How Interrogation Makes You a Better Pastoral Psychologist

in Uncategorized
September 4th, 2012

Used with Permission from Flickr User Claudio.Ar

Used with Permission from Flickr User Claudio.Ar

Have you ever walked away from a conversation feeling like you missed something?

You listened attentively. You were respectful. You tried to be empathetic. You thought you understood the other person’s points and you tried to address them.

But still, despite all your effort, at the end of the conversation there still seemed to be some sort of disconnect.

It may have been because you were speaking different languages and didn’t even know it.

Multiple Languages in Practice

A failed or incomplete conversation can be frustrating for anyone. But it’s especially troubling when it’s your job as a pastoral psychologist to understand and address the psychological or theological pain of the person sitting before you.

As I mentioned in my first article, a successful pastoral identity requires the incorporation of multiple languages of practice: theological, psychological, and clinical. That doesn’t mean that you must speak all of these languages simultaneously at every moment in each conversation, but it does mean two things:

1. That you should be able to speak psychological, theological and clinical languages comfortably as different contexts demand.

2. That you recognize people have multiple ways of describing what’s happening to them. In order to provide appropriate care you must be able to hear the differences and respond in a contextually sensitive manner.

The question “what is appropriate care” is far too large and varied to discuss here, but the root of these two points is this: to develop a pastoral identity and to provide appropriate care you must be comfortable both hearing and speaking the multiple languages of your discipline. So here’s a tip: brush up on your interrogation skills.

Yes, interrogation. Here’s why.

Interrogation = Better Listening = Better Reflection = Better Care

Underpinning a pastoral psychologist’s cohesive identity is a curious and seeking attitude. If you train yourself to always be seeking to learn, you will also train yourself always to listen. If you are an attentive listener you will become increasingly comfortable with the languages of your discipline as you reflect on the things that you hear and learn and how you feel about them. That means, finally, that you will be able to hear the needs of your clients and parishioners regardless of the language they use and you will be able to offer them the best possible care.

But what, exactly, do I mean by “interrogation?”

In this sense interrogate means simply to be curious and “to ask questions,” in a consistent, interested, and even probing manner. This fosters introspection about oneself and about others. But if you want to learn something, you have to ask the right questions. I’ll get to that in just a second.

First I want to stress that the goal of this exercise is not for you to compile a heavy tome of go-to answers to use like a manual when working with a client or parishioner. Thinking you know all the answers will deaden your ability to listen in a nuanced way to the needs of those who depend on you.

Instead, the goal of your interrogation is to cultivate a curious attitude that keeps you open to the needs of those around you and the different ways they talk about those needs.

Who, then, should you be interrogating?

Here’s the thing: no one. Or at least no one else. The primary target of your interrogation is not “who,” but “what.”

I’ll explore the kinds of theological and psychological questions you should include in your interrogations after we take a look at this “what.”

Question Everything

So if not “who,” then “what?”

Everything. Question your world. Question your expectations. Question everything.

Everything that informs you or entertains you can be interrogated, but let’s get more specific. Novels, fiction and nonfiction, poems, movies, TV shows, and documentaries all count as texts and they can all be interrogated both theologically and psychologically.

By opening the entire world up to such inquiry, even those things unrelated your normal theological or

psychological roles, you condition yourself to be seek out and hear the way similar ideas take different shapes in different languages and mediums.

What to Ask

So if the whole world is a catalyst for your curiosity, what sorts of questions help you to further develop a pastoral identity that allows you to provide proper care?

Consider the following:

What, in the course of your day, (travel, art, buildings, streets, people, noise, silence) communicates to you something about being human or something about faith?

• Now, listen to your self.

• Ask yourself: What are my reactions? What do I feel? What do I think? How am I affected?

• What do your reactions tell you about you—psychologically, theologically; your pastoral self?

Let’s think about this process as it relates to people you encountered on your way to work today.

• Did you notice the people around you? Did anyone’s voice, behavior or look surprise, interest or repulse you?

• What specifically evoked your internal response?

• Does it tell you anything about your self, the people you usually expect to see, or how you are witness to others on a daily basis?

• What do your responses suggest to you about how you think about what it means to be emotionally healthy? What do your responses tell you about how you think, beneath the surface, about community, faith, or grace?


What makes this exercise so useful is precisely the fact that there is no answer sheet to turn to when you finish with your questions even when it comes time for introspection. The idea is to open yourself up to the many possible ways people may describe their experiences. In a clinical setting the only way to know whether you’ve connected with your client or parishioner is to continue asking questions and gauging your rapport based on their answers. The only way to make sure that you remain in a position to build an empathic connection is to remain open to the changes in your context, the changes in people’s speech and, perhaps most importantly, the changing way you think and feel about these things in both a personal and professional sense.

The world doesn’t sit still so you can’t either.

Get Started Today

All right, look around you. Listen. Notice. What do you see?

How can you interrogate it?

You can start your exploration right here in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.

Tell your friends!

One Comment on How Interrogation Makes You a Better Pastoral Psychologist

  • I like this, especially when I am trying to network with people in a deeper way than just, what is your name, what do you do. I am going to paste this in my journal to be reminded everyday to practice this way of questioning

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