COPING AND NOT COPING

 

Edward Baty introduces the work of the
Clinical Theology Association

 

IS YOUR RELIGIOUS BELIEF a faith to live by? If not, and you are in a public position in the Church, whether as a local incumbent, or even as the Bishop, understand that you may well be the reason Church attendance is dropping! This is the only explanation of the curious phenomenon of clergy who believe that God is only 'God', a useful construct without any other objective reality, yet whose congregations are not declining in number and who are well regarded locally. They do have a 'faith to live by', albeit flawed. Consequently they are able to inculcate that faith into others and give them a firmer basis for living.

In the Clinical Theology Association we would understand such a situation as demonstrating the universal application of one of our own basic beliefs, that it is an emotional as well as biological necessity that nurturers, whether pastors, parents or other educators and provider of support systems, ensure that those in their care know that they are accepted however unacceptable their behaviour given proper emotional and other sustenance and enabled to take their place properly in society. It is this basis that provides the platform from which personal and group achievements can in turn be launched, sustained and concluded profitably. Faith, however, flawed, which is loving, accepting and sustaining is both attractive and effective.

This is not to defend the continued holding of ecclesiastical office by those who are effective atheists. It is, however, to see how Jesus' dictum 'he who is not against you is on your side' is at work in the church today.

Such a dictum provides us with a useful template when we view the huge influence of psychology on society and our culture against the apparent decline of the church's influence.

It is the task of teasing out what 'is not against us' from what is opposed to Christian faith and living that has engaged the Clinical Theology Association since 1962. Every year hundreds of Christian men and women find their understanding of their own faith deepen and widen as they come to grips with what lies at the heart of their own lives and begin to relate that to their Christian faith, through its seminar and conference programme.

 

A template for assessing changes

This simple template of four elements - Acceptance, Sustenance, Status and Achievement - has proved useful and effective for many years over a wide variety of situations. It enables the pastor to establish at what points and in what ways a church member's life may be blocked. As society experienced growing pressures, stresses and enforced change, so our responses to these conditions vary. Each of us has a different way of coping with threats to our acceptability and the elements in the template. In the Clinical Theology Association seminars students are taught and learn quickly which of the different ways of coping and not coping could be regarded as normal, what responses are healthy, the differences between psychotic defence, neurotic positions and other ways of coping. It soon becomes clear that coping and not coping are often inextricably mixed in the matrix of mechanisms for coping each of us develops through life.

Forty years ago all this was examined in terms of Holy Baptism, Confirmation and so on. More recently the way we manage is examined in terms of the whole of our life's pilgrimage. both that already trodden and that we hope or expect to travel.

It may be thought that this is difficult and esoteric - for the initiated, the enthusiast and the aficionados of whatever is bright, new and attractive. Not so! The simple question, 'How accepted do you feel here?" or "Do you feel at home here?", "Who is giving you moral support?" or Are you getting a helping hand for anywhere?" open up whether we are receiving the spiritual and emotional nourishment we all need. Such questions as "How do you feel you stand here?" and "Are you getting good results?" equally suggest to the helper whether the contributions the persons with them can make is being honoured, In the seminars in clinical theology training and care the basis of our everyday lives and its problems is made easily accessible in a way that any church member can use.

 

Moving on

So far what has been described might appear to be all rather 'lovey-dovey' liberal, endearing in its own way but, not to be considered against the totality of humanistic and secular counselling and modern psychology on the one hand and the completeness of pastoral care under the one universal, catholic and apostolic church on the other. Yet this article is being written by a convinced Catholic who values the ministry of women highly whilst opposing their ordination to the catholic priesthood and the general director of the association and its chairman are convinced evangelical whose faith is based firmly in the biblical revelation.

There is nothing 'lovey-dovey' about human misery, despair or deprivation. The early fathers of the church (whose teachings feature in the seminar syllabus and so strongly in the work of Dr. Frank Lake, first major advocate of clinical theology in this country) these early fathers (such as St. Augustine of Hippo, the Desert Fathers and their later successors; J.P. de Caussade, St. Theresa of Avila and St John of the Cross) do not appear to me to be liberal theologians, nor does St. Paul whose writings undergird many of the insights taught.

The Clinical Theology Association is moving on. Much of the material taught in very respectable counselling courses for Christians is pirated from association publications and seminar paperwork. The establishment of counselling and therapeutic skills as essential to all levels of pastoral work has been won. The association played a major role in the formation of a counselling profession in this country. My feeling is that we should be prouder of this than we are. However when a leading academic specialist in sociology as well as psychology spends two years in the seminars, analysing, measuring, assessing and suggesting ways ahead and then says to a group of seniors from the association, "What you guys have here is so valuable you should not rest in your beds until the whole world has it". I realise that something precious and needed has become available.

And so we move on. The seminars continue. The conferences are organised and take place. The tutors are assessed and authorised in one of the best available tutor-training in this field. Above all, the church and society is enriched and enabled to function better as a result of our efforts. The work is not everywhere. Where it is present, like salt, it adds savour to the food Christians receive.

 

New recipes

We have already begun the process of re-introducing the seminar programme into the London area. The consultations so far indicate a hunger and thirst not only for the Foundation Certificate Course in Pastoral Counselling and Pastoral Care which is presently available but for the kind of radical, empirical, realistic examination of pastoral care for which the association became well known in the first place.

In this latter area, Catholics and Anglican Catholics in particular have a major role as being the bridge into the deep roots of living the Christian life set in place and developed by the Fathers of the Church. The remedies, precepts, and resources already developed by the church can provide recipes new in today's world to soothe the pain experienced by so many and to put away from this world those ways of living, unconscious as well as conscious, which do so much harm in our world.

We invite every New Directions reader, every member of Forward in Faith and Reform to make their input into this process and their weight felt as the Clinical Theology Association moves the theological agenda forward with precise, informed, objective and fresh programmes of Christian training and care.

 

Edward Baty has been Tutor in the Clinical Theology Association since the mid seventies, the Convenor-Secretary of its working parties on training and on primal integration counselling and therapy and a member of its Council and Executive Committee for many years, He is also Chairman of the Extension Committee of S.M.F

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