Editorial: The Art of Listening

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The month of July, in which I am writing this editorial, is, for me, a kind of liminal space in which one academic year is coming to an end while the focus begins to shift towards preparing for the next in the autumn. Practicalities inevitably shape this complex, dual season of ending and beginning, but, in quieter moments, reflections on what the passing year has meant for me come to mind. I am always surprised by how teaching similar content from year to year can be experienced so differently by each cohort as they engage with the learning. The teaching experience is profoundly intersubjective; something is uniquely co-created between the students and me as we both navigate the course material, academically and personally. And that enriches my own development as a tutor and academic.

An intersubjective view within psychotherapy (e.g. Burski & Haglund, 2020) challenges the modernist conception of the therapist as an objective observer in which unconscious material is uncovered as if on ‘an archaeological dig’ (Wachtel, 2014: 344). In this modernist view, the retrieved treasure is relatively unaffected by the context of the archaeologist and their methods of discovery. In contrast, an intersubjective perspective sees the therapy process and relationship as ‘mutual, reciprocal and collaborative’ (ibid:344); the relationship is co-created, with each person viewed as ‘influencing and influence-able’ (Orbach, 2014: 13). It is dynamic, and challenging, and requires openness from each person to reflect on what they are bringing to the relational field.

It also involves therapeutic listening that is prepared to roll up its sleeves, get stuck in and help. It coheres somewhat with Ursula Le Guinn’s comment in her essay ‘Telling is Listening’, that ‘Listening is not a reaction. It is a connection. Listening to a conversation or a story, we don’t so much as respond as join in – become part of the action’. (2004: 196). Of course, that joining in within a therapy context is nuanced, therapeutic and restrained, but the point remains that even by simply listening, we are shaping and being shaped by the dialogue. There is no place of objectivity or neutrality; we are always joining in the story and becoming ‘part of the action’. We cannot help but be changed by (and change) the stories we hear, whatever the relational context.

In this issue of the journal, it seems to me that the articles touch on these issues of co-created relationships and what it means to listen in diverse ways. Hayley Barnett’s research using interpretative phenomenological analysis (Smith, Flowers & Larkin, 2009) helpfully explores Christian counsellors’ experiences of hearing from God in the clinical context. It acknowledges how spirituality can contribute to the co-creation of the therapeutic relationship. Barnett also highlights how participants’ relationship with God impacts their ways of being with the client, raising numerous interesting relational and ethical questions. In the church context, David Wise’s reflections on embodiment and worship from a spiritual formation perspective trace the transition towards having a congregation comprising of people from more than 40 different nationalities. His thoughtful piece touches on a number of profound issues, not least what it means to be human, but illustrates how being open to listen to the different language of dance has transformative potential.

Heather Churchill’s article on the development of the BA Counselling course at Waverley Abbey College and the Waverley integrative framework (WIF; Hughes, 2002; Ashley, 2013) outlines several different conversations that are co-created, in particular, her own engagement with the WIF and her argument for a dialogical approach to the integration of psychotherapy/counselling and faith/spirituality. Historically, the relationship between psychotherapy and faith/religion has not been warm (Bienenfeld & Yager, 2007), but there has been something of shift in the last few decades as the two disciplines have continued to dialogue and reflect on approaches to the integration of the two fields (Nielson and Dowd, 2006). Churchill’s doctoral research, described in her article, has whole-heartedly listened to the integrative conversation, and joined the action, outlining the creation of the BA in Counselling and further developments in the Waverley integrative framework.

Andy Hardy’s article also joins the conversation about the WIF with his interesting invitation for a dialogue between the framework and ‘ordinary theology’ (Astley, 2002: 56). This theological approach privileges the lived theology of everyday believers (ibid). He argues for the WIF to be theologically enhanced, potentially making it more applicable in a wider range of spiritual contexts beyond counselling. It will be interesting to see how these conversations continue to develop.

Finally, Phil Shepherd’s beautifully written introduction to mindfulness for therapists calls attention to the ways in which mindfulness can engender presence and deep listening. It includes an insightful reminder that being present, and listening are to be embodied – lived – rather than merely talked about. It has echoes of Aveline’s oft-quoted point that, ‘What therapists can bear to hear in themselves, they can hear in their patients’ (1990: 333). Listening is foundational to serving others and changes not only those we help but, indeed, ourselves.


Ashley, O. (2013) A Theological and Practical Evaluation of CWR’s Waverley Christian Counselling Model. (Kindle edition). Farnham: CWR.

Astley, J. (2002) Ordinary Theology: Looking, Listening and Learning in Theology. Farnham: Ashgate.

Aveline, M. (1990) ‘The training and supervision of individual therapists’. In: W. Dryden (ed.), Individual Therapy: A Handbook. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Bienenfeld, D. & Yager, J. (2007) Issues of spirituality and religion in psychotherapy supervision. Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences. 44 (3), 178-186.

Burski, & Haglund (2020) Making Sense Together. (2nd ed.) London: Rowman and Littlefield.

Hughes, S. (2002) Christ Empowered Living. (Originally published 2001 by Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, UK edition published 2002), Farnham: CWR.

Le Guinn, U. (2004) ‘Telling is Listening’. In: U. Le Guinn, The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Nielson, S. L. & Dowd, E. T. (2006) Religion for psychotherapists: The psychologies in religion versus the psychology of religion. In E. T. Dowd & S. L. Nielson (Eds.), The Psychologies in Religion. pp. 1-18, New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Orbach, S. (2014) ‘Democratizing psychoanalysis’. In: D. Loewenthal, A. Samuels, (eds), Relational Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis and Counselling. London: Routledge.

Smith, J.A., Flowers, P. & Larkin, M. (2009) Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Wachtel, P. (2014) ‘An integrative relational point of view’. Psychotherapy. 51(3), pp. 342-349.

Copyright 2022 Dr Janet E. Penny

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Christian Counsellors’ Experience of Hearing from God for their Clients: An Interpretative Phenomenological Approach

Reading Time: 33 minutes



Background: The integration of spirituality in counselling is now more acceptable in the counselling profession. Research has tended to focus on the use of spiritual interventions with clients, rather than the effect of the counsellor’s spirituality on the counselling work. The rationale for this study was to explore how Christian counsellors integrate their spiritual selves into their client work. The particular aspect of integration of interest was the phenomenon of Christian counsellors hearing from God for their clients, and what they do with what they receive.

Aim/Methodology: This study used interpretative phenomenological analysis to explore five Christian counsellors’ experience of hearing from God for their clients.

Findings: Three super-ordinate themes emerged from the data. These were: 1. beliefs and activities of the participants that positioned them to hear from God for their clients with sub-themes of: participants’ beliefs about God, self and clients; participants’ inclusion of God in the client work; and what the participants perceived as hearing from God. 2. Participants’ dilemmas with receiving communication from God with sub-themes of: participants’ uncertainties about hearing from God; what the participants do with what they’ve received from God; and professional concerns. 3. What meaning the participants gave to the communication from God with sub-themes of: what hearing from God for their clients meant to the participant personally; what hearing from God meant to the client work; and what the participants thought what they had heard from God meant to the client.

Implications: Inclusion of the transcendent other, the use of covert prayer and hearing from God was discussed, along with ethical consideration. Implications for practice and suggestions for further research were offered.


It is not unusual for therapist’s beliefs and values to influence their motivation to work in the profession (Kernes & Kinnier, 2008). However, in the early twentieth century, psychology seemed to deliberately distance itself from religion and spirituality (Pargament & Saunders, 2007:903). Now views have changed, with it being accepted that counsellors’ spiritual beliefs are likely to influence their practice and the co-creation of the therapeutic relationship (Blair, 2015; Christodoulidi, 2011:94). Furthermore, it is not unusual for counsellors in mainstream practice to use prayer in their client work (Gubi, 2001).

According to Gubi, prayer can have a ‘sense of encounter, communication and connection’ with God (Gubi, 2008:17). This Augustian, relational view of God sees prayer as a two-way communication with God in an I/Thou, intimate relationship (Buber, 1970 cited West, 2011:192; Ashley, 2015:149; Grenz, 2001:162 cited Ashley, 2015:47). If the Christian counsellor chooses to communicate with God about their clients, there could be possible outcomes such as an encounter with God, communication from God or connection with God. Communication from God could come in a variety of ways – through thoughts and impressions, visions, physical sensations, a still, small voice, hunches or scripture (Dein & Cook, 2015; Joubert & Maartens, 2018). Therefore, when a Christian counsellor hears from God for their clients, there is potentially going to be an interaction between God, the counsellor and the client. Hence the rationale for this research.

This research is important for two reasons. Firstly, there are ethical implications for the client work. Christian counsellors could be accused of misusing their position for proselytising (Case, 1997 cited Weld & Eriksen, 2007; Gubi, 2001). If Christian counsellors choose to use what they have heard from God with their client work, explaining how they came to have a particular insight may be a challenge. Also, receiving perceived communication from God about a client could tempt the counsellor into skewing the session away from the client’s agenda, with the client losing autonomy (BACP, 2018:9).

Secondly, it raises questions around Christian counsellors bringing their spiritual selves into the counselling relationship. By excluding this part of their spiritual selves, they risk a loss of authenticity that is driven by a fear of judgement from the profession (Mearns & Thorne, 2013:50). It seems plausible that the counsellor’s physical presence, emotions, thinking processes and choices can acceptably interact with the client – but the counsellor’s spirituality may be less welcome. Much of society today is at odds with Christian beliefs and values. Therefore, if a counsellor identifies as a Christian, they are potentially identifying with views and values that are considered controversial (Curtice et al, 2019:16).

The aims of this research are to explore Christian counsellors’ experience of hearing from God for their clients, to find out what they do with what they receive from God and reflect on the implications for counselling practice.

A brief review of the literature

Historical and social viewpoints

In the early twentieth century, psychology seemed to deliberately distance itself from religion and spirituality, with opposing views held by Freud and Jung (Pargament & Saunders, 2007:903). Freud saw religion and spirituality as a negative influence, whereas Jung acknowledged the reality of religious experiences and was convinced that the lack of acceptance of such is the root cause of psychological distress (Freud 1930/1961b:31-32, Jung 1978:339 & 252 cited Zinnbauer & Pargament, 2000:163).

Towards the end of the twentieth century, integration of spirituality and religion with psychology developed as the psychology of religion and transpersonal psychology evolved (Coyle, 2008). At the same time, Christian counselling models became less suspicious of the influence of psychology and chose to incorporate the common wisdom that the schools of psychology had developed (Ashley, 2015:62).

Speaking of one’s spirituality is now more acceptable and its inclusion within healthcare has provided a more person-centred approach (Young, Cashwell & Shcherbakova, 2000 cited Mayseless & Russo-Netzer, 2017:184). Furthermore, empirical evidence has shown that spirituality and religion help stabilise a person during negative life experiences (Sheldrake, 2013:214; Kreitzer, 2012:707).

Christian approaches

Christian counselling integrates Christian theology with psychology and has assumptions on God, humankind and relationships (Collins, 1988; Kallmier, 2011). When this research uses the term Christian counsellors, it means counsellors who have a Christian worldview, values and assumptions, but do not necessarily integrate formal Christian theology in their practice (ACC, 2014). Hood helpfully defines the Christian counsellor as professional counselling by an individual who identifies as a Christian, in partnership with God and employing primarily psychotherapeutic interventions (Hood, 2019:19). Being in partnership with God suggests a relationship that requires two-way communication and it is this communication between counsellor and God about their clients that is of interest to this study.

This current research explored situations where the therapist and client may or may not share the same religious tradition or spiritual worldview. Bergin argued that therapist’s values inevitably influence the goals and process of therapy, rather than the therapist having a neutral stance (Bergin, 1980:4). In the UK, research using qualitative and quantitative methods showed that Christian psychologists are aware of the challenge of holding spiritual values but not imposing those on their clients, and vice versa (Baker & Wang, 2004). French points out that Christian counsellors need to be aware of their own Christian formation or tradition and their expectations that God will work through them in their counselling work (French, 2019:30). Without this awareness, counter transference could occur within the therapy whereby the therapist reacts against or supports the client’s spirituality (Kochems, 1993 cited Hall & Hall, 1997:90).

Covert prayer in counselling

Spiritual integration can occur in counselling through the use of prayer, undertaken by the counsellor. Prayer can be defined as ‘any kind of communication or conversation with God, including focusing attention on God and experiential awareness of God’ (Finney & Malony, 1985 & Tan, 1996 cited Hall & Hall, 1997). Alternatively, prayer could be described as turning one’s heart and mind towards the sacred, as an ‘act of will in which we focus our concentration and to open up to our inner depths’ (La Torre, 2004:2), whereas Moors sees the speech-act of prayer as language which helps to bring God into our experience (Moors, 2017).

Spiritual exercises, such as practising God’s presence, can be viewed as a resource for both counsellor and client (Thorne, 1991:16). Gubi looked at how counsellors use spiritual practices in mainstream counselling as a way of giving their work over to something greater than themselves, and to help them cope with the demands of client work (Gubi, 2008:122). Further quantitative research has indicated that therapist’s spiritual exercises, such as mindfulness centring prior to therapy, enabled therapists to be more present, and according to client reports, more effective in the session (Dunn et al, 2012).

The use of prayer within therapy assumes that God is called upon to actively help in the process of therapy (Johnson & Ridley, 1992 cited Magaletta & Brawer, 1998:322). This could raise ethical concerns for power distribution in the counselling relationship, client autonomy and client agenda (BACP 2018). It could be argued that, if prayer ‘works’, then clients should be made aware of God’s input – but how can the Christian counsellor compartmentalise praying if their habit is to ‘pray without ceasing’? (Magaletta & Brawer, 1998; 1 Thess. 5:17, NKJV).

