Editorial: Navigating challenges through wisdom old and new

Author: Dr Janet E. Penny

Publish date: December 14, 2022
Reading Time: 4 minutes


With the beginning of the new calendar year, I am inevitably drawn towards reflecting on what the past year has brought. Experiences for many last year are reflected in the announcement that the Collins Dictionary word of the year 2022 was ‘permacrisis’, defined as, ‘an extended period of instability and insecurity, especially one resulting from a series of catastrophic events’ (2022). At times, it has felt as if we have been stumbling into one challenge after another. And as a psychologist, it seems to me that we are currently in a complex mix of post- (though not over globally) pandemic, post-adrenaline fatigue and confusion as we retrospectively make sense of what we have experienced, whilst also trying to adjust to new challenges. There are not always enough hands to catch what is being thrown at us.

From a lifespan developmental perspective, many writers emphasise how life difficulties shape development (e.g. Elder, 1997; Hendry & Kloep, 2002). As well as the usual maturational development unfolding with biological processes, human development continues throughout adult life as a dynamic interplay between coping/resources and demands/challenges. From this view, changes can occur as difficulties are navigated, resulting in decay, stagnation or development with strengthened resources (Hendry & Kloep, 2002). The pivot on which the trajectory of decay or development turns is complex; there is no single variable that explains why one person develops whereas another stagnates. For example, Bronfenbrenner’s model suggests there is a complex, multi-directional interaction between all the various micro and macro social systems of which a person is a part (1979); it would be empirically difficult to isolate the factors that determine causality in adaptive development. Nonetheless, there is the potential for ‘successful’ development in the face of challenges. Hendry and Kloep define success as ‘when the process of solving [a challenge] does not drain the individual’s resources but adds to them’ (2002; p. 29). This notion coheres somewhat with a biblical perspective that suffering has transformative potential to deepen our spirituality.

Whilst systemic theorists argue that humans can be resistant to change, that is, having an innate tendency towards homeostasis (Lebow et al, 2019), it is also recognised that humans have a wonderful ability to adapt, sometimes in surprising and creative ways. And so, as the year is reflected on, an important counterpoint to acknowledging the challenges is a noticing of growth, development, resourcefulness, adaption, coping and the like, in all their various forms, from the pragmatic to the spiritual.

Ana Churchman, Lianna Roast and Julie Kier’s article in this issue on the adaption of cognitive behavioural therapy within a community faith context seems to be a timely and important development, particularly in the light of the increased need for mental health services in recent years. It seems to be a successful example of how faith can be ethically integrated in counselling and psychotherapy – an issue explored in depth by Heather Churchill’s article in this issue. Victoria Owen’s article continues this focus with her research on intuition in Christian counselling. There seems to be a growing emphasis on recognising the importance of faith and spirituality in therapy with developments in theory and practice. Whilst not about innovation, Jenny Campbell’s article on ‘Body and soul in the embrace of Christ’, brings us back to some much-needed ancient wisdom and frames its importance for the modern world. As well as adaption and change, we can bear in the mind the biblical encouragement to bring out ‘treasures old and new’ (Matthew 13:52). And perhaps that is the ‘difference that makes a difference’ (Bateson, 1972; p. 462); knowing when to lay down tried and tested ways of coping for new strategies, and when to return to ancient wisdom.


Bateson, G. (1972) Steps to An Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979) The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Collins Dictionary (2022) Permacrisis, [Online] Available at www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/permacrisis [Accessed 22 November 2022].

Elder, G.H. Jr. (1997) ‘The life course and human development’. In W. Damon & R.M. Lerner (eds), Handbook of Child Psychology. 4th Edn. New York: Wiley.

Hendry, L.B. & Kloep, M. (2002) Lifespan Development, London: Thomson Learning.

Lebow, J.L., Chambers, A.L. & Breulin, D.C. (eds) (2019) Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

About the author

Dr Janet Penny BA (Hons), MSc, PGPDip, C. Psychol., AFBPsS; HCPC Registered Psychologist, Chartered Psychologist, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society

Janet is Deputy Head of Counselling Training at Waverley Abbey College. As well as having a private clinical practice, Janet is a research supervisor for doctoral candidates at the Metanoia Institute. Her own doctoral research was on power dynamics and the development of intra-cultural competence within Christian counselling. She has many years’ experience teaching in higher education, focusing on the integration of faith and psychology in Christian counselling, and research methodology.

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