Summary (Brad Bergfalk)
Houston moves from describing the “Heroic Mentor” and the “Stoic Mentor” to what he calls the “Secular Psychotherapeutic Mentor.” Houston asserts that the “therapeutic mentor” is the most pervasive of the three in American culture. The “therapeutic mentor” finds its embodiment in the psychoanalytic revolution of Sigmund Freud and later Carl Jung. Whereas previous civilizations were grounded in some kind of religious foundation, the post-psychoanalytic revolution is wholly secular. According to Houston, the psychoanalytic theory succeeded in promoting the rational post-enlightenment human that was both self-contained, and at the same time secular. Sin disappeared in favor of self-fulfillment. The goal was not longer a life with God, but self-understanding, self-expression, and self-discovery.
While this continues to be the dominant therapeutic model to the present
day, Houston suggests there is a growing “awareness that it founders
both fostered and frustrated psychological inquiry (p. 81).” In our
post-modern context, we can no longer assume that we can know enough
about ourselves to accept the rational enlightenment arguments upon
which this theory is based. Houston argues that the principle weakness
of this model of mentoring is the “inherent potential for truthfulness
being off-set by its quasi-religious, pseudo-scientific character.” The
implication for Houston is the “complete transformation” of the field of
psychoanalysis. He concludes his critique of the “psychotherapeutic
mentor”by citing an extended parable from Kierkegaard illustrating how
difficult it is for the insane to recognize the “insanity” of their own
This is my favorite chapter in the book thus far. I liked it so much
that I wanted to critique the therapeutic model for my comments in his
last chapter. The prevalence of the co-called “psycho-therapeutic
mentor” is pervasive in the church. It underlies much of what we do in
ministry. While we in the church don’t necessarily speak in
Freudian/Jungian terms, the fact that most Christians believe that
Christianity is supposed to make us feel good belies the influence of
As a pastor, a day seldom goes by when I am not confronted by persons
seeking to fit their religious convictions into their larger therapeutic
worldview whether they know it or not. The blame for the nearly complete
therapeutic captivity of the church should not rest entirely on Freud,
Jung, and their contemporary disciples. Part of the responsibility
rests squarely on the shoulders of pastors like me who forget the
demands of the Gospel and try to make our congregations feel good at the
expense of the Gospel.
My only disappointment in this chapter is that Houston doesn’t point the
reader in another direction. He provides a thorough critique and then
leaves the reader licking his/her psycho-therapeutic wounds.
While I agreed with some of Houston’s chapter, I found the chapter woefully inadequate for several reasons:
First, the therapeutic culture is not defined adequately. I know plenty who see “therapeia” as the heart of the gospel: it can heal us completely, including mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. What is the therapeutic culture? What are its salient characteristics? Its stengths and weaknesses? Who are its major proponents today?
Second, I thought the tone of this chapter was cranky: his Heroic and Stoic models were more evenhanded. In this chapter I found a diatribe from front to back. Is there nothing good in psychology?
Third, I’d like to know who he is really talking about. There are very few pure Freudians in existence today; most in the psycho-therapy world are thoroughly eclectic in approach. Too much on Freud and Jung, and not enough on the more scientific eclectic approaches today: why not delve into the DSM? Isn’t this diagnostic manual where psychology is today?
Fourth, I’d like to see some respect for those theologians and psychologists who have worked hard to interact with one another. I think of David Benner’s Encycolopedia or Bill Kirwin’s book or the many other fine Christians who have thought long and hard about the role psychology is to play in Christian maturity and ministry.
Finally, I’d like to see how the therapeutic culture has infected the Church — which seems to be a direction Houston takes us but doesn’t fully deliver.