Gubi has investigated the use of covert and overt Christian prayer in mainstream counselling in the UK (Gubi, 2001). Using grounded theory, he categorised covert prayer as having the benefit of grounding the counsellor, of being aware of the process of counselling and upholding the client (Gubi, 2001). Although participants did express times when they asked God for guidance, Gubi’s research did not explore if and how guidance was received from God and what the counsellor may have done with that.

Hearing from God 

Hearing God’s voice, although not necessarily audibly, is common practice for many Christians (Joubert & Maartens, 2018). In their review of how Christians perceive God speaking to them, the most popular way was ‘a still, quiet [or small] voice’, or the ‘inner witness of the Spirit’ (Wagner, 1997:43, 45 and Jacobs, 1995:76-77 and Willard 1999:10 cited Joubert & Maartens, 2018). Communication from God is open to interpretation from the receiver – creating a hermeneutic circle. Whatever the intention of the author of the communication (God), it is interpreted by Christians through their theological interpretation lens (Reichenbach, 2003).

Other ways that can be perceived as God communicating are hunches, impulses, compulsions, urges and physical sensations (Joubert & Maartens, 2018). The variety and subjectiveness of hearing from God does not lend itself to empirical study as Joubert & Maartens (2018) explain: ‘The problem is aggravated by how the voice of God is identified, the inability to distinguish between God’s voice, a thought or feeling in themselves, and the difficulty of distinguishing between a message from God, a self-generated message and a message from an enemy spirit’ (Joubert & Maartens, 2018:53).

In a qualitative study, analysing his data using grounded theory, Gubi found that one of the benefits of covert Christian prayer by counsellors was ‘a means of spiritual guidance for the counsellor’ (Gubi, 2001:433). Unfortunately, the scope of the study did not include how the spiritual guidance may occur and what the counsellors did with it.

Using grounded theory, which seeks to generate theorising on topics, Suarez sought to find out experienced therapists’ assumptions, meanings and challenges in integrating spirituality and therapy (Suarez, 2005). In her category of ‘integration at an experiential level’, participants described being ‘awake/open/aware/connected’ to their spiritual reality while with the client and participants reported being illuminated or directed by the Spirit in sessions (Suarez, 2005:150). However, although her descriptive categorisation tells of participants’ experience of receiving communication from ‘the Spirit’, it does not look at what they did with the communication they received (Suarez, 2005:150). Similarly, Jenkins describes one of his participants receiving suggestions from her spirit guide in a counselling session, but Jenkins focuses on the ethical concerns about that rather than exploring the phenomenon (Jenkins, 2006:289).


The use of Christian prayer in counselling has also been investigated (Gubi, 2008), as has Christians hearing from God (Dein & Cook, 2015). However, inclusion of God by Christian counsellors and their two-way communication with Him concerning their clients has not been investigated. This study explored Christian counsellors’ experience of hearing from God in counselling and what the counsellors did with that in the counselling process.


Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was chosen for this study to examine and give voice to the participants’ lived experience and how they make sense of it (Smith et al, 2009). Its theoretical foundations in phenomenology and interpretation (hermeneutics), together with its idiographic perspective, gives a suitable method to explore aspects of spirituality as it sits in a phenomenological paradigm (Shinebourne, 2011).

Participants and recruitment

Ethical approval for the research was granted by the Waverley Abbey College (WAC) Research Ethics Committee and permission from the Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC) to recruit from their members was granted. A total of 5 participants were recruited; they were qualified as counsellors for more than 2 years and registered members of either the ACC or British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).  They self-identified as Christians who are counsellors and work in partnership with God (Hood, 2019).  Despite counselling being a predominantly female profession, I recruited 4 male and 1 female participant on a first come, first served basis (Brown, 2017).



The analysis process generated three superordinate themes from the data, which reflect aspects of shared experience between the participants (see Table 2).


Superordinate theme 1: Beliefs and activities of the participants that positioned them to hear from God for their clients.

This superordinate theme with three sub-themes refers to what the researcher sees as the influencing factors about the counsellor that put them in a place to experience hearing from God for their clients.

Sub-theme 1.i: Participants’ beliefs about God, self and clients

With this sub-theme, participants expressed beliefs about God, which were linked to their beliefs about themselves and their clients. Having the belief that they are loved by God helped participants in their counselling work; for example, David said he would find it hard to muster up the level of care and concern for his clients if he didn’t have a relationship with God where he felt held and loved. Taylor pointed to scripture to illustrate how foundational this is to his work, saying, ‘he so loved the world, he still so loves the world, … and I think that basically underlies all my work. God loves, God loves us, God loves us all.’

Sub-theme 1.ii: Participants’ inclusion of God in the client work

This sub-theme shows participants involving God in their client work. All participants prayed in preparation for their client work, before seeing their clients, but varied in their habits and processes of prayer. For example, Terry would use the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) as a framework whereas David had an ordered way of praying, which he termed his ‘daily round of prayer’, similar to centring prayer where there was interaction going on between him and God that he wasn’t necessarily aware of (Keating, 1994).

Moira would usually pray before the session, asking God for wisdom and insight. In his prayer time, Vince would ask God to be with him, and open himself up to receive communication from God by asking God if there was anything He wanted him to know, or to pass on to the client. Similarly, Taylor noted,  ‘I’m going to see XYZ. What is it that’s relevant for them? And basically I’m asking open questions… What is it about this client and…. What is my role here? What do You want me to do here?’

Interestingly, participants stated that they prayed for their clients equally, irrespective of their client’s perceived spirituality. Vince’s prayer habits were the same whether the client had a faith or none at all. He used what he called his ‘inner eye’, an internal eye where he would look into the spiritual world, as an add-on to his counselling skills.

Sub-theme 1.iii: What the participants perceived as hearing from God

Participants described various ways in which they experienced God communicating with them. Vince explained he would often get promptings or random spontaneous thoughts while he was with clients, saying, ‘I was stuck actually and didn’t quite know what to do and then this idea come and went ping.’ He talked of the subtleties of hearing from God which he looked out for, but was aware that he probably missed much of what God may be saying to him. He said, ‘Not the big flashing from the sky where you know this is God speaking… I actually believe that He says a lot more to us than we think. But we miss it.’

For David, hearing from God was more of an embodied sensing experience (Baldwin, 2016). He said, ‘It’s tended to be trusting a kind of an overall sense for each of my clients… a sense for them that feels as if it’s God speaking to me about them.’ And for Terry, hearing from God came with a variety of experiences. He described, ‘that inner voice just kind of like someone having a conversation with me, really…. and there are other times when I have quite a strong impression of something or a feeling’.

Superordinate Theme 2: Participants’ dilemmas with receiving communication from God

This superordinate theme encompasses the dilemmas participants had when choosing to hear from God for their clients.

Sub-theme 2.i: Participants’ uncertainties about hearing from God

This sub-theme pertains to participants finding it difficult to be completely certain that God had communicated with them, recognising a degree of trial and error involved. With an unusually large proportion of male participants, I noticed that the men spoke about being courageous and taking risks – apart from Terry, who didn’t seem to question if he had heard from God or not. For example, Taylor felt he had received communication from God about a new client’s addictive behaviour, but realised there was a degree of risk involved in bringing it up with the client. Yet he chose to use what he thought he had heard from God and the information was correct. He noted, ‘If it had been wrong, I would have probably risked all our relationship.’ Similarly, David talked about ‘riskier moments’, when he had acted on what he thought God had shown him. It was not ‘irresponsible riskiness, but it’s just on the edge of things’.

Moira reflected that maybe she wasn’t as aware of God’s input in her client work as she could be and recognised that it’s a resource that she hadn’t been tapping into. However, unlike the male participants, who were apparently prepared to take risks, she expressed some concern saying, ‘So I think initially, it’s a sense that it’s a bittersweet. There’s like an assurance and an encouragement, but then there’s a kind of, “uh, is that just me?”’ Moira is initially encouraged, but is then faced with the dilemma of wondering if what she heard was from God and, if so, what should she do with it.

Sub-theme 2.ii: What the participants do with what they’ve received from God

This sub-theme is concerned with the challenge the participants had with knowing what to do with what they perceived God had communicated to them. Participants were very aware of staying with the client’s agenda and giving them autonomy, so their way of bringing into the session what they had heard was a tentative offering.

Moira would incorporate pictures that she believed were from God into the session by introducing them gently. She noted she would say something like, ‘As I was preparing for this session, I was thinking and this kind of picture came into my mind’ or, ‘this just came to me and I’m wondering’.

Vince showed his desire to stay with the client’s agenda, preferring to wait for a relevant opening in the session, rather than stop the client’s flow. He would also manoeuvre how he offers what he believes God is communicating by ensuring the client has the option to say ‘no’, without feeling any pressure.

Sub-theme 2.iii: Professional concerns

When working out how to integrate what they perceived was communication from God into the counselling session, participants did not place it above the needs or agenda of the client.

During the interview Moira said she feels she has one foot in the psychotherapy camp and one foot in the Christian camp – with the two often feeling quite separate. She was cautious about bringing what she perceived as God’s communication to the client work, because being part of a professional body, she doesn’t want to over-step ethical boundaries. In particular, she was concerned about power dynamics within the relationship. Likewise, Terry had times when he had heard from God, but hadn’t brought it into the session, as it may have changed the power dynamics in the relationship. Terry was aware that if he were to tell Christian clients he had heard from God for them, it would change the relationship. He noted, ‘One of my clients, who is a Christian, I think puts me on a pedestal, and so bringing Christian stuff into it can actually be really unhelpful.’

There were also concerns about what others in the profession would think if they knew the counsellor believed that God communicated to them about their work. Vince assumed that others in the profession would have a negative view and probably think he was ‘bonkers’ but this would not sway his beliefs or practices. However, David’s reflections seemed able to hold different views. He said, ‘You know, within the counselling world…. there’s that whole intuitive thing that can go on. Or you could interpret it as God speaking… I choose to believe that somehow God is involved in that process, even though it can be described in other ways.’ 

Superordinate theme 3: What meaning participants gave to the communication from God

This theme focuses on the communication from God and what sense they made of it and has three sub-themes.

Sub-theme 3.i: What hearing from God for their clients meant to the participant personally

This sub-theme captured the participants’ sense that the communication was often helpful to them. For example, Terry was comforted by what he received from God when he was feeling anxious about a client. Similarly, Moira felt encouraged and reassured that she wasn’t on her own in her client work. For Vince, hearing from God for his client confirmed his belief that God was there with him and the client in the session. He said, ‘the thought or the belief that there’s two of us helping this person… I don’t know, it just feels like an added dynamic.’

For David, hearing from God for his client changed David but also his perception of his client. His belief that God is with him in the counselling room changes him, makes him more courageous but also helps him to take more care with the client. He noted, ‘It’s helped me to tune in more to that client. It’s helped me to be more ready to meet them in what I feel God has said about themhearing from God and being conscious that God is around for me in the counselling room has had the effect of making me more courageous sometimes, but at other times more careful.’

Sub-theme 3ii: What hearing from God meant to the client work

Participants gave examples of hearing from God having a positive effect on the client work. Hearing from God helped David keep his focus on an individual client’s needs and their agenda: He said, ‘I remember saying to myself after I felt God was saying that to me; you wouldn’t want to make it about yourself, you wouldn’t want to do this, you wouldn’t want to do that. But with this particular client, I think you need to be really on the top of your game on this.’ Reflecting on this later, David commented that it enabled the therapy to become more intimate – and safer.  

Sub-theme 3.iii: What the participants thought what they had heard from God meant to the client

Here we have the triple hermeneutic (Smith et al, 2009). When participants used what God had communicated to them about the client, they felt that it was a positive experience for the client; that clients felt known, understood, accepted and valued. Taylor used a prompt from God to ask his client the meaning of her Arabic name. By asking this, she felt he had shown an interest in her and that he was taking her seriously. Vince recounted a time with a Christian client, whereby communication he had received from God led to a powerful spiritual encounter for her, which was also powerful and memorable for Vince. He noted, ‘She felt such a sense of peace. She’d never felt it before and said that it lasted six days. Incredible.

Moira thought that when she uses what she believes God has communicated to her for her clients, it helps clients feel more understood and known. However, if the counsellor has received communication from God that is brought into the session and is accurate, Moira was concerned that the client would feel vulnerable. She said, ‘Could there also be a feeling of “Oh is she seeing too much of me?” It may make them feel quite vulnerable.’



This research set out to explore Christian counsellors’ experience of hearing from God for their clients, and what they do with that, using the qualitative method of IPA. This section will draw out how findings from this research relate to existing literature and make suggestions for implications for counselling practice and future research. 

Including a transcendent other in the counselling process

Data from this study showed participants were open to spiritual insight from a transcendent other, including suggestions during therapy sessions (Jenkins, 2011:46; Jenkins, 2006:289). Participants also reported that they were emboldened and strengthened by their connection with the transcendent other (Suarez, 2005:149). However, unlike Gorsedene, their involvement of the transcendent other was covert and not brought to the attention of the client (Gorsedene 2011:158).

