Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology

By Barnett, Keri L. | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology


Barnett, Keri L., Journal of Psychology and Christianity


PSYCHOLOGY IN THE SPIRIT: CONTOURS OF A TRANSFORMATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY. John H. Coe and Todd W. Hall. (2010). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. Pp. 442. Reviewed by Keri L. Barnett (Roberts Wesleyan College/Rochester, NY).

From the outset of Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology, Coe and Hall state that their ultimate goal in writing this book is not fully possible in this life due to our fallen nature. Yet, through this book, they make significant headway in reaching their desire "... to reclaim, redeem and transform what is missing and distorted; namely, a psychology that is grounded in the Spirit and a radically relational view of the person" (p. 37). The authors go beyond just integrating the disciplines of psychology and theology. Instead, they develop a unique model of doing psychology in the Spirit, which they call a transformational psychology. The heart of this model is "... that the character of the person grounds and preserves both the process of doing psychology and its product" (p. 38).

The book is divided into five parts, containing a total of eighteen chapters. In preface to the first section of the book, there is a brief introduction as well as a chapter that describes the authors' personal journeys. Although this is an unusual addition to an academic book, it is both fitting and highly relevant given the emphasis on the character of the person doing psychology in the transformational model of psychology. It is also interesting to see how the authors' life experiences have impacted their view of psychology.

In section one, Coe and Hall begin to lay the groundwork for a transformational psychology, starting with a helpful overview and critique analysis of various models used to integrate psychology and Christianity. Then in chapter four, Coe builds on the strengths of the models presented in the previous chapter as he outlines their model of doing psychology in the Spirit. Coe states:

According to this transformational approach, there is a logical movement in a field of inquiry or science: from (a) being spiritually transformed by the spiritual disciplines that encourage and protect the scientist/psychologist in doing science well methodologically, so that (b) the product of theory is adequate, leading to (c) the fruit of praxis of soul care and the transformation of the scientist/psychologist in the love of God and neighbor, (p. 98-100)

Because this model explicitly states that the process of doing psychology is protected from self-deception and distortion by the spiritualemotional health of psychologists, chapter five explains how engaging in spiritual disciplines is absolutely foundational to this approach. Both clinicians and academicians will find the practical suggestions for applying spiritual disciplines to their day-to-day work to be inspiring spiritually.

The next section of the book explores some of the methodological issues of a transformational psychology. First, Due to the limitations of the modernist approach to science, this model uses a classical-realist approach, which allows reality to determine methodology. Thus, ethics, values, Scriptures, and immaterial objects can then become legitimate subjects studied by the science of psychology. Chapter seven uses the Old Testament sage from the Wisdom literature (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon) to illustrate and support "... a realist approach to exploring reality that is not created or distorted by a predetermined method of approach to knowing . …

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