Nature and Grace in Psychotherapy: A Dialogue Between John Paul II and Karl Barth on the Redemptive Value of Psychotherapy

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Christians across traditions believe that human beings are sinful and that the biggest human problem is our fundamental need of redemption and reconciliation to God. Given such beliefs, Christians seeking to practice psychotherapy require a theology to support and clarify the nature of their work with non-Christian clients. Does therapeutic work, as a natural good, have redemptive value for the patient? How does psychotherapy help persons in the context of their sinful condition? On what basis is change possible for an unbeliever and of what value is the change that happens in psychotherapy? That is, what telos is therapeutic change oriented toward, especially when a therapist is working with non-Christian clients—is it aimed at ultimate or penultimate goods? In this dialogue across Catholic/Protestant divisions the author argues that in as much as psychotherapists hope to deliver a service that somehow participates in the redemption and transcendent good of the person, the sacramental theology of Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II offers a more robust theological foundation for therapy than does the Reformed theology of Karl Barth. Particular attention is given to the relationship between nature and grace in terms of how God works in the world as immanent and transcendent. Passing consideration is also given to the disparate theologies of sin and human freedom found in the work of these two theologians.

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (PsyD)

First Advisor

Strawn, Brad D.

Document Type





John Paul II, Karl Barth, Psychotherapy, Redemption, Grace, Natural theology




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