Use of covert prayer in counselling

Data from this study showed participants’ implicit integration of their spirituality in counselling in their use of covert prayer before, during and after sessions (Tan, 1996 cited Hall & Hall, 1997). Participants used covert prayer similarly to Gubi’s participants: to ground and prepare themselves for their counselling work; and to ask for help and guidance (Gubi, 2001). However, Gubi’s grounded theory research had seven participants, who were counsellor trainers, with a variety of spiritual/religious stances, whereas participants in this study all identified as Christian and were counsellors (Gubi, 2001). Gubi’s thematic prompts were aimed at exploring the use of prayer as an intervention in counselling and its ethical implications, whereas this study viewed covert prayer as a gateway to hearing from God.

Covert prayer was used by participants in their two-way communication with God about their client work. The data shows that what counsellors heard from God for their clients influenced the counsellor and the client work, which contradicts Gubi’s view that covert prayer does not impact directly on the counsellor/client dynamic (Gubi, 2004:466). Participants expressed that involving God in their client work gave it an added dimension and enriched their practice (Baker & Wang, 2004:130; Blair, 2015).

Hearing from God for clients

The data shows that the phenomenological experiences of hearing from God were similar to those described in the literature (Joubert & Maartens, 2018; Luhrmann, 2012; Carroll Futrell, 1971; Dein & Cook, 2015). Comparison with Dein & Cook’s (2015) qualitative research using a semi-structured interview is valid, as its UK participants all identified as Christian. However, Dein & Cook’s (2015) interview was purely about hearing from God, whereas participants in this study were hearing from God within the ethical or personal confines of the counselling relationship.

A discussion on intuition was not included in the literature review, nevertheless intuition was mentioned by three of the participants. Epstein’s suggestion that the intuitive/experiential system is corrected by the analytical/rational system could potentially be seen in the process of discernment undertaken by participants when they believed God had communicated with them (Epstein, 2010).

This process of discernment was also prevalent in Dein & Cook’s (2015) study. It may also account for participants retaining their sense of autonomy, rather than being controlled by God (Dein & Cook, 2015). Moira was concerned that if she used what God had communicated to her about her clients, they would feel exposed and vulnerable. This would suggest that a greater level of discernment is required on the part of the counsellor before they offer anything God may have revealed to them into the client work (Dein & Cook, 2015; Joubert & Maartens, 2018:43). Or, as Wardle points out, counsellors who work with ‘psychic energy’ in this way, do not really understand the implications and risks involved (Wardle, 2011:180).

Learning to hear God’s voice was something that participants commented on – especially Vince, who gathered regularly with other Christians to learn from one another (Luhrmann, 2012; Dein & Cook, 2015). Participants made use of tentative questions to see if what they had received from God meant anything to the client (i.e. validation). Stark (1999) pointed out that ‘validation of the revelation necessitates social support; an individual’s confidence in the validity of his/her revelation is reinforced to the extent to which others accept this revelation” (Stark, 1999 cited Dein & Cook, 2015).

Moira, the only female participant, spoke about fear when hearing from God for her clients, whereas David and Taylor spoke about courage, taking a risk, being bolder and being brave. I wonder if this has something to do with men looking for a hero or action-figure type of deity and women wanting an intimate, safe God (Burke et al, 2005:36). Or it may be that it was an intentional use of risk-taking as a way for them to facilitate a greater therapeutic connection with their client (Knox, 2007). Brian Thorne speaks about it being risky when he integrates his spiritual self in counselling work; he writes, ‘Perhaps it is in the offering of this gift that I give the highest expression to my unique self, and that is why it always feels a risky undertaking because vulnerability and strength are present in equal measure. Nowadays, however, I know that I usually have no option but to take the risk’ (Mearns & Thorne, 2013:50).

The effect of hearing from God

The data showed that when participants heard from God about their clients, the effect on their client work was different ways of being, of seeing the client, and ways of doing therapy, as predicted by Hall & Hall(1997). It was predicted by Bergin (1980) that including spirituality would make psychotherapy more effective. Indeed, participants in this study felt that they had more empathy for clients, and were able to be more present with them, when they had received communication from God about them. This is similar to the findings of Dunn et al’s (2012) research, whose participants felt they were more effective in sessions if they practised centring before the session. David had increased empathy because of what God has shown him, which could be seen as the dynamic effect of the transcendent other on the therapeutic relationship (Clarkson, 2002; Churchill, 2021 Pt2:5). One of Gubi’s participants spoke of ‘higher guidance’ to inform their work – but not to control it – which is similar to David’s description (Gubi, 2004:469).

As well as giving them increased empathy, participants also felt that they received courage – a personal moral quality highlighted by the BACP (BACP, 2018). When God had communicated to them about their clients, Moira and Vince both felt assured and comforted that God was in the room with them, helping the client as well, similar to Dein & Cook’s (2015) participants. Gubi’s participants also spoke about having God’s supportive presence with them in the counselling room, but this is not expanded upon (Gubi, 2004:467).

Ethical considerations

At the heart of this study as the key question that must be asked: ‘Is it ethical to hear from God for clients and then use that in the work?’. Participants were explicit about ethics and their ethical processing e.g. working to the client’s agenda, giving the client autonomy (BACP, 2018). Although this research is looking from the counsellor’s perspective of hearing from God, ethics and standards need to look from the client’s perspective so that they have an assurance of safety and quality (Bond, 2015:7). The question of it being ethical to pray for clients without their consent still remains, particularly if therapists are wanting to hear from God for their clients (Magaletta & Brawer, 1998:328; Gubi, 2004:472).

Mageletta & Brawer (1998) point out that, if prayer works (and if God does communicate to counsellors about their clients), shouldn’t clients be made aware of that? It could be argued that counsellors hearing from God for their clients is in service of the therapeutic process (Churchill, 2021:B4). A possible resolution could be to make potential clients aware of the counsellor’s spiritual orientation in their advertising or in the initial assessment. Only one participant said they mentioned spirituality as an area of speciality in their advertising. However, they were careful not disclose their own spirituality in order to avoid difficulties such as the client making assumptions about the counsellor’s beliefs and prejudices (Gubi, 2004:472; Bond, 2015:144).

What was evident from the data was participants’ engagement with a reflective process of integrating hearing God for their clients, which was idiosyncratic and personal (Blair, 2015; Churchill, 2021:C6). Each participant had been on a self-led journey to integrate their spirituality (Poll & Smith, 2003 and Wilber, 1979 cited Blair, 2015:167). Two participants explicitly commented that they would not tell their clients that they had received communication from God for them, because it would affect the power dynamics in a relationship where the counsellor already holds much of the power (Aveline, 1995:324; Churchill, 2021:C5). Christian counsellors’ practice of hearing from God for clients is open to the misuse of power using spiritual resources – albeit unwittingly – which could be classed as spiritual abuse (Blue, 1993:12 cited Parish-West, 2009:66). Research by West found that counsellors working with spiritual interventions – which included clairvoyance, spirit guides and channelling – required high-quality supervision from supervisors who were suitably qualified and experienced (West, 2000 cited Wardle, 2011:178).

Moira was the only participant to mention supervision when she got stuck with client work, whereas Terry and Taylor spoke about asking God for help when they got stuck. It could be that Terry and Taylor use self-supervision more frequently, rather than taking their ‘stuckness’ with clients to external supervision (Bramley, 2019). However, there is a danger that counter-transference does not come into the counsellor’s awareness and spiritual activities, such as hearing from God for clients, remain hidden (Case, 1997 cited Weld & Eriksen, 2007:134). This was illustrated by Gubi who found that counsellors did not discuss with their supervisors that they prayed for their clients for fear of being misunderstood, judged or losing respect or credibility (Gubi, 2008:202). The Churchill Framework (2021) has set apart a whole domain for supervision, putting it squarely on the agenda of working with spirituality in counselling (Churchill, 2021:D).

Methodological limitations

Exploring the experience of Christian Counsellors’ hearing from God for their clients was the aim of this research. This has been achieved to some extent, with a focus on how communication was received and what counsellors did with that. The effect of this on the client work from the participants’ perspectives was explored. As the activity of hearing from God for their clients is a covert activity, it would be difficult to gain a client-centric view of the phenomenon.

As the researcher, I brought my own limitations in how I’ve interpreted what participants have said, which I have tried to reflexively be aware of and bracket along the way. Different subordinate themes may have been apparent to another researcher. As a novice researcher, I was learning the process along the way and relied heavily on the input of my research supervisor (Smith et al, 2009:55). All the participants had been practising more years than myself, some for decades, and are far more mature in their counselling practice. As I searched the literature for this study, I was reading views for the first time which some of my participants had read, reflected on and incorporated into their practice. I was therefore interpreting their practice through the eyes of a novice in this area rather than a master practitioner.

This study was useful in that it added to our understanding of how Christian counsellors integrate their spirituality in counselling. It builds on Gubi’s work of the use of prayer in counselling as it has given examples of participants using prayer covertly in and out of sessions, in two-way communication with God (Gubi, 2004:475). This study was limited to experiences of hearing from the Judeo-Christian God by participants who identified as Christian. It is therefore uncertain if the insights found in this study could be applied to counsellors of different faith or culture. Furthermore, the interpretative nature of this qualitative research prevents generalisation, as does the small sample size.

The gender ratio of this study is not representative of the counselling population, with a ratio of 4:1 men to women. Similarly in Suarez’s (2005) study there was a ratio of 7:3 men to women and in Gubi’s (2001) a ratio of 5:2 men to women – yet across the population of UK counsellors, the ratio of men to women is around 1:5 (BACP, 2014). Gubi’s participants were counsellor trainers, with master’s degrees or above; Suarez’s participants were psychotherapists who had practiced for at least five years with a deep interest in spirituality, whereas all participants in this study identified as Christian. It is not clear why participants within these UK studies on counselling and spirituality do not reflect the gender distribution of counsellors in the UK.

By explicitly looking at Christian counsellors’ experience of hearing from God for their clients, this research has brought into the light practices that may be hidden from supervision. With five participants sharing their experiences of hearing from God for their clients, it shows that this practice does occur in the profession and deserves to be explored more fully.

Implications for practice

This study highlights the counsellor bringing their whole self to the therapeutic relationship, including their spiritual selves, and how that dynamic can influence the therapy. Ethical frameworks have guided participants in their practice of using what they have heard from God, in their client work (BACP, 2018; ACC, 2014). In particular, the Churchill Framework (2021) has been a useful addition to help UK practitioners work ethically when integrating spirituality in their counselling practice. Hearing from God for clients could be vulnerable to issues around counter-transference and the misuse of power (Case, 1997 cited Weld & Eriksen, 2007:134). Good supervision, in a collaborative relationship with a supervisor who has specialist experience and knowledge of spirituality, would be recommended if counsellors sought to hear from God, or a different transcendent other, for their clients (Page & Woskett, 2015:88; Christodoulidi, 2011:101).


Findings from this research indicate that counsellors do integrate what they have heard from God for their clients into their client work, although they are cautious not to impinge on client autonomy or the client’s agenda. Counter-transferential dynamics may be missed if this aspect of their practice is not brought to supervision. Counsellors avoiding bringing issues of spirituality to supervision has been highlighted in previous research, and this study adds to that discussion. By placing the topic of hearing from God for clients amongst the current literature, it has made the practice explicit, rather than being hidden amongst participants’ accounts in other qualitative studies.


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About the author

Hayley Barnett MACC MBACP.

MA Therapeutic Counselling and Psychotherapy; BSc (Hons) Psychology with Educational Studies; Dip Therapeutic Counselling.

Hayley has worked with young people and families for over 30 years in a variety of settings. She runs her counselling practice from her home in Staines, Surrey. She is a tutor on the MA in Counselling at Waverley Abbey College and has a particular interest in spirituality within the counselling context.

Copyright 2022 Hayley Barnett

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Dancing into an image of Christ

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What is spiritual formation?

In the autumn of 2018 Waverley Abbey College (WAC) launched its Spiritual Formation programme, which offers a range of courses from one term continuing professional development to a three-year part time MA. Subjects covered include the Waverley integrative framework (WIF), ethics, a history of approaches to spiritual formation, mentoring and coaching, spiritual direction, pastoral care and chaplaincy. On this course spiritual formation is understood as the process whereby human beings are gradually formed into an image of Jesus. The course sets out to both facilitate this process in the lives of the students and to provide tools and resources to enable students to help others in their spiritual formation. I am the programme leader for this course. Alongside my leadership of the course I have been completing doctoral research that I commenced before I took up my role at the college. This article draws on an aspect of my doctoral research and some research by one of the current Spiritual Formation MA students.

The research

From October 1987 until January 2015 I was a pastor at Greenford Baptist Church (GBC) in West London. During this time the church transitioned from being a White British congregation, to one with people from approximately 45 nationalities regularly attending. During worship different languages were used with songs, dance and prayer in styles that were used by congregants ‘back home’. By 2015 every aspect of congregational life reflected the cultures from the different ethnicities that made up the congregation. My research investigated how this transition occurred. One of the key findings was that people from overseas experienced GBC as a community of faith that was welcoming, safe and fully accepting of them (Wise, 2021).

This article focuses on one aspect of worship within GBC that, according to many of the research participants, was very significant in their feeling welcome and fully accepted at GBC. I will argue in this article that this aspect, dance, was also significant in the spiritual formation of members of the congregation at GBC.

Dance at Greenford Baptist Church

Over many years dancing as a part of worship at GBC had gradually evolved with the encouragement of the leadership. By January 2015, dancing during the Sunday meetings was a normal component of the worship. When songs were used that had a Caribbean or African rhythm, members of the congregation would dance in their places. Often people would also use the space in front of the platform or behind the congregation to dance. It was common for the offering to be accompanied by the entire congregation dancing down the aisle in turn to place their gifts in the offering plate or to touch the plate in recognition that all they had was given to God. Even though most church members made their financial contribution to the life of the church through bank standing orders rather than giving cash on a Sunday, the meeting leader usually encouraged everyone to dance to the front and touch the offering plate. Members of the congregation, especially those who had grown up in West Africa, saw this as an important part of their worship, presenting themselves and their gifts before God. The style of dancing was exuberant, drawing particularly on movements usual in West Africa and the Caribbean.

