GSEP Christian Association of Psychology Students Integrates Faith and Psychology

Christian Association for Psychological Studies, West RegionWhen Dr. Susan Hall, assistant professor of psychology, met with master of arts in clinical psychology (MFT) student Nicole Klasey in February 2004, she could tell that it was no ordinary meeting. Brought together by their mutual interest in the integration of Christian faith and psychology, they created a student group connected with the Southern California Student Chapter of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, West Region (CAPS West). Hall explains that she was “inspired by the Pepperdine Voyage Project to bring issues of faith into my teaching, scholarship, and work with students. I felt called to help build a place where students, faculty, and staff could come together to talk openly about integration and to build fellowship and community.”

Other Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP) psychology students share in this vision. As Joshua Kruse, master of arts in psychology (M.A.) student, reflected, “I have my Christian values and my relationship with God in one hand and my knowledge of psychology in the other hand. My desire is to amalgamate the two so that I can use the teachings from both to help my clients in the most comprehensive way that I can. Because God is such an integral part of how I deal with the frustrations and joys of my life, I couldn’t imagine Him not being a part of my therapeutic relationships. Without integration, I would only have compartmentalization of the two areas.”

Similarly, Grace Lee, current MFT student and the group’s contact person, explains, “As clinicians, I feel it is imperative to remember that a large part of our client base is coming in with some sort of religious or spiritual background. Since the majority of Americans believe in some sort of higher power, we need to make the effort to become aware of what is out there and what is at the forefront of discussion in order to better understand the context of our client’s concerns.”

In this spirit, since 2004, the Pepperdine CAPS West group has grown, including students from all GSEP campuses as well as faculty and staff members. Dr. Hall and Dr. Kathleen Eldridge are current faculty cosponsors of the group. Drs. Mesha Ellis, Joanne Hedgespeth, Judith Sherwin, and Edward Shafranske as well as key administrators have also been involved in supporting the group.

Currently, the group is recognized as the primary student chapter of CAPS West. Founded in 1956, the Christian Association of Psychology Students (CAPS) is an international professional association of Christian mental health professionals that, according to their Web sites (www.caps.net; www.capswest.org), exists to encourage:

  • Understanding of the relationship between Christianity and the behavioral sciences at both the clinical/counseling and the theoretical/research levels.
  • Fellowship among Christians in psychological and related professions.
  • The spiritual, emotional, and professional well-being of its members.
  • Educational and research opportunities that assist the profession and the community at large.
  • Through its various programs, CAPS encourages the pursuit of excellence— in the counseling clinic, in the classroom, in the community, and in the member’s spiritual and emotional life.
Dr. Susan Hall, Grace Lee and Dr. Kathleen Eldridge

Dr. Susan Hall, Grace Lee & Dr. Kathleen Eldridge

Our Mission Statement of Who We Are:

A group of students, faculty, and staff dedicated to exploring the integration of our Christian faith with our academic and clinical work; to building a community of fellowship at GSEP; and to strengthening our lives for purpose, service, and leadership within the theoretical/research levels.

Inspired by the mission statements of CAPS and Pepperdine University, current Psy.D. students Nicole Brown and Carmen Anderson helped the group create its own mission statement in 2004-2005. CAPS currently has more than 2,000 members in the United States, Canada, and more than 25 other countries.

The Pepperdine GSEP CAPS West student group is an active group that gets together for monthly meetings to study integration topics; build fellowship; and plan workshops, service opportunities, Bible studies, and social events. Yearly dues are only $10, and becoming a student member of CAPS International is $35.

Grace Lee explains that she “was interested in CAPS because it offered a forum and place to discuss spirituality with others who wanted to discuss similar issues in a forthright, honest setting…CAPS has helped in that work to a great extent through the great discussions and topics that are brought up at meetings. I have felt very free to bring up any issues and receive constructive feedback that has sharpened and challenged me on many levels.”

Hasmik Arakelyan, M.A. student, shared a similar perspective, “In every CAPS meeting, each member brings new perspectives on how to help others, how to do it effectively bearing in mind the uniqueness of each human being, we share our experiences, thoughts, suggestions, [and] explore new ways of creating therapeutic relationships.” Supplementing in-person meetings, members can also communicate with each other online, using their new Web presence on Facebook, put together by MFT student Joseph Whitcomb.

In addition to meetings, larger events and activities are typically held once a semester. The first event of the group was held on May 8, 2004. More than 40 people attended the workshop: “What’s Religion Got to Do with It? The Role of Religion in Clinical Psychology.” Pepperdine professors Dr. Edward Shafranske and Dr. Joanne Hedgespeth both presented enlightening views on integration. Shafranske covered topics including the importance of considering religion and spirituality (RS) in psychotherapy, definitions, trends, and cultural implications, and some of the differences in perceptions, values, and acceptability of RS-based interventions from the general public and physical and mental health caregivers. Hedgespeth discussed implications and contributions of objectivism and object relations theory, and she encouraged attendees to consider questions in their own lives as well as their clients’ lives, such as “In what ways do psychology/education contribute to either spiritual formation or deformation?”

Other workshops that the group has promoted and attended include: the CAPS West Fall Conference in Fullerton, September 24, 2005; “Integration of Faith and Psychotherapy: Views from Different Faith Traditions” at the Drescher Campus, November 4, 2005; and “Redeeming Difficult Hope: Working with Diverse Populations” at Fuller Theological Seminary on February 17-18, 2006. Reflecting on the role of relevant conferences and activities in her work, Grace Lee noted that “it has broadened the scope of information beyond the confines of the classroom and has incorporated the knowledge base of scholars and working professionals.”

Social events have included a beach bonfire and barbeque open to all GSEP students in October 2004 and watching the movie, The Chronicles of Narnia, in December 2005.

In keeping with their mission, the Pepperdine CAPS West Student Group is also committed to community service. In September 2004 and 2005, the group participated in Step Forward Day and plans to make this an ongoing tradition. Links to additional pictures can be found at www.capswest.org/students/events. In March 2006, the group continued its community service by planning events throughout the Southern California area.

Hall is excited by recent interest from alumni as well as Seaver College (Pepperdine undergraduate) students in joining the group. As a result, mentoring opportunities are being discussed. Eldridge hopes “to see CAPS West grow into a consistent and supportive place for students to integrate their faith with their emerging professional identities. I would like students of Christian faith to become increasingly aware of their unique gifts and calling within psychology and the specific ways in which they can implement these while serving populations in need. In addition, I want CAPS West to provide fellowship to students who are exploring questions of faith and mentorship to undergraduate psychology students exploring questions of vocation.”

Hall also “thanks everyone at GSEP for their support of our group. I look forward to our continued growth, which I hope will inspire continued conversations in our community about the role of religion and spirituality in becoming multiculturally competent practitioners and scholars.”

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