Pepperdine People Magazine
Pepperdine People Magazine Fall 2005
Healing the Mind (and the soul): Dr. Edward Shafranske raises recognition of religion's role in mental health.
By Jovie Baclayon
With a soft-spoken voice, kind eyes, and an obvious interest in anyone he speaks with, Dr. Edward Shafranske is the prototypical psychologist. But anybody familiar with his research about the relationship between religion, spirituality, and psychology, knows that Shafranske is a man on the cutting edge of his field.
Religion and the Clinical Practice of Psychology, a book Shafranske edited, was the fi rst volume published by the American Psychological Association (APA) dealing with religion and became the APA's best-selling title of 1996. Shafranske, professor of psychology and director of the doctoral program in clinical psychology at Pepperdine's Graduate School for Education and Psychology, was pleased with how the book was received and how it led to the creation of an entire series on the subject. "Not only did the book bring together scholars from multiple areas, but it helped to further open APA's eyes to the importance of religion and spirituality in psychology," he says. "Dr. David Larson often commented that religion was the forgotten factor in mental health and, now, it's no longer forgotten."
His latest work, Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy, is on the cutting edge of the integration movement in terms of dealing with religion and spirituality in psychotherapy. In the introductory chapter, Shafranske presents data supporting the claim of the importance that religion and spirituality have to the vast majority of Americans. He points to the fact that more than 90 percent of Americans believe in a deity or participate some way in a faith community, and a 2002 Gallup survey supports Shafranske's view. "Forty-one percent of Americans—which projects to about 80 million adults nationwide—agreed 'completely' with the statement 'I have had a profound religious experience or awakening that changed the direction of my life'," he says. "Survey data consistently demonstrates the salience of religion for most people, and even among those with no religious preference."
"...questions about the meaning of life and
connection with the eternal have a place
within me, influenced by both religion
Research has also shown that religious participation is associated with the reduction of depression, anxiety, hospital stays, and a whole host of other things. This accumulating empirical evidence requires clinicians to seriously consider spiritual issues in therapy including how religious resources may be helpful, according to Shafranske. Further, he says, "As a psychologist working with clients, it has become important to think about the contributions of religion to how people make sense of their lives, and how beliefs, practices, and affi liations are integrated into their orienting systems and serve as a means of coping, or producing strain. It's also important to look at the values of mental health professionals and how appreciative they are of religion and spirituality as features of diversity, and as salient clinical variables."
Margaret Weber, dean of Pepperdine's Graduate School of Education and Psychology, notes that Shafranske's work has attracted international attention and respect. "Ed has been instrumental in developing this specialty area in psychology," says Dr. Weber. "He also represents the core value of the Pepperdine mission through his scholarly work in religion and psychology."
Shafranske himself is Roman Catholic. Born Edward Paul Shafranske in 1951 in Chicago, he was Joseph and Katherine Shafranske's only child. His family moved to San Diego, California, in 1957, when he was six years old. When asked about how his Catholic upbringing affected his way of thinking, he says, "I think some of the interiority within Catholicism's mystical tradition shaped my basic psychology as well as formed an appreciation for the transcendent. I've always been somewhat introspective —questions about the meaning of life and connection with the eternal have a place within me, influenced both by religion and psychology."
In his first years at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, Shafranske's initial interest was in English literature but he was always more fascinated by character development. After realizing that working directly with people would be more rewarding, he switched the focus of his studies and obtained a bachelor's degree in social relations with an emphasis in psychology, while exploring Freudian psychology, and phenomenology.
Shafranske continued his studies at United States International University in San Diego where he received master's and Ph.D. degrees in clinical psychology. There, he studied existential thinking from legendary psychologists Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp, and Rollo May, the best-known American existential psychologist. "In a way, the existential aspects led me to a deeper appreciation of the fact that each person has to make sense of his or her life, and psychology provided the tools to better understand the conscious and unconscious means by which we construct meaning," explains Shafranske who received a second Ph.D. in psychoanalysis from the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute. "I am very interested in looking at unconscious determinants of behavior and the role of implicit mental processing, which silently, beneath the surface of awareness, shapes our being-in-world."
He met his wife, Kathy, at University (of San Diego) High School in San Diego where he was director of counseling services and she was an art teacher. The two have been married for 29 years and blessed with two children, both students at Seaver College: Kristin, a senior studying art history, and Karen, a sophomore studying history. He joined the University of San Diego in 1984, working as a staff psychologist in the counseling center and a part-time faculty member. In 1988, he began teaching at Pepperdine initially through an invitation from Dr. David Elkins, a professor of psychology at the time who had become aware of Shafranske's work.
After 17 years with the University, Shafranske continues to revere Pepperdine for valuing research and scholarship in the area of religion and spirituality, as applied to psychology, which he says isn't found in many universities. "It's a vibrant, forward-thinking University with a real appreciation for values-based academics and a good balance that allows professors to be scholars and teachers," says Shafranske. His graduate courses in psychotherapy help students on their way to becoming licensed clinical psychologists.
Throughout his career, Shafranske has maintained a small private practice, which he believes sustains the realness in his classroom. "In teaching psychotherapy and supervising students, there's a real benefit in the ongoing conduct of psychotherapy because then we're facing the exact same challenges our students are facing," he explains. "Every hour is a different hour, every client is different, and each case poses its own unique challenges."
As a professor, Shafranske feels a very strong commitment to contribute to the scholarship and advancement of psychology. Even though he says the process of writing can be frustrating, Shafranske is currently working on a casebook for the APA and set for a 2006 release. He has just signed a contract to work on another book, about supervision and aimed to assist graduate students to get the most out of clinical training. However, Shafranske's work is not limited to bookshelves; graduate students can also find him on the small screen. In June 2004, he completed a training video for the APA about "Addressing Spiritual Issues in Psychotherapy" in which he conducted therapy sessions for four patients he had just met.
Shafranske's career highlights include honors from the APA Division of the Psychology of Religion: the William Bier Award for scholarship and scholarly contributions to the field; and the 2004 Distinguished Service Award which reflects his involvement in trying to forward interest in religious and spiritual issues within the field of psychology. For his involvement in bringing together California's leaders in graduate education and training, Shafranske received a service award from the California Psychological Association Division on Education and Training. The professor is most proud of his being named a Luckman Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Pepperdine (1997-2002), two terms as president of APA Division 36 on Religion and Psychology, and being named a Fellow of APA.
Shafranske credits his success to his supportive wife and family as well as to his former professors and to his colleagues at Pepperdine. "I think the fact that I have had the opportunity to study with people who were both open-minded and rigorous has led to an appreciation for multiple ways of thinking about psychotherapy whether it's cognitive behavioral therapy, existential therapy, or psychoanalytic in approach," he says. "Also, being part of the graduate school at Pepperdine is especially rewarding since there is a high degree of collegiality. Some of my mentors are my peers and colleagues who all contribute to my work by being thoughtful and offering critique. We work as a team to advance the quality of education for our students."