Khalia Williams, the assistant dean of worship and music, assistant professor of worship, and co-director of the Baptist Studies Program, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, USA, notes from her research among African American women and her personal experience how dance as a part of worship allows ‘the entirety of my being’ to be fully engaged (2020:3). Additionally, she observes that, ‘By its very nature, embodied worship opens the door for inclusion and recognition of marginalized bodies’ (2020:5). By ‘marginalised bodies’ Williams was referring to African American bodies in her context. Both engagement and inclusion appeared in comments from the research participants. Dance at GBC, as will be shown below, had the role of enabling people to feel that they were totally engaged in worship with every part of their being. However, as also will be shown, being allowed to dance was additionally an aspect of being included and accepted as a full member of the worshipping congregation.

Bernard Appiah has researched the way that traditional Ghanaian culture is integrated into UK Ghanaian churches. He observes that ‘music and dance permeate every aspect of life of the Ghanaian, and neo-Pentecostal churches have fully taken advantage of this phenomenon’ (2014: 214). For most GBC members who had grown up outside of Europe, dancing at home as well as in church is a normal part of expressing their devotion to God. For example Lavanya[1], one of the research participants, commented, ‘Even at home when I get up in the morning… I put on my Indian worship. Sometimes I love my worship. I’m dancing with it and I enjoy it, all the worship that God gives us.’ So, enabling dance to be a part of congregational worship was seen as important for many of those who attended GBC.

Another research participant, Alvita, noted that ‘in Jamaica you are accustomed to lots of the tambourine, lots of drumming, lots of clapping… I’m accustomed to seeing people running around in the Spirit and things like that, shouting Hallelujah.’ Alvita is a worship leader at GBC; when she leads, she uses Caribbean rhythms such as calypso and reggae. She commented that when she is at the front she sees ‘people dancing, people raising their hands. It’s just the whole-body movement that you don’t get if they are maybe just doing a normal English song.’ From her perspective when people are physically moving they are more engaged with God than when they are static. She talked about a specific incident she remembered:

A couple of months ago, when I just changed the rhythm to It is well with my soul, and there was one particular Jamaican lady, she would just come to church and she’d be sitting there and just talk to who she wanted to talk to and that’s it. That Sunday was the very first time I’d heard her. She jumped up, she uttered out and that’s because that connected with her. So, for me that meant she was really engaged in the worship… There was another African lady, and she just ran straight up to the front and she’s not somebody who would normally be doing that, but there was something that connected with them. So, the movement that you are seeing there would say people are actually engaging with what is going on.

Research participant Oluwasesan in his interview said:

I think a lot of Yorubas, Nigerians and maybe Africans generally like to express themselves and when we really express ourselves, we do it by dancing. We see a lot of that in the church and I think it is the same for the people from the Caribbean as well. There is a lot of movement, a lot of joy. I see that in the church and that is one of the reasons I’ve stayed for so many years now.

For Lavanya, Alvita and Oluwasesan, coming to GBC from three different continents, dance was a normal part of their worship of God. Being able to dance as a part of their congregational experience was therefore welcome and helpful.

However, it seemed that there was a further spiritual significance to dance for the participants. I asked several of the research participants in interviews about the significance of dance in their relationship to God. Here are three responses that are representative of those I received.


It’s expressing yourself to God. It is like when David danced and I like dancing. That’s me expressing my joy to the Lord for everything that He has actually done for me. I can praise Him in a different way, not only by singing but also with my dancing.


The Bible says ‘He delights in the praises of His people’ and when you praise in my culture and you praise a king, you sing and bestow accolades. You praise and worship that king. Kings don’t dance, they sit down and their congregation will dance in honour and in worship. Now, we are talking of the King of all Kings. We are talking of the Ruler of the Universe, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Everything I have in my life I will use to worship: my voice, my body, my song, my money, my family. I danced today alone in my room in my bedroom with YouTube music and it was just like I had the whole of the church in that room with me. I knew the hosts of heaven were there. So, for me, dance is integral. I can’t keep still when I hear Christian music.


It shows that you are happy. It shows you are delighted, you are comfortable, so you are able to move your body freely because if you are not, if you are in a strange place and you feel frightened, you’re not going to move your body… they feel connected. So, they express their worship through their movement, not only of their mouth, but all their body.

For Oluwasesan, Ronke and Tabia dance is an integral part of their worship of God. It was a normal part of congregational worship in their home country. Dance expresses part of their adoration that for them cannot be communicated without bodily movement. Dance allows cultural expression but, more significantly, the congregational embracing of dance communicates deep acceptance of people from those cultures. This finding connects with Williams above concerning inclusion. Being allowed to express worship via the medium of dance meant that people felt significant, recognised and included. In her interview Tambara commented that when the first language of people in the congregation was being used, people ‘feel like they are human beings not just second-hand citizens’. Dance as a bodily language seems, from this perspective, to function in the same way as first language.

Spiritual formation, embodiment and dance

During induction at WAC, as a student enters the spiritual formation programme, we use a prostration exercise in our devotions to highlight the importance of embodiment. The practice was used at GBC and the quotes below are taken from an article written by Andrew Robertson (who was a staff member at GBC) for the Baptists Together magazine published in 2017. The exercise is drawn from Indian Christian practice. Participants begin lying face down on the floor. Romans 12:1 is read ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.’ Slowly and gradually parts of the body are presented to God. The forehead is offered representing ‘thoughts and meditations; let the focus of these things be you Lord’. The eyes are offered, ‘the windows of my soul; let them be filled with your light as they look out into the world’. The tongue and lips are offered, ‘expressing worship in words and tune; calling on you through your names… let my lips always express thanks and reverence’. The chest is offered, ‘the seat of life; let my life be rooted in God… the source from which I live’. The hands are offered, ‘expressing the offering of my actions, my deeds, my work to you God, for your pleasure and for your use’. As the student kneels the knees are offered expressing ‘reverence to you and my dependence on you. I ask you, my rich King, to be there to meet all of my needs’. Finally as the student stands the student expresses ‘my pilgrimage, I acknowledge that I am on a journey with you and for you, and I reflect that you are the goal and the destination’.

In the spiritual direction module of the spiritual formation programme there is a further emphasis on embodiment. Students are routinely encouraged to be aware of their bodies as they re-enter the lecture room. There are various exercises where students are asked to consider what they are feeling in different parts of their bodies in response to what they are thinking/considering. There are exercises too where students move physically in harmony with their current spiritual experiences. In some of the devotional sessions students are encouraged to move parts of their bodies in response to readings from the Bible.

Angela Wolswinkel, one of the current Spiritual Formation MA students, is currently researching the role of dance in spiritual formation in the context of women who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. I recently asked her what led her to research the role of dance in spiritual formation. She responded:

Initially it was because I’m a dancer and I also enjoy other forms of creative and expressive arts. I feel that the arts are underused in the Western Church, so I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the fact that art was appreciated and included in most of our course modules. Faith expression and learning in the Western Church is heavily directed to mental and verbal, even though God created us as embodied beings. In fact, only 30% of the population are auditory learners. Having chosen the subject, I experienced the power of movement to connect with God and grow in faith when I participated in movement classes to the words of the Psalms during treatment for cancer.

I then asked what her initial observations/theories were about the way that dance can help women who have been trafficked in their spiritual reformation. Her response was:

Women who have survived commercial sexual exploitation… have experienced objectification, have nearly always been abused, and their dignity and identity have been destroyed. Their experiences are locked in their bodies, ‘the body keeps the score’ (Van de Kolk, 2015) and verbal expression might not be appropriate or possible. Dance offers a way to unlock the experiences and express them, to regain control over their bodies. My hypothesis is that doing this under the guidance of Christian practitioners will ultimately re-establish their sense of self-worth, security and significance, i.e. their spiritual core.


Human beings are embodied. Ashley’s development of the five areas of function (spirit, rational, volitional, emotional and physical) in the Waverley integrative framework draws attention to the ‘interrelatedness’ of the various ‘areas of functioning’’ (2015:153). My research has shown that, for some people resident in the UK who were born elsewhere, dance forms an integral part of the way they engage with God. Dance is an aspect of the way that they are spiritually formed. Wolswinkel’s research is investigating the way that dance might, for people who are victims of sexual exploitation, ‘re-establish their sense of self-worth, security and significance, i.e. their spiritual core’. It seems that perhaps for some of us dance is an aspect of being formed into the image of Christ.


Holy Bible, New International Version.

Appiah, B.O. (2014) Negotiating the Integration Strategies and the Transnational Statuses of Ghanaian-Led Pentecostal Churches in Britain. PhD Thesis. University of Birmingham. Available at https://etheses.bham.ac.uk//id/eprint/5905/ [Accessed: 1 December 2020].

Ashley, O. (2015) The Bible, Wisdom and Human Nature: Developing the Waverley Model of Counselling, Farnham: CWR.

Robertson, A. ‘Becoming Pentecost People’, Baptists Together magazine, Summer 2017, pp. 40-41. Available at: https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/495743/Baptists_Together_magazine.aspx [Accessed: 16 March 2022].

Van der Kolk, B. (2015) The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, London: Penguin Random House.

Williams, K.J. (2020) ‘Love your flesh: The Power and Protest of Embodied Worship’, Liturgy, 35:1 pp. 3-9. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/0458063X.2020.1701889?needAccess=true [Accessed: 14 April 2020].

Wise, D. (2021) ‘Developing a genuinely multi-ethnic local church congregation: an auto-ethnographic investigation into Greenford Baptist Church 1987-2014’. DTh Thesis, University of Roehampton. [Online] Available at: https://waverley.soutron.net/Portal/Default/en-GB/RecordView/Index/7263.

About the author

Rev Dr David Wise BA (hons), MA, DTh

David is the programme lead for Spiritual Formation at Waverley Abbey College. He is an accredited Baptist minister on secondment to the college having worked as a part time tutor on MA programmes since 2011. He is a senior practitioner accredited by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council with his own private mentoring practice.

Copyright 2022 David Wise

[1] All research participants have been given pseudonyms that reflect their ethnicity and gender.

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The creation and development of a BA (Hons in counselling): the use of the Waverley integrative framework in counselling practice

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This is part 1 of an article on the Waverley integrative framework in counselling practice, with part 2 due to be published in the next edition of the journal. In this paper, I set out some of my personal background and motivation for creating and developing a higher education counselling programme, validated by a university, underpinned by a Christian worldview, and making use of the Waverley integrative framework. In the next edition, the focus will be more on the practical application of the Waverley integrative framework and, in particular, the use of Christian faith interventions in clinical practice.


Introduction and personal background

For the last 25 years, my passion has been to proclaim the benefits and the complexities of integrating Christian faith in counselling practice, when appropriate, and as I look back over the years, two key difficulties have strengthened this passion. The first difficulty has been the significant resistance I have personally experienced by some within the counselling profession, to any notion of integrating Christian faith into counselling practice. An early example of this resistance was when, as a novice therapist, I was told by my first clinical supervisor that any faith issues that were raised by my clients (several of whom professed to have a Christian faith) were not to be discussed or explored in therapy; the rationale being that faith issues were for the clergy; psychological issues were for therapists. At the time, I accepted my supervisor’s advice, although I found it disturbing and challenging, not least because I viewed (and continue to view) my faith in ontological terms, that is, I consider it to be a vital part of who I am. I also considered this to be potentially true for some of my clients. Therefore, even at this early stage of my career, I felt that to ignore a client’s struggle over their faith issues in counselling, was a denial of the whole person (see Jenkins, 2011). In addition, as my counselling practice developed, I was beginning to find that many of my Christian clients’ faith issues were entangled with their psychological difficulties, making the separation of Christian faith and therapy very challenging.

Looking back, and with the benefit of hindsight, I have concluded that my supervisor’s advice was potentially influenced by Freud, who considered religious/spiritual beliefs to be a form of neurosis and something to be overcome (Freud, 1927/1973). The arguments made by Ellis (1973) are also likely to have contributed to this view, with Ellis arguing for the separation of the paradigms of faith and therapy. Nevertheless, despite the resistance shown by my supervisor (and the theories proposed by Freud and Ellis), I have noted that in recent years the counselling profession appears to have become more open to spirituality (Bartoli, 2007; Delaney et al., 2007; Gingrich & Worthington, 2007; Pargament & Saunders, 2007). That said, along with others, I consider there remains a level of reluctance to the concept of integrating Christian faith and counselling and/or an avoidance of any concept of working with a client’s Christian faith issues in therapy (Macmin & Fosket, 2004; Gubi, 2009; West, 2011; Harborne, 2012; Ross, 2016).

The second difficulty I have experienced, perhaps surprisingly, has come from within the Christian community itself. A significant event that demonstrated this issue occurred in 2001, when I met with a number of Christian leaders, in order to promote the benefits of counselling and encourage them to refer any of their parishioners with mental health difficulties to the counselling service I was developing. While some Christian leaders were broadly supportive, I was quite shocked by the significant resistance to counselling I encountered from several other leaders. A few argued that counselling was unsympathetic to the Christian faith, while others reported negative experiences that members of their congregation had experienced from their counsellors when they had mentioned their Christian faith during their therapy (and admittedly, this resonated with my own experience in supervision). Over the years I have discovered that these views have been strongly supported by a number of Christian writers and therapists, in both the UK and the USA, where they demonstrate a strong resistance to the notion of integrating Christian faith with counselling and psychotherapy (see Almy, 2000; Bobgan & Bobgan, 2008; Powlison, 2010; Adams, 2014).

