Nudge Toward Self-Scrutiny

I’m reading Pamela Cooper-White’s book, Shared Wisdom: The Use of Self in Pastoral Care and Counseling. It’s essentially a book about countertransference and it’s good use in the pastoral ministries of care, counseling, and psychotherapy. I grabbed the title as one-to-read at the beginning of my residency and mostly because my previous clinical supervisor in Urban CPE suggested that I continue to explore the notion and practice of “use of self” in my work.

I hadn’t read Cooper-White’s work before I heard that direction from my supervisor. When we started our residency, we were given the option to choose one book to read and review in place of one verbatim. So, I’m reading Shared Wisdom in order to relay what findings I’m seeing and how they relate to chaplaincy in particular and to pastoral ministry in general.

I’m not going to review the book here. I’m 90% through it, but I want to finish it before commenting deeply on its high significance, even for ministers without any real introduction to pastoral care literature, psychodynamic theory, or the variety of approaches to pastoral counseling. The book is a great introduction to all those in my view, though it doesn’t intend to be exhaustive in that introduction.

I want to pull one quote that I think will grab at the book theme and intention. It’s context-less, which I’m generally against, but it does stand on its own and communicates a few things about the total work (It’s from pgs. 173-174):

Not only is none of us immune to the occurrence of unanticipated enactment moments in deep therapeutic work, but I would venture that none of us is immune to at least occasional seductive desires to be the omnipotent healer. While this probably does not constitute an entrenched, predatory charaterological pattern in most practitioners, the very dynamics that often draw individuals to pursue caregiving professions virtually guarantee an intensification of unconscious impulses along a healer-healed axis. Grandiosity may not only appear in the guise of being the special healer of our patients. It may also appear in the form of overestimating our capacity to contain and analyze all the possible meanings that can arise when enactments do occur. As Arnold Goldberg has stated, many enactments may not in and of themselves constitute anything overtly unethical in the moral sense. However, we must acknowledge our limitations in being able adequately to process these enactments and to contain the energies they generate.

Cooper-White is doing a few things here worth capturing:

  1. She reminds us that enactments happen.
  2. She pushes us to question our self-understandings as leaders, particularly of the omnipotent sort.
  3. She says what most don’t know: certain kinds of people go into ministry and we generally have certain impulses.
  4. She uses the word grandiosity which in itself is a nudge (or a wall) worth lingering with.
  5. She writes about limitations and the notion is deeply theological, anthropological, and ethical.

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