A Theological Anthropology for
Transformational Education
Rev. William R. DeLong, Ed.D.
Director of Spiritual Care and CPE
Emanuel Medical Center, Randall Children's
Hospital and Oregon Burn Center
Portland, Oregon
“Supervision is more than teaching and
less than treatment.”
-A.J. Solnit
“Learning from Psychoanalytic Supervision”
A Supervisory Belief
• When the student’s anxiety gets coupled with
the student’s curiosity, learning takes place.
Definition of Supervision
• “An educational method by which a
supervisor, through a face-to-face
relationship, enables students to learn about
self, others, the spiritual , and ministry from
clinical experience and examination of that
experience so that students integrate their
learning in their professional identity and
-- ACPE Definition of Terms (pg. 13).
Supervisory Theory
• Supervisory theory is a set of principles and beliefs
that inform the educational process of supervision.
• Supervisory theory informs the supervisory activity
with clear and specific reasons for particular actions
in the supervisory process.
• These beliefs and principles come from theology,
human personality development theory, and adult
educational theory.
• Your theology, your adult education theory,
and your personality theory will not tell you
what to do and when to do it, that comes
from a supervisory theory.
• What to do and when comes from a
supervisory theory.
Theological Anthropology
• A theological anthropology is designed to answer
many of questions that arise in both the paper
writing process and in supervisory theory, and
will be expected to be addressed in the
certification process.
• A theological anthropology will provide theory to
“behold” the human other, make assessments,
and integrate theology, personality development,
and how humans learn, and explain
James Loder’s Convicted Knowing
• Loder was the professor of educational
philosophy at Princeton Seminary.
• He outlines a four fold knowing event in his
book The Transforming Moment.
• I appropriated his work into a perspective for
supervision and is largely outlined in chapter
four of my book Courageous Conversations:
The Teaching and Learning of Pastoral
The Four Fold Knowing Event
• Loder describes the human condition in four
specific and identifiable aspects:
– Embodiment
– The Self
– The Void
– The Holy
Meaning Making through Embodiment
• Humans first begin to “know” through our bodies.
• Our bodies limit us in time and space, includes our
neuro-pathways, experiences of pain, hunger, and
• The human experience begins with “body,” we move
and breathe and have our being initially in and through
• As body, we experience the finitude of human being.
• This is most notably experienced through age, sickness,
and ultimately death itself.
Second body
• Carolyn Gratton speaks of our second body
which includes our experience of gender,
sexual orientation, and culture.
• Through the initial experience of body we
develop significant perspectives of how we
make meaning in the world.
• Through continual exchange of body, culture,
gender we learn our first way of knowing.
Meaning Making as Self
• But, human being is not simply about body.
• The second way of knowing is through the sense
of self. This includes a sense of myself, a unique
“I” who inhabits this body.
• “Men [people] differ not just because they select
different objects or facts from the common
world, but because they see different worlds;
their perspectives have been formed by highly
individual experiences.” -Loder
Meaning Making as Self
• The self is that part of humans that brings
meaning from the phenomena of life.
• The second dimension transcends the
embodiment and continually recomposes the
world. The self is the knower of the embodied
world and yet stands outside it.
• The self contains all that we would call
psychology and personality.
• And it is the self that is in relationship with other
selves and with itself as self reflection.
Meaning making and the Void
• The existential reality of non-being is the third
dimension of knowing– the void.
• The void breaks into our experience of body and
• Called by many names and known through many
experiences, several metaphors elucidate the
void “non-being, death, loneliness, emptiness,
shame, and the demonic.” All of these threaten
our understanding of self.
The Void continued
• The void breaks into our lived experience in
unexpected ways and disrupts the continuity of
the “world” we have created.
• The void is experienced in trauma, premature
death, sickness, and violence, job loss or divorce.
• In all these instances the threat of non-being
again breaks into our reality. And with it the
threat of destruction and loss.
• The power of this third dimension of human
existence leads most of us to construct “worlds”
within which the void has no part.
The Void continued
• “When encountering the void, the temptation of the
self is to cling to a false world where the void has no
meaning. In so doing, the self creates and perpetuates
a world where it is deceived and is the deceiver.
• This process separates the self from its source of true
identity, The Source of All Being or the Holy.
