Clinicians who work with religious clientele often hear narratives about the part that God plays in clients’ lives. This emotional role that God plays is known as the God image. Sometimes God is more central, other times at the periphery, but usually important. Clinicians often want to address this area in treatment, but they have few resources available to help them make sense of clients’ God images.
Richard Dayringer and David Oler have compiled a compendium of works to help shed light on God image work. The majority of the book is comprised of interesting empirical studies. Two chapters explore the largely unchartered territory of the God image and severe mental illness. Another study addresses gender role identity and the God image. A fourth empirical contribution discusses the formation of adolescents’ God images. The other chapters are smart, philosophical, reviews of the God image construct that have implications for pastoral counseling and other forms of clinical work.
A central theme that runs loosely through The Image of God and the Psychology of Religion is an openness to understanding the different ways of experiencing God. Authors are careful to not limit the experience of God to any one tradition. Similarly, they advocate closely following the client’s own understanding of God as a resource in pastoral counseling. This flexibility takes place in the context of larger theoretical frameworks. Several chapters provide ways of making sense of and conceptualizing the God image. Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approaches are clearly described with a particular emphasis on projection theory and object relations. Similarly, attachment theory is discussed and empirically evaluated. Finally, behavioral or socialization theories along with cognitive consistency paradigms are also covered.
One limitation of The Image of God and the Psychology of Religion is that some of the chapters are loosely connected to one another. This is often a complaint of compilation works and maybe even more so of this work because it was co-published as a special series in the American Journal of Pastoral Counseling, Volume 7, November 2004. Regardless, however, the editors were clear that their intention was to provide a variety of voices and perspectives – some of which more closely relate to certain contributions than others.
Overall, however, Dayringer and Oler have provided a welcome addition to the God image literature. The contributors have covered fresh ground and added to other areas that were only lightly explored. Readers will find empirical support to help them better understand how certain populations understand and experience God. They will also find rich narratives that capture the complexities of God image work.