The difficulties reached a peak for me personally in 2002, when I gained sufficient clinical hours to begin an application for accreditation with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). By this time, and despite my first supervisor’s advice, as I developed into a more experienced therapist, a number of Christian clients had raised faith issues and concerns and I had facilitated them to explore these (I had a different supervisor by this time who supported my work in this area). However, as I began to write my BACP application, I was faced with a dilemma. In the light of the resistance and avoidance that I had experienced from some within the counselling profession to the concept of discussing Christian faith issues in therapy, did I stay true to myself and my work and submit a philosophy and case studies to BACP that truly reflected my clinical practice? In other words, did I set out that I was explicitly helping the two clients that I had selected for my case studies to explore Christian faith issues, which had become intertwined with their presenting problems? Or, did I submit a philosophy and case studies that I thought BACP would pass? I am embarrassed to admit that I was strongly tempted to do the latter, especially since I had been told by a number of fellow counselling professionals that if I mentioned Christian faith in clinical practice, I would never get it passed by BACP. Fortunately, my new supervisor challenged me to submit a true reflection of my clinical work, which I did, and I was somewhat surprised to learn, a few months later, that BACP had accepted my application and awarded me accredited status. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was to have a significant impact on me in later years as it gave me the first indication that I could be explicitly Christian in my worldview, theory and practice and still be viewed as professional and competent by my secular colleagues.

The creation of the BA (Hons) underpinned by, and in dialogue with, a Christian worldview

Moving forward a few years to early 2009, a highlight of my passion to integrate Christian faith with therapy took place when I was approached by the chief executive officer (CEO) of Waverley (CWR). The CEO shared with me that he was looking to appoint a person with the specific task of transforming the organisation’s existing unvalidated certificate and diploma in Counselling, into a professional higher education counselling programme that would be validated by a university. In addition, the aim was for it to become the first single honours programme in the UK that would be explicitly underpinned by a Christian worldview and in addition would acknowledge the importance of the use of Christian faith interventions with clients when appropriate. I confess I had a mixture of emotions at the offer. On the one hand, it was my dream to create the BA that he was suggesting, because I was aware that, if successful, it would demonstrate to the counselling profession that it was possible to deliver a higher education counselling training programme that was explicitly underpinned by, and engaged in a dialogue with, a Christian worldview. On the other hand, in view of the hostility I had experienced, from both Christians and secular counselling professionals to this notion, I felt somewhat overwhelmed and was far from sure that I was up to the task of convincing a university to validate a professional counselling programme that integrated Christian faith. What made the task even more of a challenge was the fact that, as acknowledged by writers in the UK (Martinez & Baker, 2000; Swinton, 2007) and in the USA (Richards & Bergin, 1997; Brawer et al., 2002; Schulte et al., 2002; Aten & Hernandez, 2004; Cassidy, 2007; Delaney et al., 2007; Young et al., 2007; Post & Wade, 2009), there was minimal, even non-existent, training provided by other counselling programmes in the UK and USA, which assisted counsellors to develop competences in addressing a client’s faith issues in clinical practice. Nevertheless, after a period of reflection, I accepted the challenge, with one of my first tasks being to critically evaluate the Waverley integrative framework, then called the ‘Waverley model’; an approach unique to Waverley that underpinned the existing counselling training that was delivered at the time.

A critical evaluation of the Waverley model

The Waverley model was formulated by Selwyn Hughes (the founder of CWR/Waverley) in the 1980s. The model’s anthropological, ontological and epistemological underpinnings have been set out in a number of Hughes books, including: A Friend in Need: How to Help People Through Their Problems (1981), What to Say When People Need Help (1982), Marriage as God Intended (1983), My Story: From Welsh Mining Village to Worldwide Ministry (extended edition, 2007) and his main publication Christ Empowered Living (2002). Hughes based his model on an approach developed by Crabb in the USA (Crabb, 1987; Kallmier, 2011:7) and, as already explained, it was used as the foundation for Waverley’s existing (unvalidated) certificate/diploma in counselling. While over the years I had become familiar with the approach, I was aware that the definition and practice of the model would need to be significantly adapted if it was to be deemed appropriate for use in a professional counselling programme validated by a university.

In critically evaluating the model, I identified a number of strengths and limitations. The strengths included, firstly, its holistic perspective, which took into account a number of areas of human functioning, including the spiritual area (Hughes, 2002). Secondly, the model’s ontological underpinning recognised human individuals as being created in the image of God: imago Dei (Hughes, 2002:139). Thirdly, Hughes proposed that all human beings are driven by deep needs/longings for security, self-worth and significance (Hughes, 2002:139). The search for love, security, meaning and purpose is congruent with the writings of many other theorists (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980, Cassidy, 1999: 3-20; Gerhardt, 2004). Fourthly, the model was integrative and open to both Christian faith/religion/spirituality and psychological/psychotherapeutic insights (Hurding, 1986:300; Hughes, 2002; Kallmier, 2011:131-181).

However, my main concern was that in Hughes’ writings, a specific goal of the Waverley model was to assist clients to move from ‘self-centredness to Christ centeredness’ (Hughes, 1981:100). While I have some sympathy with this from a Christian pastoral/discipleship perspective, from a professional counselling perspective it was inappropriate, too directive and thus incompatible with both the goals of counselling and the ethical demands of the profession. My concern was intensified by research conducted by Fouque & Glachan (2000), who concluded that Christian counsellors ‘are perceived as significantly more directive and more powerful than professional counsellors and the overall outcome was perceived more negatively’ (2000:201). While there was no accusation that the counsellors included in the research had utilised the Waverley model, the researchers specifically mentioned Waverley (CWR) as a Christian counselling training provider in their introduction (2000:203).

In critically examining the research by Fouque & Glachan, a significant limitation appeared to be the failure to define what they meant by ‘Christian counselling’; nevertheless, the research provided valuable evidence that counselling underpinned by a Christian worldview had the potential to be both directive and damaging. It was therefore crucial to make some major adjustments to both the definition and the practice of the model in order to ensure that students were fully aware of the ethical constraints and requirements of the counselling profession. In addition, I believed it essential that a number of explicit learning outcomes should be included in the counselling programme, which would sit alongside the model and ensure graduates attained the ethical standards of proficiency required by the profession.

Learning outcomes of the programme

Drawing on research and literature, including: McMinn, 1996; Chappelle, 2000; Exline & Yali, 2000; Fouque & Glachan, 2000; Aten & Hernandez, 2004; Knox et al., 2005; Richards & Bergin, 2005; Hage et al., 2006; Russell & Yarhouse, 2006; Aten & Leach, 2009; Gubi, 2009; Post & Wade, 2009; Worthington et al., 2009, and in addition my own experience in clinical practice over a number of years, I drafted a set of what I believed to be essential learning outcomes for a programme. These were designed to not only enable students to assist clients with their psychological difficulties, but also be ethically proficient to explore any Christian faith difficulties that emerged in the therapeutic process, when appropriate. The learning outcomes were designed to ensure that:

  • students were made fully aware of the ethical constraints of the counselling profession, including the inappropriateness of attempting to proselytise and impose beliefs, Christian or otherwise, onto a client.

  • students were trained to be alert to issues of difference and diversity in order to practise in a non-discriminatory manner and to avoid oppressive practice. This included training students to recognise how social, cultural and issues of difference may impact the counselling process.

  • students were trained to be alert to any faith issues that might be entangled with clients’ psychological difficulties and to have ethical and professional competence to make use of appropriate interventions in clinical practice in order to address these and facilitate therapeutic change.

  • students were assisted to develop a self-critical and reflective approach to their counselling practice. This included assisting students to reflect on their responses and reactions to their own, as well as their clients’, faith issues.


Revised ontological/epistemological positioning of the model

Having critically evaluated aspects of the practice of the Waverley model, it was important to also evaluate the ontological and epistemological underpinning of the approach. Since a person’s worldview sets out how they construct reality, perceive truth and in addition make meaning in the world (Horton, 2000; Nason, 2015), I wanted to ensure that the counselling programme would be underpinned by a Christian worldview and that it specifically set out a Christian understanding of what it means to be a human person. I therefore decided to retain Hughes’ ontological and epistemological underpinning of the model, including the concept that human beings are created in the image of God, imago Dei. Nevertheless, in critically evaluating the model, I rejected Hughes’ modernist/individual ontology that underpinned the model on the basis that I deemed it vital that a relational ontological understanding underpin the approach (Dr Ashley, having undertaken a PhD thesis evaluating the model, had made a similar observation of the approach, Ashley, 2013:14).

To explain my criticism in a little more depth, it is worth noting that there is a considerable divergence of opinion amongst theologians as to the precise meaning of imago Dei, with Millard Erickson valuably dividing the various opinions into three main groups: those who take a substantialist/individual interpretation; those who adopt a functional view and those who argue for a relational interpretation of imago Dei (Erickson, 1985: 495-517. See also Grenz, 2001:4). It is beyond the scope of this paper to set out and critically evaluate all three interpretations in depth, however, suffice it to say that after a period of reflection, I concluded that all three interpretations had legitimacy and in addition I considered it unhelpful to pit one interpretation against another. Furthermore, I reached the view that the core understanding of imago Dei should be viewed in relational ontological terms, mainly because, from the imago Dei scriptural texts, there is an understanding that human beings are relationally and ontologically connected to God and to each other (Green, 1999; Vanderploeg, 1981; Miner & Dowson, 2012; Hobson, 2019).

I acknowledge the limitations of adopting imago Dei as the philosophical underpinning of the counselling programme, not least because Scripture and Christian doctrine do not teach a theory of personality or explain psychopathology in the way that psychotherapeutic theories do (McMinn & Campbell, 2007). Indeed, attempting to use Scripture in this way risks treating the biblical texts as though they were written as a psychological or scientific manual (Benner, 1985; Jones, 2010). Nevertheless, the understanding of the Christian doctrine imago Dei; that human beings are created in God’s image and likeness (see Hoekema, 1986; Clines, 1996; Grenz, 2001; Harrison, 2010) is considered foundational to a Christian understanding of human nature (Bufford, 2007; Johnson, 2010, a; Jones, 2010, a:111. See also McMinn 1996 and Vitz et al., 2020).

Key themes emerging from the doctrine imago Dei


My critical evaluation of imago Dei enabled me to identify a number of key themes and I used these to underpin the philosophical assumptions of the counselling programme and its learning outcomes. In addition, I used the themes to assist me to explain the programmes and defend their position to the university’s panels during the validation events.

The key themes are as follows:

  1. Firstly, clients (irrespective of whether they are aware of, or acknowledge, that they are created in the image of God) should be viewed as persons of infinite worth and value and deserving of care, love, compassion and dignity (Guthrie, 1979; Hall, 2004; Bufford, 2007; McMinn & Campbell, 2007; Cherry, 2017; Vitz et al., 2020).

2.     Secondly, for a Christian, imago Dei has profound implications for their vocation as a therapist, in that in response to God’s activity in the world, human beings are also called to live, not just for themselves, but to care for others and affirm their worth (Vanderploeg, 1981; Barr, 1982; Canning et al., 2000; Olthuis, 2006; Jones & Butman, 2011:461; Tan, 2011). I particularly appreciate the writings of Henri Nouwen on this area, who points out that responding to those who suffer ‘is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian’ (2006).

  1. Thirdly, the doctrine of imago Dei enables a therapist to fully respect issues of difference and diversity, in that it is inclusive in recognising that all human beings are created in the image of God, irrespective of their intellectual ability, age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation (Hall, 2004).

  2. Fourthly, all three interpretations of imago Dei assimilate well with the psychological theories and approaches to counselling that the programmes would integrate; for example:

a)     The substantialist view, which emphasises the individual and rational ability of a person, provides a point of contact with contemporary cognitive therapy, which also values the embodied aspect of a human being, and the importance of the role of cognition in emotional distress (Beck, 1995; Padesky & Greenberger, 1995; Jones & Butman, 2011).

b)     The functional view has a point of contact with the psychological view that human beings have the capacity for volition (the faculty of using one’s will), the freedom to choose, the right to autonomy and have the ability to reach their full potential (Guthrie, 1979; Gabriel, 1991; Simpson, 1999; McMinn & Campbell, 2007; Bosman, 2010; King & Whitney, 2015).

c)     The relational ontological interpretation of imago Dei, which perceives a person as being relational at the core of their being, fits well with the value placed on the quality of the therapeutic relationship in counselling. For example, the importance of the therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist has long been recognised as being the foundation for effective therapeutic work (Mearns & Cooper, 2005) and is emphasised by most of the main modalities (for example, see DeYoung, 2003; Gilbert & Leahy, 2007; Knox, 2008; Shedler, 2010; Atzil et al., 2015; Sandage & Brown, 2018; Vitz et al., 2020).

  1. Finally, by adopting all three interpretations of imago Dei, a holistic approach is taken in that all aspects and functioning of a human being can be acknowledged: physical, emotional, volitional, rational, spiritual and relational (Guthrie, 1979; Chandler, 2015). In addition, it allows for the recognition that each aspect of human functioning has the potential to impact a person’s mental health and well-being. This perspective sits comfortably with the Waverley model (and what would become the Waverley integrative framework-see later sections) and it’s areas of human functioning.