• When the self is presented with the awesomeness of
the void, it may ground itself in some other form of
power which ultimately cannot sustain it. Thereby
creating a false ground of identity.
The Void continued
• To live in the presence of the void is to be filled
with the awful reality of non-being and
separation from the Holy.
• Living in separation from the Holy is unbearable
for humans. Thus the attempt to create a world
where the void is not present creates pain,
isolation, emptiness and more.
• The void—breaking into our lived world of human
being. . . Brings with it a process which is
transformational, a process that leads to the Holy.
Meaning Making and the Holy
• To wrestle honestly with the void will always
bring about the reality of transformation, the
• The Holy is the source of all being and is the
fourth dimension of human knowing.
• The self seeks to ground itself in the Holy as it
is the source of its truest identity.
The Holy Continued
• “We continue to live precisely because in the
center of the self, for all of its potential
perversity, we experience again and again the
reversal of those influences that invite despair
and drive toward void. Kierkegaard repeatedly
insisted with bewildering brilliance that the
faces of the void become the faces of God.”James Loder
The Holy Continued
• The reversal of the dynamics of the void are
experienced as grace, love, acceptance, justice
and more.
• The Holy transforms the dimension and
experience of the void and meaninglessness.
• Thus, as much as the void lifts up our
alienation, at the same time it speaks the
words of transformation.
The Holy Continued
• The art of spiritual care invites a person to look at
the truth of the void, grounded and surrounded
in a relationship of trust and confidence that
moves toward the transformation of the void by
engagement and acceptance of the Holy.
• In this way, the self and the body are secured in
the ground of all being, the Holy which enables
the self to live in a world where the void is real
and active, but not ultimate.
Four Dimensions of Human Being
Embodiment: Culture, Gender, Body, Sexuality.
Self: Psychological world, logical constructions, moral
actions, agency
VOID: Death, grief, loneliness,
shame, isolation, despair.
Holy: grace, love, transformation,
Patient Healing
Student Transformational Learning
Supervisory Inquiry
Chaplain Patient Inquiry
Resistance in Learning
• As you move with a student from the outer
ring of body to the inner ring of the Holy, the
student’s resistance to the process will
• As the chaplain moves from body (what
brought you to the hospital) to the Holy, the
patient’s resistance will increase.
Applying Loder’s Anthropology to
Mezirow’s Transformational
Meaning Perspectives
• The anthropology just outlined leads an
individual to have what Mezirow calls
“meaning perspectives.”
• Meaning perspectives are the unconscious
assumptions and beliefs about the worlds
formed by a unique experience of meaning
making. Mezirow says they create the “lions
at the gates of awareness.”
Meaning Perspectives
• Meaning perspectives are designed to provide
the individual with ways of knowing that help
them to have mastery or competence in the
• They are formed by “worlds” created by the
person as they move from body to self to void
and the Holy.
• Some are helpful, some are not. They often
remain unexamined, until they engage in
experiential learning such as CPE.
Examples of common meaning
• Better to remain silent than to risk being
• Authority figures are only out to condemn you
and exercise power.
• Suffering is to be ignored and focus only on the
• I can only learn from an expert and not from
• My competence depends upon your
Meaning Perspectives
• “as adult learners, we are caught in our own
histories. However good we are at making
sense of our experiences, we all have to start
with what we have been given and operate
within horizons set by ways of seeing and
understanding that we have acquired through
prior learning.” – Jack Mezirow
Patient Healing
Student Transformational Learning
Supervisory Inquiry
Chaplain Patient Inquiry
Mezirow’s Phases of Learning
Propositional Construal
Imaginative Insight
• A conflict occurs in a concrete experience
which does not fit into the pre-existing
meaning perspective.
• This may stem from a cognitive assessment or
arise as an uncomfortable or unexpected
• Increased anxiety usually follows.
• This discomfort can become quite
• Given the mismatch between the meaning
perspective and the reality of the situation, an
attempt is made to find solutions to the problem.
At this stage, the problem solving usually remains
within the original expectation.
• Scanning eventually leads to a questioning of the
meaning perspective that is no longer accurate.
• Again, this can be accompanied by significant
anxiety, stress and personal pain.
