On This Day … 16 October

People (Births)

  • 1888 – Paul Popenoe, American founder of relationship counselling (d. 1979).

People (Deaths)

  • 2015 – James W. Fowler, American psychologist and academic (b. 1940).

Paul Popenoe

Paul Bowman Popenoe (16 October 1888 to 19 June 1979) was an American agricultural explorer and eugenicist.

He was an influential advocate of the compulsory sterilisation of the mentally ill and the mentally disabled, and the father of relationship counselling in the US.

What is Relationship Counselling?

Couples therapy (also known couples’ counselling, marriage counselling, or marriage therapy) attempts to improve romantic relationships and resolve interpersonal conflicts.

Marriage counselling originated in Germany in the 1920s as part of the eugenics movement. The first institutes for marriage counselling in the United States began in the 1930s, partly in response to Germany’s medically directed, racial purification marriage counselling centres. It was promoted by prominent American eugenicists such as Paul Popenoe, who directed the American Institute of Family Relations until 1976, and Robert Latou Dickinson and by birth control advocates such as Abraham and Hannah Stone who wrote A Marriage Manual in 1935 and were involved with Planned Parenthood. Other founders in the United States include Lena Levine and Margaret Sanger.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that therapists began treating psychological problems in the context of the family. Relationship counselling as a discrete, professional service is thus a recent phenomenon. Until the late 20th century, the work of relationship counselling was informally fulfilled by close friends, family members, or local religious leaders. Psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and social workers have historically dealt primarily with individual psychological problems in a medical and psychoanalytic framework. In many less technologically advanced cultures around the world today, the institution of family, the village or group elders fulfil the work of relationship counselling. Today marriage mentoring mirrors those cultures.

With increasing modernisation or westernisation in many parts of the world and the continuous shift towards isolated nuclear families, the trend is towards trained and accredited relationship counsellors or couple therapists. Sometimes volunteers are trained by either the government or social service institutions to help those who are in need of family or marital counselling. Many communities and government departments have their own team of trained voluntary and professional relationship counsellors. Similar services are operated by many universities and colleges, sometimes staffed by volunteers from among the student peer group. Some large companies maintain a full-time professional counselling staff to facilitate smoother interactions between corporate employees, to minimize the negative effects that personal difficulties might have on work performance.

Increasingly there is a trend toward professional certification and government registration of these services. This is in part due to the presence of duty of care issues and the consequences of the counsellor or therapist’s services being provided in a fiduciary relationship.

James W. Fowler

James William Fowler III (1940–2015) was an American theologian who was Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University. He was director of both the Centre for Research on Faith and Moral Development and the Centre for Ethics until he retired in 2005. He was a minister in the United Methodist Church.

Life and Career

Fowler was born in Reidsville, North Carolina, on 12 October 1940, the son of a Methodist minister. In 1977, Fowler was appointed Associate Professor of Theology and Human Development at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He was later named Charles Howard Candler Professor of Theology and Human Development. He died on 16 October 2015.

He published Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning in 1981.

Stages of Faith

He is best known for his book Stages of Faith, published in 1981, in which he sought to develop the idea of a developmental process in “human faith”.

These stages of faith development were along the lines of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development.

  • Stage 0:
    • “Primal or Undifferentiated” faith (birth to 2 years), is characterised by an early learning of the safety of their environment (i.e. warm, safe and secure vs. hurt, neglect and abuse).
    • If consistent nurture is experienced, one will develop a sense of trust and safety about the universe and the divine.
    • Conversely, negative experiences will cause one to develop distrust with the universe and the divine.
    • Transition to the next stage begins with integration of thought and language which facilitates the use of symbols in speech and play.
  • Stage 1:
    • “Intuitive-Projective” faith (ages of three to seven), is characterized by the psyche’s unprotected exposure to the Unconscious, and marked by a relative fluidity of thought patterns.
    • Religion is learned mainly through experiences, stories, images, and the people that one comes in contact with.
  • Stage 2:
    • “Mythic-Literal” faith (mostly in school children), stage two persons have a strong belief in the justice and reciprocity of the universe, and their deities are almost always anthropomorphic.
    • During this time metaphors and symbolic language are often misunderstood and are taken literally.
  • Stage 3:
    • “Synthetic-Conventional” faith (arising in adolescence; aged 12 to adulthood) characterized by conformity to authority and the religious development of a personal identity.
    • Any conflicts with one’s beliefs are ignored at this stage due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies.
  • Stage 4:
    • “Individuative-Reflective” faith (usually mid-twenties to late thirties) a stage of angst and struggle.
    • The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings.
    • As one is able to reflect on one’s own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one’s belief.
  • Stage 5:
    • “Conjunctive” faith (mid-life crisis) acknowledges paradox and transcendence relating reality behind the symbols of inherited systems.
    • The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent “truth” that cannot be explained by any particular statement.
  • Stage 6:
    • “Universalising” faith, or what some might call “enlightenment”.
    • The individual would treat any person with compassion as he or she views people as from a universal community, and should be treated with universal principles of love and justice.

Empirical Research

Fowler’s model has inspired a considerable body of empirical research into faith development, although little of such research was ever conducted by Fowler himself. A useful tool here has been Gary Leak’s Faith Development Scale, or FDS, which has been subject to factor analysis by Leak.

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