AUTHOR: Carrie Doehring
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (232 pages).
- Listening and Responding to the Intermingling of Stories (chapters 1-3)
- Establishing the Contract of Care (chapter 4)
- Theological Reflexivity (chapter 5)
- Listening for Narrative Themes (chapter 6)
- Assessing Social Privileges or Disadvantages (chapter 7)
- Ongoing Plan of Care (chapter 8)
Part One works on the listening to stories and how one can enter into the narrative of each individual. The word "intercultural" is preferred over cross-cultural or transcultural simply because there is an inter-exchange rather than some transplanted care that can become distant in nature. People want to feel unique and respected, not just a project for another to solve. They do not want to be theological puzzles for theologians but as real people trying to deal with struggles. People will remain where they are, unchanged as long as they do not feel trusted, respected, or cared for. The goal is to integrate one's care into another person's frame of emotions. Doehring's openness to psychotherapy, psychospiritual, and non-Christian spiritualities enables her to be free to include unconventional practices. She uses Buddhist practices as well as moralistic theologies. One example is the use of Buddhist teachings on suffering to learn how to deal with serious PTSD cases, like being able to accept that suffering is a "normal part of life." She shares about the basic ingredients of caregiving relationships: 1) able to take the perspective of the other; 2) able to experience what the other person is going through; 3) able to regulate self no to be overwhelmed by the other. Embodied listening is about learning to understand the level of shame one feels and the crippling emotions experienced. Readers will be exposed to a range of listening skills and how to sustain a spiritual care conversation. Caregivers need to avoid premature judgment or being too enthusiastic about prescribing solutions. Caring is very different from curing.
Part Two establishes a "contract of care" that draws up guidelines of accountability for the caregiver and the commitment for the one being cared for. Many rely on national and state laws to establish the code of ethics. Larger religious organizations would have their own set of principles and guidelines. What about the limits of confidentiality? What about sexual harassment and misconduct that are due to power positions in the clergy-client relationship? What about the limits and separation of pastoral care, psychotherapy, and professional healthcare? While it is important to create greater openness, there are also risks involved with regards to abuse and neglect. Readers will learn how to draw up a care contract that can be customized according to age, roles, resources available, and beliefs.
Part Three is an interesting "Theological Themes and Reflexivity" for those of us who are comfortable with theology and the practice of pastoral care from a theological angle. It is about being God's agent of hope and encouragement, to share grace, truth, and love with people who need help in dealing with their fears, their guilt, their shame, and other debilitating emotions. Using film as a case study, we as movie-goers will be drawn into the "relational space" that the characters in the movie can help draw out. It is a chance for embedded theology to come alive through grappling with the emotional issues theologically.
Part Four is about coping with loss, violence, and coping with one's narratives. Every individual is unique and brings along narratives of both certainty and mystery. Three key themes are described. The first is loss, a common source of human suffering. It can be material losses, relational losses, intrapsychic, functional, role loss, and systemic losses. The second is violence where power dynamics play along both physical and non-physical means. We read about people at risk feeling psychologically overwhelmed or lack the ability to cope. Care must be needed to guard against premature triggering of traumatic memories. The third theme deals with other problems like dependence, codependence, addiction, substance abuse, and problems in coping with stress. For caregivers, they need to be able to respect the limited theological abilities of the people they care for. Doehring urges us to be aware of and to be respectful about the "moral stress generated by life-limiting lived theologies - personal, familial, communal, and cultural." Referrals are recommended after about three or four counseling sessions. Suicide is also an important topic.
Part Five covers the systemic assessment to find ways in helping others deal with social oppression such as immigrant status, racism, sexism, classism, and the emotions that come with them. We can also identify resources that are available. Part Six is about planning the kind of care to liberate people from emotional enslavement via three overlapping care phases:
- Phase One - Building trust through compassion, and establishing safety
- Phase Two - Mourning Losses and Fostering Accountability
- Phase Three - Reconnecting with the Goodness of Life
Every pastoral counseling case is unique because every individual is unique. Life has both stories as well as mysteries and the key is to learn to respect the limits of both. In order to know what are the constraints of self and the limits of pastoral care, one must also be self-aware. This single ability is critical. If the pastor or counselor does not know him or herself, how best can they know others? If one does not practice self care, how can one care for others? This is one reason why I would recommend a complement to this book: Soulcare or care for one's soul. Studied side by side, the reader would be much better equipped than simply having a postmodern approach. One more thing. I am aware some reader may be uncomfortable with Doehring' use of non-Christian methods, especially the Buddhist or alternative therapies. For such cases, do not abandon this book just because there are references to them. If it does not work for you, just ignore those parts.There are a lot more material in this book that can benefit Christian leaders. Trust me. This book is worth reading, especially for those of us called to the pastoral care ministry.
Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.
This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.