Book Review - Religion and the Clinical Practice of Psychology

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1996, Volume 13, Number 2, pages 216-218. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Religion and the Clinical Practice of Psychology. 

Edited by E.P. Shafranske. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, 1996, 619 pages.

The editor of this book, whose "primary emphasis has been the psychoanalytic study of religious experience," is a professor of psychology at Pepperdine University and a faculty member of Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute. In this 619-page volume, he has assembled a collection of essays from foremost authorities in the field. Each of the 21 chapters concludes typically with a multipage reference list. The variety of authors, the quality of content, and the extensive references and indexes make this a useful reference volume.

Shafranske begins by justifying the study of religion in the mental health professions. He contends that "personal values inevitably participate in the practice of psychology," writing that he has been "struck with the organizing capacity of religious faith to shape the construction of personal identity and to maintain and transform meaning in times of comfort and in moments of adversity" (p. xv). Further, he claims there is no "therapeutic neutrality" about this because "values are inherent in the therapeutic measures we employ" (p. xvi). He agrees with Perry London that therapists are "secular priests," and with Jerome Frank that psychological treatment is in a "realm once solely occupied by religion" (p. xvi). This may be new to today's therapists, but experienced therapists will likely recognize a new bottle of vintage wine from the cellars of William James, Jung, Kelly, Kohlberg, Maslow, and those who followed them, all largely ignored when behaviorists occupied the territory known as psychology up to the 1960s.

The Introduction elaborates on the book's title, setting forth the goal "to address the religious dimension in aspects that are relevant to the clinical practice of psychology" (p. 3). The title is unfortunate, though, for this is not a clinical psychology text. Of two dozen authors, several are psychiatrists and/or psychoanalysts, and two are clergy and also mental health professionals. The book's content touches all the mental health professions as well as sociology, religion, and philosophy. The aim is to understand rather than to provide "a polemic, apologetic, or theoretically sectarian critique" (p. 3). It does so clearly and cogently, in optimal depth, each essay by a different author adding a piece to a fascinating mosaic of the function of religion, individually and in sociocultural perspective.

The meat of the book is contained in four sections, beginning with historical and cultural context, followed by mental health aspects and "clinical practice with religious people," and ending with a section "summarizing the case for the inclusion of religion in the clinical practice of psychology" (p. 4). The theoretical orientations presented are remarkably inclusive, embracing psychiatry, psychoanalysis, sociology, and psychology's three favorite flavors (behaviorist, psychoanalytic, and humanistic). Many references are provided after each essay for further study. As with any assortment of viewpoints, the average reader may raise an eyebrow from time to time. For example, Hoge sees the United States as "one of the most religious countries in the industrialized world." Gartner suggests 11 areas where religion and mental health interface. Pargament suggests the quality of coping is a measure of the value of religion. Meissner considers adaptation to be an appropriate measure.

Other articles touch on major theorists. Lovinger stresses the need for therapists to observe boundaries when a client's faith differs markedly from that of the therapist, and provides a comparative analysis of mainstream denominations. Tan suggests informed consent whenever religion is integrated into therapy. Other writers enrich the text with useful references to classic theorists and therapists. Fowler describes his "stage theory," citing James, Piaget, Erikson, and Kohlberg. Galanter's piece on cults and charismatic groups is a concise summary of current thinking and therapy in this area. In the book's final section, Probst presents a cognitive-behavioral approach, Rizzuto a psychoanalytic view, Mahrer an existential-humanistic perspective, and Hopson on the AA 12-step programs being applied to non-substance-abuse treatment in an attempt to add nonreligious spirituality to therapy. The book ends with the editor and H. Newton Malony making the case to include religion.

This book's quality of content exceeds its relatively narrow title. It can be an effective self-study course for anyone interested in the function of religion in personality and sociocultural development. It can also stimulate further discussion and debate, but in doing so, it brings with it more light than heat. It should be equally useful for those born, raised, and practicing in one denomination as well as the "unchurched" who do not feel a need to that extent but who want to better understand the function and effects of religion on behavior, personality, and culture. It will not weaken anyone's faith, but will expand knowledge and understanding of what can be a sensitive subject. It belongs on your reference shelf. Recommended!

Frank MacHovec, Ph.D.

Center for the Study of the Self

Gloucester, Virginia

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 13, No. 2, 1996