Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Spiritual Formation Training in the George Fox University Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Spiritual Formation Training in the George Fox University Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology

Article excerpt

Spiritual formation training in the George Fox University Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology is described. An evangelical Quaker institution, the ethos of George Fox University is intended to foster experiential spiritual development and reflective self-awareness. In a 2008 curriculum revision the faculty attempted to strengthen the experiential dimensions of spiritual formation training even at the risk of reducing training in more academic dimensions of theology and integration. A 2013 program evaluation solicited student and alumni perspectives on the effectiveness of the spiritual formation training they received. Results of the program evaluation suggest areas for future development.

Doctoral training in clinical psychology is a rewarding and arduous task. In half a decade's time, students move from learning basic Rogerian skills of empathy in their first year to delivering specialized evidence-based interventions at the end of training. In the first year most don't know how to compute a standard error of measurement. By the end of training they routinely interpret psychological assessment results with a sophisticated understanding of the psychometric basis of testing. At the beginning of training a dissertation seems like a monumental task-a huge mountain that must be climbed. By the end they have climbed the mountain and may have engaged in other research projects as well. During an intensive five years, students move from being novices in the field of psychology to being experts deserving of a doctoral degree.

But all this professional formation comes at a cost. Throughout training students often experience fatigue, frustration, and struggle. A demanding training environment can have implications for personal relationships, including relationships with God (Fisk et al., 2013). Some find their spiritual life and identity to change quite dramatically amidst the rigor of doctoral training. The risk is that professional acumen comes at the cost of spiritual vitality.

The Importance of Spiritual Formation

Whereas spiritual formation and particular prayer practices may be useful to anyone in any vocational context, the rigor and demands on emerging psychologists make it especially important for doctoral students to consider their spiritual well-being and related issues of formation. Spiritual formation generally encompasses both educational endeavors as well as the more in depth process of spiritual direction. This combination of education and experiential practices is intended to deepen faith and spiritual growth (May, 1982). Focusing on the spiritual health of the developing psychologist is not only an important aspect of training, but it may also allow for increased self-awareness that helps eliminate bias toward others and therefore enables the practice of psychology in an ethical manner (American Psychological Association, 2010).

Spiritual Formation in an Evangelical Quaker Context

George Fox University is affiliated with the Northwest Yearly Meeting, a group of Christians who meet and worship in the tradition of Friends (Quakers). That said, the school attracts faculty and students from a variety of Christian denominations and traditions, and the Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology (GDCP) attempts to train students to understand a broad range of religious and spiritual perspectives (McMinn et al., in press). Still, the evangelical Quaker influence remains a prevalent part of the campus community as well as the semi-rural town of Newberg where the GDCP resides.

Quaker spirituality is deeply experiential, with an emphasis on finding Christ in the present moment and in present circumstances. Quakers have long avoided distinctions between sacred and secular, instead emphasizing God's presence everywhere, in every moment, and in every person (Bill, 2005). One of the great human challenges then is to be attuned to the presence of God amidst whatever circumstances one may experience. …

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