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Counseling Women: A Narrative, Pastoral Approach

Author: 
Christie Cozad Neuger (Author)
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Description

In this signal volume, Christie Neuger offers a new feminist paradigm for radical, effective, empowering counseling for women. She contends that pastors must take up the challenge of pastoral counseling, especially in light of the revolutionary pastoral implications of gender studies and feminist theology, as well as the continuing personal and social effects of sexism.
Neuger's work promises to aid counselors "to help women resist and transform the negative effects of a woman-unfriendly culture" and so to reclaim their stories, their strength, and their lives.
ISBN: 
9780800634223
Price: 
$24.00
Release date: 
May 16, 2001
Pages: 
280
Width: 
6
Height: 
9

Endorsements

"Christie Neuger gives us a breathtaking and prophetic view of the often invisable social, cultural, and systemic forces that affect women's life stories. Counseling Women offers a much-needed narrative approach to pastoral care and brief counseling that is grounded in the feminist theological commitments of empowerment, justice, grace, and interdependency. An important contribution!"
— Pamela Cooper-White, author of The Cry of Tamar

"Offering a new feminist paradigm for radical, effective, and empowering counseling for women, Neuger contends that pastors must take up the challenge of pastoral counseling. She sees this especially needed in light of the revolutionary pastoral implications of gender studies and feminist theology, and the continuing personal and social effects of sexism. Her hope is to help counselors aid women in resisting and transforming the negative effects of a woman-unfriendly culture, reclaiming their stories and lives."
The Other Side

Preface

The problems and choices that bring many women to pastoral counseling are, at the very least, complicated by the layers of gender training, gender oppression, and the dynamics of racism, classism, heterosexism, and ableism. Pastors need to be equipped with pastoral counseling approaches that are informed by psychological, theological, and clinical methods that address the realities of women's lives. When religious leaders counsel with women who are struggling against depression, anxiety, abuse, exhaustion, and frustration, we need to be able to do more than listen and support. We need to be able to help women gain confidence about and language for the challenges they face. We need to be able to help women see their struggles in a way that exposes the cultural biases and distortions at their roots. And we need to be able to help women make the kinds of choices and connections that assist them to gain and maintain greater satisfaction and richer life options. The purpose of this book is to provide a set of resources for religious leaders who engage in pastoral counseling with women.

I became interested in the issues involved in counseling women when, after graduating from seminary, I engaged in two years of pastoral care and counseling training and then a doctoral program in pastoral counseling. During the two-year residency, I found myself primarily in counseling situations with women who presented descriptions of various problems they were facing. Those descriptions—of depression, of uncertainty, of weariness and frustration, of abuse—seemed to have many story strands in common. Yet the theories and approaches to pastoral counseling I was being trained in, didn't lend themselves to exploring these commonalties. Instead, they encouraged me to look at each counselee's story through an isolating lens where cultural factors and issues of power and marginalization were less important than the particular developmental issues, with their intrapsychic and narrowly conceived systemic implications. My feminist consciousness resisted both the theological and psychological lenses that seemed to obscure and pathologize the real life experiences of and consequences for these women who were seeking help. But that left me without adequate means to offer the kind of relevant and effective counseling that should have been available. I was able to offer affirmation, validation, and companionship, which were nurturing for women counselees, but my pastoral counseling theory and practice were missing a necessary integration.

Through a doctoral program and into many years of practice I continued to experience a lack of integration between theory, theology, and practice that could provide an effective means of taking culture and its layers of power and oppression, marginalization and entitlement, shared experience and unique life story, seriously. Feminist philosophy provided unifying threads but never adequate integration.

Two developments helped me to break through this stalemate. First, I was able to pull together my experiences in pastoral counseling with women to create a four-fold pastoral counseling framework that reflects my deepest theological commitments of empowerment, justice, grace, and interdependency. This framework gave me a way to bring consistency and integrity to my pastoral counseling work. Counseling Women is organized around this framework.Second was my discovery of and training in narrative counseling theory. This counseling approach, highly influenced by feminist and other liberation theories, reflects an attentiveness to both culture and person. It is deeply respectful, relies on a consultative rather than an expert model, and is elegant in both its simplicity and thoroughness. It is efficient, effective, empowering, and deeply relational. The relationship of focus, however, is not that between counselor and counselee as much as it is between the counselee and the variety of relationships that form the warp and woof of her life story. It is a theory based on hope and on the foundational reality that human beings are makers of meaning at their deepest core and that reality is constructed as we make meaning out of our experience.

These theoretical dimensions are crucial for the practice of pastoral counseling. Narrative theory's efficient and effective qualities, as well as the de-centering of the counselor in the counseling process, make this approach well suited to parish pastors. Its respectful and advocative nature make it well suited to a liberationist theological commitment. Its care for the particular story in the midst of dominant cultural discourses make it well suited for working with women. Its focus on hope and possibility make it well suited for all.

I am grateful for the opportunity to put these ideas into the public domain. I want to thank the editorial staff at Fortress Press who offered both opportunity and encouragement. I also want to express my deep appreciation to United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities for the sabbatical time I received to complete this manuscript and for being a liberating and empowering place for faculty and students alike. The members of the Society for Pastoral Theology have provided a context in which to test ideas and engage in collegial conversation. It is a deep wellspring for me. The feminist pastoral supervision group in which I have participated for the past eight years read this manuscript and offered helpful ideas and powerful support.

My family is and always has been extraordinarily supportive and so my thanks go to my son Dan and his soon-to-be wife Chrissy and to my daughter Cathy and her new husband Gregg. And, as always, my deepest love and appreciation go to my life partner of thirty years, Win Neuger. Finally, I want to express gratitude to all the women who have been willing to entrust their stories to me in a pastoral counseling relationship. This book has been woven from their narratives.

Table of Contents

Preface

1. Setting the Scene
Gender Studies and the Revolution of Knowledge
The Realities of Patriarchy
Media and Self-Image
Implications
Pastoral Issues in Counseling with Women

2. Building the Frame
Personality Theory
Counseling Theory
Conclusion

3. Helping Women Come to Voice
The Centrality of Voice in Feminist Theory and Theology
Contexts Related to Women's Loss of Voice
A Narrative Approach to Helping Women Come to Voice

4. Coming to Voice in the Context of Intimate Violence
Intimate Violence and the Church
Intimate Violence: Definitions and Contexts
Helping Women Come to Voice in the Context of Intimate Violence

5. Helping Women Gain Clarity
Gaining Distance from Problematic or Untruthful Narrative Strands
Five Rs for Helping Women to Gain Clarity

6. Gaining Clarity in the Context of Depression
Defining Depression
Who Gets Depressed?
Women's Experiences with Depression
Life in a Sexist, Racist, and Classist Culture
Caring for Women Struggling with Depression
Implications for Narrative Counseling

7. Helping Women Make Choices
Risks in Making Choices
Models of Choice Making
A Feminist Narrative Approach to Helping Women Make Choices
Criteria for Making and Evaluating Choices
The Personal and Political Nature of Making Choices

8. Making Choices in the Context of Aging
Challenging Ageist and Sexist Stereotypes
The Importance of Studying Women and Aging
Living with and Escaping from the Culture's Sexist and Ageist Messages
Risks and Benefits of Aging for Women
Helping Older Women Make Narrative Choices

9. Conclusion: Helping Women Stay Connected
Helping Women Stay Connected— Women and Relationality
The Importance of Community for Women in Pastoral Counseling

Notes

Index