Convergence and Complementarity in Therapy and Theology
London: Karnac 2008
David Buckley is a retired Methodist minister and a psychodynamic counsellor and supervisor. This book is his reflection on being part of two worlds: psychotherapy and a church. The title Where the Waters Meet is indicative of his approach; he is sailing the open sea, where those worlds meet and begin to merge. Experiences and wisdom gained in both converge and he describes his methodology as complementary: he does not see himself as someone who makes comparisons or uses tools gained in one world to criticise or explain the other but rather – as I would put it – as integrating what is meaningful for him. I enjoyed this book, finding it genuinely helpful for my own integration of the two worlds that I too am part of, and I offer here a few examples of the insights I gained while reading it.
I have at times at times wondered why Christian tradition has developed a very pessimistic view of human ability or goodness. I found it truly helpful to view this process as a form of splitting similar to what Melanie Klein describes as part of the paranoid-schizoid position: the believer needs to project his or her own goodness on to God in order to cope with the reality of life. So projections are at play in our relationship with God (if we have one).
I agree with Buckley that we do not have to come to the Freudian conclusion that God does not exist simply because our relationship with God will be as transferential as any other relationship we might have. An immature faith (even though Buckley hesitates to make that judgement) will use a splitting mechanism. Dualism postulates two different forces for good and evil in the world. Believers following the idea of one divine force may, according to Buckley, return to a punitive God-image. Growth involves the ability to let go of such an image; a mature faith involves the realisation that God is different, and ultimately incomprehensible, even though we as human beings need to make sense of our experiences in the light of faith (if we have started on that journey). I am not entirely convinced that this is a sufficient answer in the light of evil but that is a different matter. I do however agree that the biblical idea of God’s anger is closely related to God’s longing for justice.
Faith for Buckley means being able to trust in God’s presence even though the reality of creation (the world we live in) is frightening. Growth involves acknowledging ultimate dependency on Being and becoming agents in our lives, acknowledging the divine presence and goodness in ourselves that enable us to act responsibly while also taking on accountability for evil.
Christian tradition describes change in a person as initiated by the Holy Spirit; it is a concept that sometimes has left me wondering whether there is space for inner goodness and human initiative. Understanding the process as akin to introjection – as when good parenting or good therapy initiates psychological change – sheds new light on an old idea. Buckley draws on person-centred ideas when interpreting biblical scriptures. I agree with him that Jesus in the New Testament comes across as someone who offers unconditional positive regard that enables change and would add that Rogers’s ideas offer a secular version of Christianity and reflect his protestant background.
Buckley gives sufficient background information to enable the interested reader to follow his argument. For ministers and theologians the basic tenets of psychodynamic theory and practice are well explained while for those with little or no knowledge of Christian tradition but curious as to whether it still offers a meaningful framework in this day and age, the theological concepts that have influenced Buckley’s thinking are clearly set out. For me Buckley offers a perspective on Christian tradition that I find meaningful. Every reader will have his or her own thoughts on that.
Rev. Dr. Uta Blohm is a United Reformed Church Minister in her third year of psychotherapy training at the Minster Centre.