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How do religious leaders experience the psychological distress of their congregation?

Brown-Bennett, A-L. (2017). How do religious leaders experience the psychological distress of their congregation?. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, Universtiy of London)


Religious leaders are at the forefront of religious faith and considered to be the gateway between humankind and God in all things, from matters of a spiritual kind, to the psychological. Whilst religious leaders may be acquainted with the spiritual realm, how do they perceive their engagement with the psychological? Furthermore, how do they manage the psychological distresses that they encounter given their pivotal position within the community? This empirical study explores how religious leaders experience the psychological distress of their congregation using the methodological approach of Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Eight religious leaders gave an account of their experiences through semi-structured interviews, the transcripts of which were then analysed implementing IPA protocol (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Four superordinate themes emerged from the data: ‘expectations of religious leadership’, which explored the participants’ experiences of the expectations placed upon them and their role; ‘proficiencies and limitations within the role’, which explored how the participants understood their professional remit in regard to providing psychological support; ‘the interconnectedness of religion and psychology’, which provided an insight into the participants’ experiences of the overlap between the fields of psychology and religion, and their contribution to each other; and ‘personal implications of religious leadership’, which explored the psychological impact of the religious leadership role on the participants. The four themes were discussed in relation to the religious leaders’ encounters with psychological distress. For most participants this was an external encounter, but reports of personal psychological distress were also presented. The findings have implications for Counselling Psychologists who work with religious individuals entering into therapy, and in particular those with religious leadership status. This study explores the link between religion and psychology from the perspective of those integral to this phenomenon, yet who appear to have received little empirical consideration. The findings are discussed in the light of previous research. The quality and limitations of this study are also considered, alongside proposals for future research.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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