Theology and Therapy Project: a Brief Summary

The project aims to understand the "cross-fertilization" of Christianity, psychotherapy and spirituality in post-war Scotland, and to bring this knowledge into a dialogue with contemporary debates in psychotherapy, theology, and religious studies.

Firstly, how did psychotherapy in post-war Scotland borrow and adapt Christian ideas and practices?

Existing research on latent Christian meanings in post-war Scottish psychotherapy is developed by considering various endeavours in which psychotherapy was seemingly offered in response to secularised Scotland's "discursive bereavement" at the loss of Christian metanarratives.

Secondly, how did Christianity in post-war Scotland adopt and translate psychotherapeutic ideas and practices?

The Church of Scotland generally endorsed post-war social improvement and the rising welfare state. While embracing ecumenism and a more diverse polity, the Kirk maintained its centrality within Scotland by contributing to secular agencies and movements that improved society and advanced the kingdom of God. The project therefore investigates the ideological legitimation of psychotherapy as part of "God's will for church and nation".

Thirdly, how was this Scottish fusion of Christianity and psychotherapy exported to England?

In order to situate Scottish developments in a wider context, there will be a limited, propaedeutic investigation of relevant actors, ideologies, and institutions in England.

The project draws upon two mains sources of evidence:

Documentary analysis will examine published and unpublished material, including discursive works, personal documents, and institutional records. It will be guided by the interpretive position that even our recent culture is in need of careful expert reconstruction and will explore the underlying rhetoric and metaphors that quietly moulded ideas about religion and psychotherapy.

Oral-history testimony will be collected from around fifteen figures who have been selected because of their expertise, commitment and leading institutional roles during this time. Their testimony will be used primarily to understand the personal networks of the time, how the ideas of this period were lived and experienced, and how these led to a certain understanding of the value of the "examined life".

The project will inform both academics and the wider community.

As well as writing articles, and presenting their ideas at academic conferences, the team will pursue other strategies in order to disseminate results more widely. A professional audience of psychotherapists, counsellors, clergy and pastoral workers will be addressed through two conferences hosted at the University of Edinburgh. The project team will also reach their professional audience through events organised with bodies such as The Sutherland Trust, COSCA (Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland), the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and Scottish Churches House, as well as through training of ordinands, a web-site, a project summary, a plain-language report, and articles in practitioner newsletters or journals. Wider impact will be attempted through the website, popular articles and production of a radio programme.

Why does this project matter?

The project's results will contribute to scholarly debates in theology, religious studies, and the history and theory of psychotherapy. They will also inform a professional audience of psychotherapists, counsellors, clergy, and pastoral workers. Furthermore, by engaging in a dialogue with this audience, the project's results will have an additional wider relevance to policy. Psychotherapy is facing a contested process of state regulation in which a medical model of therapy has so far been central. By recovering other ways of understanding psychotherapy - such as the interpersonal pastoral relation - the project will inform this ongoing debate.