Additional philosophical assumptions underpinning the approach

In addition to the Christian doctrine imago Dei, two other key philosophical assumptions would underpin the approach taken by the programme. Firstly, the assumption that there is a ‘legitimate’ role for psychotherapy to supply the knowledge and skills to help someone with mental health and emotional difficulties (Jones, 2010, a:101). Central to this position is the understanding, from a Christian perspective, that truth can be discovered from both special and general revelation. To explain what is meant by these terms, the discoveries of truths from psychology and science are sometimes referred to as ‘general revelation’, that is truth discovered through the natural world (Hurding, 1986:258). The revelation of God through the Person of Jesus Christ and the Old and New Testaments is referred to as ‘special revelation’ (Mizell, 2005). Thus, the truth discovered from psychology/psychotherapy is valid on the basis that God is the source of all truth (Guy, 1980) thus ‘all truth is God’s truth’ (Mitzell, 2005:53).

A second assumption underpinning the approach is that since the programme would be underpinned by a Christian worldview, it was important to facilitate students to engage in a dialogue between Christian faith and psychotherapeutic theories, with the aim of students taking a dialogical and relational approach to the integration of Christian faith in counselling practice (see Richardson, 2005). This would enable insights from both paradigms to be considered and mutually respected.

Change of name to the Waverley integrative framework

Having set out a critical evaluation of the Waverley model and in addition briefly described the philosophical underpinning of the BA (Hons) counselling programme, it is worth noting that I had concerns regarding the approach being described as the Waverley model. I considered calling the approach a model to be a misnomer, in that, in the counselling world, the approach cannot be perceived as a model of counselling as such, in the way that the main approaches to counselling, e.g. psychodynamic, cognitive behaviour therapy and humanistic therapy are understood as models of counselling. I also wanted to make it far more flexible than that suggested by Hughes, in order that students could formulate, develop and critically evaluate their own personal integrative philosophy of counselling, rather than having a prescriptive method or a model imposed on them to use with their clients. From this perspective, the approach is rather viewed as a framework that facilitates students to undertake a dialogical approach between the insights and knowledge provided by psychological and psychotherapeutic theories and Christian faith. I therefore considered it was important to not only significantly amend how the approach was practised, but to also change the name to ‘Waverley integrative framework’. Describing the Waverley approach as an integrative framework also enabled it to have points of contact with a number of other integrative approaches in the counselling world (for example, see the integrative approach suggested by Lapworth et al., 2001).



As I implemented all of the changes to the Waverley integrative framework, I was faced with a considerable challenge. On the one hand, I wanted to honour and respect Selwyn Hughes, whose writings had inspired many (including myself). On the other hand, I believed it essential for me to critically review and amend the theory and practice of the approach for all of the aforementioned reasons. Furthermore, it was crucial that I convinced the staff team, tutors, Waverley (CWR) management and ultimately the Waverley (CWR) board that the changes were appropriate and necessary. As I look back on this challenge, I recognise that as a staff member and ‘insider’ of the organisation I was in a privileged role (Costley et al., 2010:3), which helped me to make the necessary changes to the integrative framework. However, on reflection, I believe that, at the time, I failed to fully appreciate some of the underlying tensions that were connected with the task, not least the fact that I was employed by the very organisation whose founder I was criticising (Costley & Gibbs, 2006). I do remember that it felt as though I was walking on eggshells and I was nervous when I presented the proposed changes to the Waverley (CWR) board.

As I pondered further on my nervousness over the presentation, an issue that I have struggled with for many years came to mind. Over the years in Christian environments, I have frequently hidden the professional counsellor part of myself, mainly because, as I have already mentioned, the disapproval of the counselling profession from Christians, sadly including those from within my church. Likewise, in professional counselling environments, I have frequently hidden the Christian part of myself, due to my perception that in holding a faith, I might be judged in some way as not being fully professional. Part of my development over the years has been to acknowledge and be proud of these parts of myself and to allow both of them to come to the fore; to fully embrace them as part of who I am, my identity, theme, as shown in Figure 1.


I believe the presentation to the board was one of the first occasions where I had to make sure that both parts of myself came out of hiding to be seen by all. Looking back, I believe a number of factors helped me during this time. Firstly, I had had the honour and privilege of meeting and listening to the teaching of Selwyn Hughes in 1997 and 1998. I truly believe that he would have approved of the changes I had made, especially since, when he wrote his books, he did not have access to the substantial psychological and counselling resources that I had been able to draw upon when I critically evaluated his approach. Secondly, his vision was that at some time in the future, Waverley (CWR) would form a Christian university. I therefore considered that my work was the first stage of implementing his overall vision. Thirdly, the CEO of Waverley had a professional mental health background and he, together with the director of training, were fully supportive of my recommended changes. It was a relief (and a considerable achievement) to gain agreement from management and final approval from the board to my proposed amendments. The only change that I was not able to secure initially was the change of name of the approach from the Waverley model to the Waverley integrative framework. However, on the basis that change within an organisation at times needs to be incremental (Neal & Tromley, 1995), I was content at that point to proceed without changing the name. (In 2012, I subsequently achieved agreement from all parties to change the name of the approach to the Waverley integrative framework.)

Validation of the programme

During the summer of 2009, along with senior management of Waverley (CWR), I spent time explaining to university academics that when Christians seek counselling, many actively seek faith-based counselling (Aten & Hernandez, 2004; Aten & Leach, 2009; Post & Wade, 2009; Worthington et al., 2009; McMinn et al., 2010; Scott, 2013; Kim, 2019). I also described the significant absence of any training in the UK (and the USA for that matter) that assisted counsellors to work with a client’s faith difficulties and concerns, when they were entangled with their psychological issues. In addition, I argued that the lack of training resulted in many therapists having to find their own way of dealing with the professional and ethical issues that are involved when they undertake a dialogue between Christian faith and psychological/psychotherapeutic theories in the context of counselling practice and/or when they work with their client’s faith concerns and difficulties (Crossley & Salter, 2005; Jackson & Coyle, 2009; Koce & Baker, 2019). This situation had resulted in a significant gap in provision and there was thus a need and demand for a BA in Counselling underpinned by a Christian worldview and where the insights from both Christian faith and psychological/psychotherapeutic theories were considered and mutually respected. Furthermore, I set out the ultimate aim of the programme which was to be as follows:

The overarching aim of the programme is to provide a robust and effective undergraduate training programme that ensures students who exit with a Diploma of Higher Education (Dip HE) or BA (Hons) Counselling are professional, competent and ethical practitioners who have attained the standards of proficiency that are required by professional counselling bodies.

(BA (Hons) Counselling programme specification, 2010).

I anticipated a level of resistance and lack of acceptance from the counselling professionals in the university to the possibility of integrating Christian faith in counselling training and I was therefore pleased that I managed to convince them of the uniqueness and what I believed would be the ethical professionalism of the programme. We were subsequently given permission to progress to the next stage in the validation process and I am delighted to say the programme was validated and the programme was launched on the 1 September 2009.

Key features of the training

In order to bring this paper to a conclusion, it is valuable to summarise and further evaluate five key concepts that relate together and provide the foundation for the integrative approach that underpins the BA (Hons) Counselling programme. I provide a diagram that sets out a conceptual framework of the five key concepts at the end of this paper (see Figure 2).

1. A flexible dynamic approach to integration

It is interesting to note that back in the 1980s Hurding acknowledged that he (and others) hesitated to apply a ‘how to do it approach’ when it involved ‘activities which largely concern relationships’ (1986:304). In more recent times, Strawn et al., point out that literature indicates there have been three past ‘waves’ of integrating psychology and the practice of counselling with Christian faith, namely, ‘apologetic, model building and empirical validation’ (2014:85). Without going into depth and defining each of the waves, suffice it to say, a ‘fourth wave’ is now emerging, one which mirrors my own approach, where the focus is far more on how each individual therapeutic encounter influences and shapes the nature of how integration takes place (Strawn et al., 2014:85, 89, 91. See also Sandage & Brown, 2015; Neff & McMinn, 2020). The focus on integration taking place within a unique dynamic therapist/client relationship, where each individual therapist and client bring their own perspective, background, faith, beliefs and values and engage in a unique dynamic relationship, is also in harmony with the embodied and relational perspective proposed by others (Augustyn et al., 2017) and the relational understanding of imago Dei that was explained earlier.

2. A dialogical approach to integration

The term integration, related to the word integrity, is commonly understood as an amalgamation of two or more things being brought together and joined into a harmony, unity and wholeness (Evans, 2012; Santrac, 2016; Finlay, 2021). While Stanton Jones acknowledges that the term integration has been criticised for failing to appreciate the complexities of the integrative task and in addition recognises that some claim it suggests the combining together of ‘two things that do not naturally belong together’ (2010, a:102), he believes ‘what matters ultimately is not the word, but what the term summarizes’ (2010, a:102).

However, words do matter and it is important to try and capture, as near as is possible, exactly what one is attempting to achieve when making use of a particular word or term. After a process of reflection, I have come to the view that the best way to describe what the programme is seeking to achieve regarding integration is to say it takes a dialogical approach to the integrative task. I have found the argument made by Richardson persuasive when he states he has ‘strong concerns’ about the basic idea and project of ‘integration’ on the basis that there is ‘no neutral external criteria for resolving differences among diverse perspectives or fields’ (2005:186). Richardson goes on to argue that it is more helpful to consider the integrative task as one that engages in a dialogue between Christian faith and psychology and psychotherapy (2005:206).

The use of the term dialogue is also helpful as it is understood as a collaborative term that involves listening, understanding and evaluating the views of another (and, in this context, listening, understanding and evaluating both psychological theories/counselling practice and Christian faith) in order to find meaning, greater insight and fresh understanding (Angel, 2018). In addition, the term includes the implication that things are not fixed or resolved, but are open ended and, thus, it is accepted that contradictions and paradox will inevitably arise. This is in contrast to the use of the term debate which is more oppositional/dualistic, with one side trying to force thinking into right or wrong choices (Angel, 2018). As Neff and McMinn point out, dialogue can be ‘messy, complicated and nuanced’ and ‘fluid in nature’ (2020:3, 21). Nevertheless, from this perspective, insights from both Christian faith and psychology and psychotherapy can be mutually respected (Martin, 2015).

3. The Waverley integrative framework: A tool for integration

As already mentioned, rather than imposing on students a ‘method’ or a ‘model’ (as originally proposed by Hughes), the Waverley integrative framework is rather utilised as a flexible framework that enables students to formulate, develop and critically evaluate their own personal integrative approach to counselling. From this perspective, the Waverley integrative framework can thus be viewed as a tool; a scaffolding, which facilitates students to undertake a dialogical approach, at a theoretical and practical level, between the insights and knowledge provided by psychological and psychotherapeutic theories and Christian faith and doctrine.

4. A two-person relational and embodied approach to integration

By adopting a dialogical and relational approach, the concept of integration moves from a ‘one-person view of integration’ to a ‘two-person’ and relational embodied understanding of integration (Sandage & Brown, 2015:166). Furthermore, it gives prominence to working with a client, wherever possible, at ‘relational depth’ (Mearns & Cooper, 2005, xi). (This is irrespective of whether faith (Christian or otherwise) is addressed or not within the counselling room). Trying to define what is meant by relational depth is difficult and can, as Mearns & Cooper articulate, be almost ‘beyond language’ (2005, xi). Nevertheless, they sum it up well by saying it is:

a state of profound contact and engagement between two people, in which each person is real with the Other, and able to understand and value the Other’s experiences at a high level (2005, xii).

This notion of working at relational depth resonates with the approach of Martin Buber, in his description of an I-Thou encounter (Buber, 1923. See also Metcalfe & Game, 2012; Ross, 2018). This two-person relational and embodied approach to integration, together with an emphasis on the unique relational and dynamic encounter occurring between a therapist and their client, the significance of the therapeutic relationship and the importance of adhering to the core conditions is embedded within the counselling programme.

5. The vocational aspect of integration

Ultimately, from a Christian faith and worldview perspective, integration means having humility and being aware that clients (irrespective of their faith, beliefs and values) are persons of infinite worth and value and deserving of care, love, compassion and dignity (Guthrie, 1979; Hall, 2004; Bufford, 2007; Cherry, 2017). In addition, the vocational aspect to integration includes the understanding that as human beings we are called to live not just for ourselves, but to care for others.

Below (see Figure 2) is a conceptual diagram of the five key concepts of the integrative task that relate together and underpin the counselling programme.

Part 2 of this paper, due to be published in the next edition of the journal, will continue to discuss the integration of Christian faith and counselling, with the focus on the practical application of the Waverley integrative framework and in particular, the use of Christian faith interventions in clinical practice.


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About the author

Dr Heather Churchill

DCPsych (PW) (Middlesex), MTh (Middlesex) BA (Hons) (Brunel)

Registered member BACP (Senior Accred, Counsellor/Psychotherapist)

and Supervisor

Fellow of Association of Christian Counsellors and Registered Accredited Counsellor

Heather is Head of Counselling Faculty for Waverley Abbey College and has many years of experience as a trainer, counsellor/psychotherapist and a supervisor. She has co-authored two books: Insight into Helping Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse and Insight into Shame and has published a number of articles in the Accord journal of the Association of Christian Counsellors. In her private clinical practice, Heather specialises in counselling adults who have experienced abuse in childhood.

