Expanding the Conversation About What it Means to Care for Those Who Suffer:
A Look at Barbara J. McClure’s New Book
God’s call to us is to be pastoral and prophetic. Pastoral practitioners have the opportunity and responsibility to participate in the life of God toward the greatest moral purpose: the flourishing of one and all, and co-creation of the kin-dom of God through accompaniment, insight and engagement, work that will begin to change the world even as we change ourselves.
—Barbara J. McClure, Moving Beyond Individualism, p. 269
Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology, Barbara J. McClure has written a new book entitled Moving Beyond Individualism in Pastoral Care and Counseling: Reflections on Theory, Theology, and Practice. Released in November, McClure’s book grew out of her experiences training and working as a pastoral theologian and counselor. By writing the book, she aims to expand the conversation about what it means to care for those who suffer by bridging the gap between social theory, psychology, theological perspectives, and caring practices.
McClure sees deep value in both social and psychological theory but in her clinical counseling work and her teaching has felt she had to choose between them, thus missing opportunities that would come with their deeper integration. Her goal for this book is to bridge previously unrelated fields and invite further conversation between them in search of a deeper understanding of the human person; in this book she seeks to connect psychological, theological, and sociological understandings of human experience with the aim to more effective practice.
To this task she brings a perspective that stems from her non-Western upbringing as the daughter and granddaughter of Presbyterian (PCUSA) missionaries in East Africa. Out of this experience McClure has approached her work with the assumption that everything is connected and that what we do affects others; for example, one must examine power, culture, and socioeconomics in order to understand more fully the human experience, and in particular, a person’s suffering. However, her field places primary importance on understanding the inner psyche. McClure explores the assertion that individualism is a dominant force in U.S. culture that shapes our assumptions about the “self,” society, and how people experience the world; she enumerates the benefits of depending heavily on such an ideology as well as the limitations.
McClure argues that a focus on the individual to the exclusion of her social/cultural and political contexts limits how effective caregivers can be. She notes that the typical client of professional pastoral care and counseling is white, middle class, and educated. However, because she understands her profession as one called to “help create the conditions for human flourishing for all,” McClure highlights how individualism limits the profession’s ability to achieve more fully this profound goal and offers suggestions for how it might better care for those outside the dominant culture in the U.S.
By approaching pastoral care and counseling through the overly narrow lens of individualism, pastoral caregivers are missing the impact of societal forces that affect the potential of human flourishing. By not investigating the contexts in which clients are situated, pastoral theologians and practitioners are not fully addressing the sources of suffering and what is involved in healing. McClure argues that because persons are embedded in contexts of economic, social, political, and cultural forces, it is only through analyzing these that practitioners will gain a broader understanding of the possibilities for health and healing. In other words, theories, practices, and organizational arrangements of pastoral care and counseling that are deeply rooted in individualism limit practitioners’ ability to challenge the unjust socio-political structures and create transformation beyond personal insight and individuals’ sense of well-being.
In Moving Beyond Individualism in Pastoral Care and Counseling McClure examines the capacity of ministries of caring to expand beyond individualistic foci through the examination of key concepts, practices, and organizational structures. Her goal is to challenge the field of pastoral care and counseling (and its practitioners) to become actively engaged, (public participants, if you will) in creating positive change in the world.
Professor McClure’s book imagines how the field and its practitioners might overcome the challenges of individualism and become more effective in dealing with the suffering caused by our sociocultural contexts. Through a descriptive, critical, and constructive approach, she examines the dominant resources available to practitioners and identifies the limitations of the common trends in the field. McClure proposes a new perspective and model of care and counseling that broadens the understanding of the factors that influence human development, flourishing, and suffering to create a new approach to care. She offers suggestions for shifting theology, theory, practice, and organization as she develops a case for a shift from our current individualistic approach to a more “synergistic” approach to care.
Her primary contribution to the field of pastoral theology is in helping practitioners understand how better to meet the needs of persons from a wider variety of demographics than it does currently and how to become more transformational and prophetic within our society and institutions. McClure hopes that this book will accelerate an important paradigm shift. She encourages others to join the effort to move beyond individualistic ideologies and perspectives in their efforts to support persons becoming more healthy and whole.
Return to the eSpire