Closing Event: Some thoughts from a participant

At the Talking Therapies closing event on 23rd October it was fascinating to hear the final script of the narratives from the project. Two quotations from playscript and the Final Report sum up for me the needs for the future:

Final Report page 4: “Overall, there was a sense that more opportunities were needed both during and after training for counsellors to talk openly about religion and spirituality in a safe and supportive environment.”

From the Readers Theatre Script, p.16: “And only when religions become less dry and narrow and take on all the wisdom and ideas and theories of human development; only when the two combine and greet each other and work together can we have a working system of understanding how we can go forward in this 21st century.”

I agree strongly with these conclusions. As a member of the Episcopal Church I see some areas of the church where there is a well-informed understanding of psychological insights e.g in Ignatian spirituality and Christian meditation. Yet there are aspects of traditional church teaching which need to be discussed in a modern context e.g. the guilt inducing notions of ‘Original Sin’ and the Atonement; attitudes to the ‘flesh’ and  the use of masculine imagery to describe God. At the same time there is much in Christianity which is so relevant to counselling – God present with us, sharing our most extreme suffering, love transcending evil.

I should like to see a forum where theological, spiritual and therapeutic ideas of the self, personal growth and relationships can be freely discussed. As a counsellor I should like the opportunity to share and be nourished by a whole range of spiritual traditions. As I see it, these research projects have opened the door to further rich and engaging dialogues.


 — Jacqueline Marsh


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Website Make-over: Conversations about Counselling, Spirituality and Faith

The Talking Therapies team has been busy giving this website an overhaul, switching it over from the Theology and Therapy theme it started with, to this new one of “Conversations about Counselling, Spirituality and Faith”.  This marks our own transition from historical research to knowledge exchange with contemporary practitioner communities.

Please have a look around and discover what we’ve been up to over the past year.  From developing Readers’ Theatre scripts out of our oral history material, to running workshops all over Scotland, we’ve shared our research with more than 150 people, and learned a great deal about the importance of faith and spirituality to many contemporary practitioners.

After doing 16 workshops with counsellors, church elders, chaplains, clergy and members of the interested public, we’ve put together some best practice suggestions on working with oral history material in exploring contemporary professional work and identity.

Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments.

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The Medication Model of Psychotherapy in Context

by Prof Liz Bondi, University of Edinburgh, co-investigator on the Theology and Therapy Project.

One of the rationales for the Theology and Therapy project is to contribute to debate about the nature and contribution of psychotherapy to British society. Recently, psychotherapy has been marked by heated debate about professionalization and regulation. During the first decade of the twenty-first century momentum towards regulation via the Health Professions Council grew despite vociferous opposition.  Although this form of regulation was eventually abandoned in February 2011, the framing of psychotherapy within a medical model, and especially within a medication model, continues to be highly influential.

The medication model conceptualises psychotherapy as a “treatment” comparable to medication, and drives the highly technical evaluation of the clinical- and cost-effectiveness of different types of psychotherapy as if they were comparable to pharmaceutical products. The consequences for access to, and availability of, psychotherapy are profound, as are the implications for training and careers of psychotherapists.

While the influence of the medical model (and its accompaniments like evidence based practice) is inescapable, so too is the contestation and discomfort it generates. A key task for the Theology and Therapy project is to recover and disseminate other ways of understanding psychotherapy, and to increase the visibility of different traditions – specifically religious and spiritual traditions – that helped to shape psychotherapy in the second half of the twentieth century. Oral history testimony has made a major contribution to this task. We have interviewed in depth 16 people from Scotland and beyond whose engagement with psychotherapy has been critical to its development and expansion in this period, and who have in some way been inspired by religion and/or spirituality.  Some of the findings from this research will be discussed in future blog posts.

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Introduction to the Theology and Therapy Project

Post by Dr Alette Willis, Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Theology and Therapy Project.

The Theology and Therapy project is an interdisciplinary research project at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland.  The overall aim of the project is to understand the ways Christianity, and a new language of “spirituality”, intertwined with the development of counselling and psychotherapy in Scotland, since 1945.

The two and a half-year project is led by Prof David Fergusson at the School of Divinity, along with colleagues Dr Steven Sutcliffe (in religious studies) and Prof Liz Bondi (in Counselling and Psychotherapy at the School of Health).  I have been the research fellow since September 2011, replacing Dr Gavin Miller.  It is funded through the Religion & Society Programme of the AHRC and ESRC.

We’re nearing the end of the funded portion of the project.  However, we are just beginning to understand these intertwined histories.  We’ve decided to start this blog as an ongoing way of sharing our emerging thoughts on the subject.  We may occasionally also have guest posts from people outside of the project reflecting on events we’ve hosted or sharing information that is related to our subject area.  We hope that you enjoy this blog and we look forward to hearing from you through comments.

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