Copyright 2022 Heather Churchill

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Enhancing The Empirical Theological Approach of the Waverley Integrated Framework

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This article seeks to recommend the enhancement of the Waverley integrative framework (WIF). It suggests that the WIF could be theologically developed with reference to ordinary theology, which is a branch of practical theology. Doing this may result in the WIF becoming more widely known and accepted in the field of practical theology. This is important to do, as the WIF can be usefully applied to other disciplines such as: Christian leadership, spiritual formation and chaplaincy studies, which sit more naturally in the discipline of practical theology. The WIF was primarily developed to be used for Christian counselling, and seems to lack a means to engage in investigating grass-root theologies in the public square. Very little research has been conducted using the WIF as a framework by recognised scholars. More research may be stimulated, and the model may become more widely used by researchers, leaders and influencers, if it is enhanced by ordinary/practical theology.

Keywords: Waverley integrative framework; practical theology; ordinary theology; scripting; rescripting


It is my purpose in this article to hopefully begin a conversation about enhancing the Waverley integrative framework (WIF).[1] My aim is to suggest how ordinary theology (OT) might provide a natural fit with WIF, which might help it to be applied to other fields of study: such as Christian leadership, spiritual formation and chaplaincy studies. Astley coined the term ‘ordinary theology’, and explains it as follows:

Ordinary Christian theology is my phrase for the theologising of Christians who have received little or no theological education of a scholarly, academic, or systematic kind. “Ordinary”, in this context, implies… non-academic (Astley, J. 2002:56; cf. Astley, and Francis, 2013; Ward, 2017:58-60).

Astley argues that we know very little about the ordinary theologies of everyday believers, which he suggests would provide profound insights into what they believe, value and practice should we investigate them (Astley, 2002:1-12). Investigating ordinary theologies will, arguably, make an important impact on how leaders, influencers and Christian counsellors inform their praxis. Concentration on ordinary theologies can also provide opportunities to help practitioners investigate how theology motivates people to act as they do. I will explain in more detail below how I have adapted Astley’s understanding of ordinary theology to suit it to augment the WIF. My aim is to address the deficit in paying attention to ordinary theology, which I believe offers an important lens through which the grass-roots theologies of people can be investigated.

I posit that if ordinary theology is used in dialogue with the WIF, it can offer fresh insights into the deeper interior life experiences of those who are being engaged with by influencers.

The WIF was developed by Hughes, in dialogue with Crabb, primarily as a model to be used by Christian counsellors (Hughes, 2006; Crabb, 1975; Crabb, 1997). Waverley Abbey College’s newer academic programmes, which draw on the WIF (such as Spiritual Formation and Chaplaincy Studies), seem to sit more naturally in the discipline of practical theology. Hence, programmes within these disciplines will probably benefit from enhancement by integrating ordinary theology into the WIF. I will argue the WIF can make an important contribution when brought into conversation with ordinary theology, which will help to demonstrate how the WIF can be integrated into practical and empirical theology. Given the limited range of research using the WIF by recognised scholars (Ashley, 2013), it seems relevant to investigate how ordinary theology might help the WIF to become an area of broader interest in practical theology circles, and within the academy. As a missiologist, I would also say it has important contributions to make to the work of missional leaders in the public square.

Practical/ordinary theology grew out of pastoral theology, which has ancient antecedents going back to early theological developments in the Christian Church (Graham, 2005:2; cf. Miller-McLemore, 2014). Graham, a leading practical and public theologian, discusses how practical theology, and theological reflection, draw on what she characterises as, ‘Theology by heart: the living human document’ (2005:18; cf. Butler, 2014:102-111; Miller McLemore, 2014:1-20). She traces how scholars, like the psychotherapist Charles Gerkin, developed understanding of theological reflection on the human being, which concentrated on the integration of God-consciousness into every layer of human experience (Graham, 2005:18; cf. Gerkin, 1984). Those familiar with WIF’s five-part framework will be able to see an immediate link to theological reflection and practical theology, because of its concentration on integrating God’s influence into the physical, emotional, volitional, rational and spiritual dimensions of life (cf. Ashley, 2013; Hughes, 2006; Kallmier, 2011).

The WIF usefully locates itself in an evangelical theological worldview, building on the classical markers of creation, fall, redemption and consummation (cf. Ashley, 2013: location 1865). It also relates well to Bebbington’s quadrilateral: conversionism, activism, crucicentricism and biblicentricism (Bebbington, 2005:10-14; cf. Warner, 2007). It is both theological in its nature, and instincts, as well as being applicable to holistic human experiences (Bebbington, 2005).

The framework’s foregrounding of evangelical characteristics is founded on key doctrinal (dogmatic) antecedents, which are used to frame and inform the way that Christians use WIF in counselling practice (cf. Ashley, 2013: location 166). Evangelical doctrine acts as a kind of theology from above, which is then used to drive core assumptions of what causes human psychological pathologies – based on the notion of sin, and the total depravity of humankind (cf. Ashley, 2013: Location 726). In order for humans to find healing, they need to repent and turn to Christ as the key to restoring the imago Dei,[2] as part of an ongoing lifelong transformation process so that they might flourish (cf. Ashley, 2013: Location 1875; cf. Higton, 2011). Ashley posits that human flourishing will not be totally possible until the future eschatological age, when Christ restores creation[3] (cf. Ashley, 2013: Location 2212). Penny helpfully highlights how human flourishing is often enhanced when empirical action research reveals ways in which peoples’ lives can be improved (2021:5). Transformational changes can be facilitated based on what is discovered by social scientific research (Penny, 2021:5, 6). In other words, flourishing is something to be experienced to varying degrees in this world, not only in the world to come.

The WIF usefully operates on the assumption that God is a relational tri-personal being, who has created humankind to live in dialogical relationship with God, and others (cf. Ashley, 2013: Locations 1018, 1176). This is a simplistic, and rather crude characterisation, of some of the assumptions of the WIF; Ashley’s published thesis provides an excellent scholarly theoretical discussion of the model related to psychotherapeutic counselling, and aspects of formal evangelical theology (2013). I had his work in mind as I wrote the above. It is surprising that Ashley did not draw on practical theology in his thesis, as this could have done much to show how the WIF can engage in a learning conversation with this discipline.

The evangelical doctrinal model of the WIF provides an explicit authoritative theology from above, which affords a meaningful benchmark for Christian counsellors to use with those who are already believers (cf. Ashley, 2013: Location 417). However, it does not naturally provide a means to focus on theology as it is perceived in terms of the ordinary theologising of the people it seeks to influence. In my view, it lacks a sufficient theological methodology to capture the grass-roots theologising of individuals and groups. I will suggest that concentrating on individuals’ and communities’ theologies from below (i.e. grass-roots theologising), will help leaders and influencers to understand the impact of ordinary theologising on people’s lives. In other words, it can provide an important practical theological means to enhance the use of the WIF in practice.

The counselling process recommended as part of the WIF seeks to explore, diagnose (understand) and resolve psychological pathologies, but it does not take further steps to articulate how understanding ordinary theologising can help to map the ordinary theologies of those it seeks to help, and then adapt them (cf. Kallmier, 2011:46; Astley, 2002:97-122). This is important to address, as Christian missional leaders, at work in the public square, will need a means to understand the popular theologies of those with whom they interact. This will be vital if they want to help people to obtain deeper insights into the person and nature of God, as well as what God is calling them to become – as they relate to God and one another.

The framework has seemingly needed to fight for the integration of secular insights into its psychotherapeutic framework, so that it can be accepted in the evangelical community (cf. Ashley, 2013: Location 226). In my view, it already naturally aligns itself well with practical theology. Practical theologians, and practitioners, similar to those who use the WIF, draw on psychology, sociology[4] and anthropology to methodologically investigate the world, and to inform their praxis (cf. Miller-McLemore, 2014). Theology is the driving discipline when it is used with insights from these other fields of study. Indeed, in my own published works, I do this very thing (cf. Hardy, 2015a; 2015b; 2016; 2018; 2019; 2022). It is my aim to demonstrate how the WIF model might be straightforwardly used in conversation with ordinary theology, to help influencers and leaders bring about meaningful spiritual and sociocultural changes in society for the common good (cf. Sagovsky, and McGrail, 2015).

In this article, I will take the following steps to explore how ordinary theology might be used to enhance WIF by providing insights into: 1. the nature of ordinary/practical theology; 2. articulating how ordinary theology and the WIF (i.e. OT/WIF) methodologically might work together; 3. providing a working case example of how the OT/WIF approach could work in practice methodologically; and 4. to provide recommendations for future conversations about the development of an OT/WIF approach, and other aspects of ordinary/practical theology in dialogue with the WIF.

Before we proceed any further, I want to make it clear that it is not my aim, in this article, to provide anywhere close to a full justification, or rationale, to adapt the WIF, or for the recommendations I will make. As I have mentioned already, at this stage, I want to provide a taster for what I hope will become conversations to enhance the WIF’s intellectual capital, in dialogue with ordinary/practical theology. I hope that interest might be stimulated in researching and writing a book with others, to develop the WIF in the light of ordinary/practical theology. I recognise that this will also probably entail some research in the field of systematic theology, and how it might further enhance the WIF as a theology from above, especially in terms of how other theological traditions might enter into conversation with the WIF.

The nature of practical theology

An excellent work that explores practical theology is Ward’s Introduction to Practical Theology (2017). Ward helpfully discusses where ordinary theology sits as a key part of practical theology (2017:14, 55, 58-60, 62-63, 65, 156-157). Ward comments:

At its heart, there is something ordinary and everyday about practical theology. One of the leading practical theologians in the United Kingdom, Jeff Astley, speaks about the “ordinary theology” of believers. From the writing of Bonnie Miller-McLemore and Rowan Williams it is clear that theology operates as a natural and everyday part of the life of the Christian community. Theology at the level of practice is “ordinary.” It is the basic way of speaking and living in the Christian community. Being a part of the church inevitably means that we share in an ongoing conversation about God (2017:14).

For those who want to learn more about the discipline, Ward’s book is affordable and useful (2017). Ordinary/practical theology may be characterised as the investigation of how theology arises out of practice, as well as how it frames and informs praxis (cf. Anderson, 2001:1-12). It also seeks to enable theological reflection on practice. Practices may be thought of as laden with meaning (cf. Ballard, and Pritchard, 2006:81-95; cf. Cameron, et al., 2010). In other words, the practices of those who have a religious faith are influenced by the meaning they assign to them (cf. Swinton, and Mowat, 2013:5, 6, 17). For example, when people engage in serving drinks after a church service, do they do it so that they can help people feel comfortable to socialise, or does it go deeper for some of them, as a kind of ministry of service, so that people can engage in spiritual conversations. In other words, something as simple as making drinks can be loaded with theological meaning – where making drinks becomes a ministry. Listening to what people have to say about their reasons for engaging in differing life practices can reveal that just below the surface of seemingly mundane acts, there are deeply held theological convictions (cf. Ward, 2008:6, 12, 20). These convictions can be more deeply explored on an interior level if the WIF is used in conversation with ordinary theology.

The practical theologian may reflect on the meaning people assign to what they do, in order to understand their ordinary theological motivations (cf. Bevans, 2012:1-33). By understanding their ‘theological motivations’ it may also become possible to help to further inform their beliefs, values and practices to inform their deeper sense of human wellbeing. As a result, it may be possible to help people to become more aware of why they do things the way they do, leading them to assign greater value to their practices – as a sharing in the ongoing mission of Jesus.

From an academic point of view, practical theology is built on the view that human practices are theory laden (cf. Rogers, 2015: 25-40; Wenger, 2016; McClendon, 1974; McClendon and Smith, 1994). By focusing on what people do, and their motivations for doing these things, it becomes possible to develop theories for why people behave in the ways they do (Charmaz, 2011:1-12). For instance, theoretical models can be constructed to help explain why a particular church/denomination may be successfully seeing new converts joining, based on what is learnt from peoples’ ordinary theologising. In my most recent book, An Ordinary Mission of God Theology: Challenging Missional Church Idealism, Providing Solutions (Hardy, 2022), I engage in the use of ordinary theology to trace positive and negative impacts on a congregation, who were becoming focused on local mission in their neighbourhood. The work uncovers how the differing ordinary theological perspectives of congregational members led to opportunities for mission, as well as costly conflict, tension and schism. I will reflect on a case example from this book in section 3. My aim is to demonstrate how the WIF could have helped me to obtain other useful insights regarding what impacted this church’s missional transformation journey.

As I explained in the introduction, I believe that ordinary/practical theology resonates well with the WIF. I turn attention, next, to explaining one way that ordinary theology and the WIF (i.e. OT/WIF) might converse from a methodological point of view.

A combined OT/WIF methodological conversation

My exposure to what has become known as the Waverley integrative framework was by reading some of Hughes’ work in the 1990s (cf. 2006). I found myself resonating particularly with his assertion that a primary human need was for spiritual security, self-worth and significance (cf. Hughes, 2006). In my pastoral counselling practice of the time, I utilised a similar model to Hughes’[5] to engage in the counselling process, which cycled through exploration, understanding and action phases (cf. Ashley, 2013: Location 2604; Egan and Reese, 2021). I did not rigidly apply the five parts of the WIF as a formula, i.e., the physical, emotional, volitional, rational and spiritual, but throughout counselling processes each of these areas would be explored in some depth.

