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Interdenominational Theology Center (ITC)

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This dissertation offers an interdisciplinary model of pastoral counseling with 'interdependence' as its organizing principle. This interdisciplinary model relies on the theological concept of Community, according to Howard Thurman, and the psychological issue of dependence as articulated in the Object Relations theory of W. R. D. Fairbairn. Interdependence as a norm for this interdisciplinary Community/Mature Dependence model of pastoral counseling is helpful in that it responds to a need in the field of pastoral counseling for relevant input concerning norms, values and criteria for effective pastoral counseling with persons, particularly those from bi-cultural communities, such as African Americans. In this respect, the African American cultural values of Collective Identity, Family life and Resiliency in Struggle and Suffering form an integral part of this interdisciplinary model.

Interwoven with the theological and psychological concepts and the African American cultural values are the clinical cases of two African Americans, a female and a male. These concepts and the cultural values chosen to bring to bear on the counseling relations with these persons are especially helpful due to their focus on the value of communal interrelating and the processes of whole-making. Prominent issues raised in conjunction with the clinical cases are: (1) the fragmentation, splitting and distorted self images that can occur due to improper nurturing in childhood and/or as a result of racism and oppression, (2) the effects of racism and discrimination on personal and familial value systems, and (3) the pain and suffering caused by unresolved conflict involved in the status of being bi-cultural.

Howard Thurman, as an African American theologian who, from outside the majority culture and some of its theoretical and cultural constrictions brings to this discussion his unique perspective of Community which grounds all persons and all dimensions of personhood in an Ultimate unity. Thurman, speaking with the insights of one who has suffered racial oppression and discrimination, lifts his voice of sensitive concern and caring to all persons bound in the human condition and outlines the task for the reconciliation of all of creation. Unity, Actualization of Potential, Love and Reconciliation are the four major components of Thurman's concept of Community addressed in this dissertation. My analysis also brings the object relations theory of W. R. D. Fairbairn into dialogue with Thurman, the cultural factors and the clinical data from the two case studies. Fairbairn, deviates from psychoanalytic tradition in that he formulated an alternative interpretation of the core of personality than that advocated by Sigmund Freud. Fairbairn's assertion is that the libidinal ego is first and foremost in need and in search of an satisfying object, i.e., a meaningful and positive relationship with another person.

With the help of Thurman, Fairbairn, the clinical cases and African American cultural factors, I highlight the illusory or at best transient nature of independence and the process I demonstrate the need for an appreciation of the nature of dependency, particularly in the context of Interdependence. A three dimensional model of pastoral counseling is presented which elaborates upon the importance of (1) the client's historical situation and cultural values; (2) identification, a proper sense of self and differentiation; and, (3) shared suffering, actualization of potential and liberating and reconciling love.

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