Propositional Construal
• Formulating a representation of the experience
based upon beliefs (meaning perspectives),
feelings, thoughts and observations.
• A verbatim session can be seen as a student’s
attempt to form the problem into a
representation that can be worked with.
• This is an attempt to present the “problem.”
Resistance will lead the student to present a
representation that is not truly at the issue (an
attempt to stay with the original meaning
perspective, usually unconscious.
• At this stage the learner seeks to examine the quality
of the solution presented.
• Students begin with observations and facts, “The
reason the visit did not go well was because I stood too
far from the patient when I introduced myself.”
• Reflection moves from the level of facts to the level of
meaning, “I was anxious so I left the minute the family
said we should pray.”
• The goal is to help the student increasingly focus upon
the meaning perspective that was operating for him or
Imaginative Insight
• When anxiety or repeated perceived failures
continue, the student moves to make a new stab
at the solution.
• This often occurs with great energy and has the
ah-ha quality to it. Often this is a combination of
many previous attempts of propositional
• It is accompanied by increased self confidence
and trust in the process and the supervisor.
Lowered anxiety is also seen and greater sense of
• The student now begins a process of
integrating the new awareness or meaning
perspective with already existing perspectives.
• This can act in a domino effect where
integrating one perspective begins to cause a
questioning of another. . . And the process
begins again with that new interpretation.
• Remembering occurs when the student is
confronted with a similar clinical situation and
remembers the new awareness or new
meaning perspective.
• Action phase is when the student begins to
consistently operate with the new meaning
perspective that has been acquired.
Transformational Learning
• The phases just outlined occur over and over
again with a student.
• I cannot understate that students feel like
these learning perspectives are a part of
themselves and it often feels like they are
giving up on their own sense of self.
• The phases require consistent empathic
attunement with the student and her or his
learning process.
A brief Overview of an Intersubjective
Approach to supervision
Empathic Attunement
Missed Attunement
Acknowledged Limits to Knowledge
Parallel Process
The Importance of Attunement
• Attunement is seeking to understand the
meaning perspective of the student “from within
their subjective perspective.” Heinz Kohut called
this empathy in self psychology.
• Attunement to the subjective inner world of the
student is critical to the intersubjective process.
• My own sense is that an inter-subjective
psychological approach is most helpful with this
anthropology and learning theory.
Missed attunement
• Misattunement is perhaps the most important
aspect of this theoretical approach. In
intersubjective theory:
– Supervisor owns the moments of mis-attunement
and explores this with the student. This is not
– Supervisor acknowledges his or her own central
organizing principle (meaning perspective) and
how it is being activated with the student in the
Acknowledged Limits to Knowledge
• “We do not believe that the analyst (Supervisor)
possess any “objective” knowledge of the patient’s
(student’s) life or of human development and human
psychological functioning. What the Supervisor
possess is a subjective frame of reference of his/her
own, deriving from a multiplicity of sources and
formative experiences, through which he or she
attempts to organize the analytic data into a set of
coherent themes and interrelationships.
The supervisor’s frame of reference must not be
elevated to the status of objective fact. Indeed,
it is essential that supervisors continually strive
to expand their reflective awareness of their
own unconscious organizing principles, including
especially those enshrined in their “objective
knowledge and theories”, so that the impact of
these principles on the supervisory process can
be recognized and itself become a focus of the
supervisory process.”
What from our intersubjective perspective,
constitutes the essence of a supervisory
alliance? It is surely not the bond formed by the
student’s commitment to follow the insights of the
supervisor. In our view the foundations of a supervisory
alliance are established by the supervisor’s
commitment to seek consistently to comprehend the
meaning of the student’s expressions, his or her affect
states, and, most centrally, the impact of the supervisor
from a perspective within rather than outside the
stance of “sustained empathic inquiry.”
-Stolorow, Brandchaft, and Atwood
Parallel Process
• What happens in the clinic happens in the
supervisory session.
• What happens in the supervisory session
happens in the clinic.
• Can be conscious or unconscious.
Interlocking Area of Supervisory Attention
• Attention is required in each relationship
Training Supervisor/
Student Chaplain/
Comments, Observations, Gasps of
Pain, disbelief, or panic?

A Theological Anthropology for Transformationl