I often had opportunities to communicate other alternative ways clients might interpret their stories in the light of the biblical story. For example, in the case of one single-mother, who was suffering from mental health challenges, she discovered that her picture of God was based on severe abuse she went through as a child, at the hands of her mother. She consciously, and subconsciously, seemed to believe that to win God’s/others approval she had to do things to earn it. We explored this view together, and she slowly came to the realisation that God loved her for who she was, and that God’s grace was not earnt. She increasingly found freedom from depression and anxiety, and a deeper relationship with her estranged family. Her ordinary theologising about God had been based on a picture of God presented by her mother. This old script was rescripted by a fresh understanding of God’s grace, which impacted her sense of wellbeing. This rescripting process eventually impacted her sense of self-worth more profoundly.[6]

I have introduced two new terms – ‘scripting’ and ‘rescripting’. This is something I methodologically adapted and used in my most recent book An Ordinary Mission of God Theology (cf. Hardy, 2022). Many social scientists look at the power of language, and how this forms a kind of script that people base their psycho-social behaviour on, mostly unconsciously (Pitman, 1984:64-79; cf. Foss, 2004; Holliday et al., 2010; Fairclough, 2001). By helping people to become aware of these scripts, they can then be helped to develop their own revised scripts, which might enable them to flourish more fully. These ‘revised scripts’ may be thought of as a rescripting process, which they can be helped to engage in developing by an experienced influencer/leader/counsellor. Below, in a case example taken from my research, I will demonstrate how this process can be used to enhance the WIF, and to utilise OT/WIF as a methodology in other disciplines, like congregational and leadership studies.

What I have briefly highlighted above provides a basic description of how ordinary theology, scripting and rescripting methodology might be combined with the WIF to enhance it (cf. Hardy, 2022; Cartledge, 2010:15-18; Martin, 2006). It makes it applicable to other fields of study such as spiritual formation and leadership studies etc. Ordinary theology could provide a missing dimension to the WIF’s doctrinal evangelical theology, helping the practitioner and scholar to make it more readily useable, and applicable, to their praxis. Figure 2 shows how I build on Ashley’s (cf. Fig. 1) adaptation of the WIF, integrating ordinary theology, scripting and rescripting into it.



As I see it, the primary challenge of utilising the WIF in other fields of study than counselling, is that a methodology needs to be developed to analyse the beliefs, values and practices of a group, which leaders/ministers/chaplains wish to influence.[7]

Figure 2 indicates how a leader engaged in seeking to spiritually influence people in the public square might engage with them. Ordinary theology seeks to actively listen to the presenting stories of Christians and unbelievers alike. Everyone has some sort of a theology, even if it means that they have decided not to believe in God (i.e., they have a non-theology). Robinson helpfully highlights the vital importance for those engaged in Christian mission to seek to understand the faith of ‘the unbeliever’ (Robinson, 2001). A leader in the public square will need to engage in meaningful conversations with agnostics, believers and unbelievers, in order to understand what is ‘scripting’ their theologies/non-theologies. As Ashley highlights, it is important to start in the WIF model with the ‘worldviews’ of people, in order to understand their existing theological/non-theological frames of reference (Ashley, 2013: Location 315). A conversational form of active listening can be utilised by missional leaders to engage in meaningful conversations with people who inhabit the public sphere. The aim will be to understand their existing scripts and, by identifying their ordinary theological/non-theological beliefs, they might be helped to rescript their stories with reference to the Christian story. In evangelical terms, this rescripting process will probably be informed by the four areas of creation, fall, redemption and consummation (Bartholomew, and Goheen, 2014).

However, I suggest that listening to ordinary theologies/non-theologies will not be enough on their own. The WIF provides a vital component that can enable the missional leader to listen to the deeper interior stories, and challenges, of peoples’ embodied physical lives. For example, by using the WIF, the deeper affective emotional dimension of human convictions, including human motivations for the choices that are made, will become evident (i.e. in the volitional dimension). Transformation needs to occur by paying attention to what God’s Spirit seems to be influencing people to do, bearing in mind each of the WIF’s five areas of functioning. By paying attention to what is happening in peoples’ interior lives, it may, then, become possible, at a much deeper level, to participate with the Holy Spirit’s work of rescripting a person’s ordinary theology/non-theology in the light of the Christian story. To use Gerkin’s terminology, ‘the living human document’ may first be exegeted[8] from the point of view of their presenting beliefs, values and practices and, then, reinterpreted in the light of the biblical story (i.e. in active conversation with them; cf. Gerkin, 1984).

In a book I wrote with my colleague Dan Yarnell, Missional Discipleship After Christendom, I discuss how discipleship formation practices need to become central to missional leadership in the public square (2018). What is discussed there will help the reader to reflect on how ordinary theology may be used to interact with those who are discipled by leaders and influencers. In my view, all of life is theological in nature, as I believe humans have been designed to function in the relational image of the Trinity (i.e. the Imago Trinitatis). God as three persons, united in one inseparable being, live in deep relational communion (cf. Karkkainen, 2007:90). Zizioulas suggests that all of reality only exists as we live in relationship with God, and others – otherwise no life, or learning, could take place (Zizioulas, 2013:15; Zizioulas, 2011:1-82). Based on the WIF model, I believe that we need to view ourselves holistically, rather than as fragmented personalities. In other words, the triune God may be thought of as seeking to integrate our whole way of being into a unity of relationships with the persons of God– and one another (cf. Zizioulas, 2011:1-82).

I recognise that there is much more room for me to set out in detail how the OT/WIF might work in practice. This will have to be investigated in more detail in later conversations and articles.

OT/WIF: Re-framing an aspect of Hardy’s congregational research

The research that underpins my book, An Ordinary Mission of God Theology (2022), could have been enhanced in places with reference to the WIF model in combination with ordinary theology. My study traces how the introduction of a mission of God theology to a British Reformed congregation had a significant impact on them. A small team of Christian leaders communicated mission of God theology to this church over a period of six years. It found that mission changes came at substantial personal costs to the church’s members. Everyday church members’ ordinary theological voices are absent from the formal literature in missional church studies. The study employed rescripting methodology to modify key assumptions made in the formal literature, by drawing on insights that came from congregants’ ordinary theological voices. I will briefly illustrate how one dimension of my findings might have been enhanced, had I also drawn on the WIF to analyse the data. All of my data was based on interviews, participant observations and congregational consultations with members and leaders.

By listening to members’ ordinary theological descriptions, of their positive and negative reactions to being encouraged to view themselves as God’s missionaries, two key groups emerged within the congregation (cf. Hardy, 2022). I termed these groups Group 1 and 2. Group 1’s ordinary theology was largely characterised as scripting members to see themselves as called to engage in individual mission outside of the church – in the secular community. This group seemed to place much less value on developing the communal-relational life of the church, and placed much more on mission work with people outside the church. Conversely, Group 2’s ordinary theologies were resistant to individual mission work outside the congregation, because in their views it undermined the relational family-focused outlook of the church. They seemingly thought that Group 1 members were much more interested in engaging in individual missional-doing, to the detriment of the church living together as a relational pastorally caring community. I termed Groups 2’s ordinary theology a ‘relational theology’, which focused on a sense of communal-relational being. Among other things, conflicts and tensions had already led to a schism in the church, and seemed to threaten the church to potentially experience another one (i.e. between Groups 1 and 2).

It was found that these two diverging groups’ ordinary theologies scripted one of them to be motivated by individuals engaging in missional-doing, and the other’s by a relational theology of communal being. This led to the suggestion that these diverging ordinary theological outlooks could be potentially rescripted, by developing practical measures, based on a relational trinitarian theology that was both communal and missional in its focus. For example, I suggested one practical way this could be achieved might be by engaging in a preaching/teaching series based on John’s Gospel. This was because this Gospel has a strong relational communal theology. Out of this, I theorised, Groups 1 and 2 might be helped to reconceive of themselves as working together to integrate new believers into the communal life of the Christian family.

Yet more important insights could have been obtained from the ordinary theological accounts of Groups 1 and 2, had I also drawn on the WIF to analyse the data. I can only at this stage suggest some enhancements to my approach, had I done this. Firstly, I could have dug much deeper into the physical embodied experiences of members, and how their everyday physical environments influenced their ordinary theologies, and their alignment with either of the two groups. Secondly, more attention could have been given to the emotional needs of members in each group – how might their emotional states have predisposed them to focus on individual mission work, or congregational communal fellowship. Thirdly, the research gave some attention to the volitional dimension, which led members to align with Groups 1 or 2, or a third Group, termed Group 3[9]. It could have been further enhanced by more intentional integration of the WIF into my methodology. Fourthly, the rational dimension was well captured by members’ accounts of their reasons for wanting to engage in mission, or for wanting the congregation to be focused on the church’s communal way of life. Finally, the spiritual dimension could have been much more fully analysed had the needs of believers for security, a clear sense of congregational identity and significance, been investigated more widely. From the point of view of my adaptation of ordinary theology, and rescripting methodology, some additional insights could have been teased out from the congregational data by drawing on the Waverley integrated framework.

Summary and recommendations

In such a provisional article of this kind it is not possible to draw conclusions, but it will be useful to summarise some key insights. Following a short summary, I will recommend some starting points for further conversations that I hope may develop. I recognise that this article will make most sense to those already sufficiently grounded in the WIF model.


In summary, I have suggested that: 1. the WIF is already well developed as a therapeutic counselling model, but it could help practitioners, and students, to consider how an OT/WIF approach might be further integrated into leadership/spiritual theology/chaplaincy studies; 2. practical theology seems to be a well-suited conversation partner that can help to make the WIF more accessible to leaders who use practical theology, as well as those in the academy; and, 3. The OT/WIF approach arguably needs developing, because concentrating on people’s ordinary theologies, and helping them to rescript them, will equip leaders et al. to analyse the ordinary theological scripts of individuals and groups they are seeking to influence.

I suggest, similar to Astley, that ordinary theological voices have not been taken seriously by theologians, meaning that we know very little about the largest group of ordinary theologians in the world, and what God is revealing to them. If we want to discern and participate in the ongoing mission of Jesus, suited to the needs of the secular public square, then we need to learn from believers and unbelievers alike, about what God might be revealing to, and through, them. This will entail listening to unbelievers, seeking to discern clues for the influence of the Spirit of God on their lives, thus potentially providing indicators for how we might participate in the ongoing mission of Jesus to transform their lives.

One other matter is also vital to highlight. In my view the WIF provides opportunities for deeper holistic insights into the interior lives of persons and their communities. It will be important not only to understand what scripts people’s stories, but also to rescript the deeper interior motivations and convictions that shape their lives. This will not be something to force on the people that influencers seek to interact with; instead it will be vital to actively listen to people’s stories, and then participate in mutual conversations with them to bring about changes in their perspectives.


I recommend that:

1. those interested in having a conversation work together to practically envision how an OT/WIF approach could be used in a variety of fields of study, and real-life contexts.

2. a working party/think-tank could be formed to envision, develop and implement how ordinary theology might enhance the WIF, and the WIF ordinary theology.

3. that working party could also look to envision, develop and implement how innovations might be incorporated into training and educational programmes – to enhance their academic credibility, and rigor in the light of OT/WIF integration.


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Zizioulas, J.D. (2011) The Eucharistic Communion and the World. London: T & T Clark International.

About the author

Rev Dr Andrew R Hardy, Th.D, D.Th, SFHEA

Andrew Hardy is an ordained minister in the Fellowship of Churches of Christ and has fulfilled a missional ministry vocation in equipping Christian leaders in the context of Higher Education for the past 16 years. He is Director of Research for ForMission College, as well as Postgraduate Programme Leader, and programme Developer for Light College Collective. He is also a senior tutor at work with Missio Dei College and an adjunct Postgraduate tutor with Tabor College in Australia. He served as an adjunct Professor of Theology for CLS. He is also a consultant in Theological education and critical pedagogy. He is passionate about equipping God’s people for mission and currently works in ministry with three churches. His published works are used extensively in theological programmes in the UK, Europe, North America, and Australasia. He values connecting with and speaking at a variety of conferences.


Copyright 2022 Andy Hardy

[1] I also want to provide some pointers for how educational programmes based on WIF might be theologically enhanced.

[2] Latin phrase translated as ‘image of God’.

[3] The use of the WIF in a counselling context assumes that the WIF can be used for therapeutic change irrespective of conversion and repentance, with a greater focus on working with human spiritual needs for security, significance and self-worth. This highlights the adaption of the WIF depending on context and reflects the current teaching and course notes on the WIF.

[4] The WIF does not as such rely on sociology, but it does integrate insights from theological anthropology (cf. Ashley, 2013: Location 1018).

[5] Although it was not known as WIF then. It was still going through a process of more rigorous intellectual development.

[6] At the time of my counselling practice, mentioned above, I did not use concepts like ‘ordinary theology’, ‘scripting’ and ‘rescripting’ methods to describe my approach to counselling, or leadership. I, instead, used Gerkin’s model of the ‘living human document’ (1984), to enable clients to explore existing interpretations of their life stories, moving some of them on to discover healthier ways of living in the light of the biblical story. In my approach of the time, I also combined exploration, and understanding phases, of client’s presenting stories in the light of Hugh’s five areas.

[7] This would seem to be of primary importance if we wish to help people discern what God is calling them to become, so that they might participate in the ongoing mission of the Spirit of Jesus to reconcile people into the kingdom of God (cf. Hardy, 2016; Hardy and Yarnell 2015; Hardy and Foster, 2019).

[8] Exegesis is used in textual criticism, and Gerkin’s model, to read-out from the text’s/person’s words what it seems to mean to them from their perspective, rather than seeking to read into the text’s/person’s account what the exegete/counsellor wants them to mean.

[9] Group 3 was a third group identified in the research process. This group sought to bring a stronger sense of unity to groups 1 and 2 who were in some ways at odds with each other due to differences in their perspectives about what the church should focus on. For more in-depth discussion see on chapter 6 of Hardy’s book, An Ordinary Mission of God Theology: Challenging Missional Church Idealism, Providing Solution.

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