With several dynamics in common, both of these books deserve space in the libraries of Professional Schools such as: Ministry; Counseling; Medicine; Nursing; Social Work. Both trace, either overtly or in assumed context, the lived experience in the helping professions over the past thirty years in the United States. Both work at synthesizing beyond the either/or dualism, bringing nuanced approaches to various individuals or situations. Both employ the richness of metaphoric and symbolic expression. Both work at creating alternative contexts; the ministerial volume in changing the questions; the therapeutic volume in changing the feelings. Both share an orientation toward community and away from hierarchy. This sentence from Encountering the Sacred in Psychotherapy could easily fit into Ministries: A Relational Approach. "When communitas is strong, social structure in terms of boundaries and hierarchy disappears." (p. 24) Both emphasize spirituality, i.e. relation, and de-emphasize the shibboleths of their profession. They are different, however, in several respects.
Ministries: A Relational Approach shows its strength not in groundbreaking, but in synthesizing and gathering so that the community may move ahead. It employs Trinitarian concepts as expressions of a relational model. By doing so it completes the attempt of Vatican I to come to a new understanding of Church rather than the truncated one left at the adjournment during the Wars of Unification in Italy. On the way to balance and a movement toward a more wholistic approach to ministry, Hahnenberg interweaves historical and theological data, interesting and pertinent to the student of theology and the student of ministry. His style is more expository and upholding of the adequacy and desireability of his model. This text is helpful for theology classes, ministry classes, professional study groups and parish discussion groups.
Encountering the Sacred in Psyhotherapy, on the other hand, is different in intent. It has a more fluid writing approach as it explains, from questioning, testing, and experience, spirituality as a help in establishing therapeutic conversation. The authors clearly and concretely point out approaches to listening with respect, to perceiving beyond language and assumptions to clients' beliefs and God conversations. In discussing the substance and importance of rituals, ceremonies and spiritual practices, they , without explicit statement of intent, point the theologian to outcomes, connections and transferrable skills applicable to their profession. Their chapter, "When Spirituality Becomes Destructive", provides helpful distinctions and caveats for the healing professions in general as well as their own therapeutic profession in particular.
Reading these books in tandem provides professionals and students in the theological and therapeutic fields, as well as other healing disciplines, not only pleasure, but an excellent exercise in crossing the more permeable parts of the boundaries among healing professions. Though one is written by a medical professional and a psychological professional and the other is written by a theological professional, both the substance and form of each provide clarifications, implications and distinct strategies for professionals beyond those of the authors, as well as learning and enjoyment for the ordinary reader.