Adjustment to Autonomy

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pp. 86-101

World war II changed pastoral counseling theory and practice substantively. The war served to make the study and practice of psychology more visible, more accessible, and more desirable to Americans, and this societal change benefited pastoral counselors immensely. ...

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5 Democracy and the Psychologically Autonomous Individual

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pp. 102-121

In retrospect, pastoral counselors seem to have embraced a view of human nature that was impossibly optimistic given the worldwide war that raged around them. It would be easy to accuse them of being na

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6 An Ethic of Relationships

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pp. 122-141

Discussion of the relative merits of Rogerian methods dominated the postwar pastoral counseling literature and was driven mostly by the worrisome nature of Rogerian theories. Even though the earliest advocates of Rogerian therapy and the ethic of self- realization had tried to frame them in Christian terms, ...

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7 Gendered Moral Discourse

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pp. 142-161

On may 5, 1946, a twenty-eight- year-old woman who suffered from tuberculosis was hospitalized so that part of her diseased lung could be removed. At the suggestion of a nurse, a young hospital chaplain went to visit the patient that very day. In one extended interview, the patient revealed to him details of her past that were too painful and too intimate to tell anyone else. ...

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8 The Language of Rights and the Challenge to the Domestic Ideal

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pp. 162-179

It was a curious turn to the story of pastoral counseling and the liberal moral sensibility. After working very hard to articulate an ethic of responsibility that would be responsive to the interests and desires of their female parishioners, pastoral counselors failed to see the implications of that ethic for their politics. ...

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9 Resurrection of the Shepherd

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pp. 180-205

Gender persisted as an important and formative theme in pastoral counseling. In the early 1960s, pastoral counselors began to rethink their theological heritage and reclaim theological language after nearly two decades of relying more heavily on psychological language. The role they chose for themselves was caregivers, ...

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10 Christian Counseling and the Conservative Moral Sensibility

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pp. 206-233

In the early 1960s, as pastoral counselors moved toward a model of caregiving for the pastor and specialization for the pastoral counselor, a new kind of counseling began to take shape. Its proponents self-identified as evangelical, fundamentalist, or conservative Christians and referred to the counseling and psychotherapy they offered as Christian, ...

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pp. 234-240

Howard clinebell was the quintessential post–World War II pastoral counselor. Tracing his intellectual development and the changes in his life over four de cades allows one to simultaneously trace both the history of pastoral counseling and the evolution of the liberal moral sensibility. ...


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pp. 241-292


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pp. 293-301

E-ISBN-13: 9780801895173
E-ISBN-10: 0801895170
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801890475
Print-ISBN-10: 0801890470

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Church history -- 20th century.
  • Pastoral counseling -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Liberalism -- Religious aspects -- Protestant churches -- History -- 20th century.
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