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  • Semester 1Online Scheduled




THSP502 Pastoral Psychology

Teaching organisation

Students should anticipate undertaking 150 hours of focused learning in this unit. This may include online activities, reading, webinars, preparation of assessment tasks and so on. Webinars may be offered either weekly over a twelve week semester, or in intensive blocks.

Unit rationale, description and aim

Contemporary understandings in the related fields of supervision and spiritual direction have seen a growing recognition that human meaning making is a narratological cognitive enterprise. Because of this, this unit presents a narrative psychological approach to helping as foundational in developing a theory of practice that supports practical skills in supervision, spiritual direction and related fields. The unit draws on an understanding of the human person as possessing different dimensions, including spiritual and religious dimensions. Accordingly, the Christian theological tradition will be canvassed as a key source that accounts for the spiritual and transcendent dimensions of the human person. Students will be presented with an integrated pastoral psychology at the nexus of Christian theology and psychology in order to develop a values-based theoretical and practical framework for professional helping roles. Other approaches to helping will also be reviewed, including developmental attachment, systems, human development and psycho-dynamic theories. From a narrative-psychology perspective, students will explore the skills required to support and enable effective helping relationships. The aim of this unit is for students to develop cognitive, conative and spiritual frameworks to enable them to become effective helpers.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome Description
LO1Describe a values foundation for professional practice frameworks
LO2Illustrate the key values and features of a narrative approach to professional practice drawing on a Christian theological understanding of the human person or a comparable meaning framework
LO3Assess critically the ways in which a narrative approach to professional helping enables personal and professional foundational values of practice


Topics will include:

  • The narrative psychological approach;
  • Reflection on students’ personal and professional journey;
  • Integration of psychological, theological and similar meaning perspectives in order that participants might enhance professional practice according to a coherent foundational values system;
  • Review key psychological theories including systems theory, human development theory, pyscho-dynamic theory and developmental attachment theory as they apply to helping roles;
  • Reflection on the interpersonal relational principles in helping relationships;
  • Critical reflective theory;
  • Methods for reflecting theologically on ministry/helping experiences; 
  • Reflections on the relationship between professional and professional pastoral practice in supervision and related fields and therapeutic modalities;
  • Different theological and psychological understandings of the human person and their interconnections;
  • The application and integration of psychological and theological insights to professional practice.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning, which reflects the standard volume of learning for a unit in a university qualification of this Australian Qualifications Framework type.

The unit is normally offered in scheduled online mode, a way that blends the use of online delivery of learning materials and activities that can be undertaken synchronously and asynchronously. This means that students can undertake some learning activities on their own at times that do not depend on the availability of others, and other learning activities that are undertaken interactively with other students and teaching staff at the same time. Using scheduled online delivery means that students do not have to be at the same place as each other, but can interact remotely.

In order to benefit from this mode of learning, students need to be independently motivated. Units offered in the course normally follow a cycle: students complete preparatory activities before meeting together; in webinars, students work collaboratively with each other and the lecturer to clarify, extend and apply what they have learned; and after each collaborative session, students reflect critically on their personal experience and observations in light of materials covered in the unit. As the cycle is repeated, students bring new understandings to bear on further issues and ideas, so that each cycle of learning deepens the one before. Students co-construct a supportive and encouraging learning community through their active participation in classes as well as through offline engagement, such as through discussion boards.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy of this unit is designed to ensure that students engage deeply with the reading and theory.

All assessment tasks are designed for students to show their achievement of each learning outcome and graduate attribute. They require students to demonstrate the nexus between their learning, dispositions, and spiritual practice, and the evidence on which this demonstration is based.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Report (2000 words) This task is designed to enable the student to synthesise and present their learnings from online workshops and readings on narrative psychology.


LO1, LO2, LO3

Integrative Essay (3000 words) This task is designed to enable the student to demonstrate ways in which Christian anthropology or a compatible meaning framework relating to the value of the human person is expressed in the narrative approach of externalisation (understanding people as separate to problems).


LO1, LO2, LO3

Representative texts and references

Bevans, Stephen. “The Mission has a Church: An Invitation to the Dance.” Australian eJournal of Theology, Vol 14, No 1, 2009.

Gardner, Fiona. Being Critically Reflective: Engaging in Holistic Practice. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Groome, Thomas H. What Makes Us Catholic? Eight Gifts for Life. San Francisco: HarperCollins 2002.

Gubi, Peter Madsen and Jan Korris William West. Reflective Practice Groups for Clergy: Offering Pastoral Supervision, Well-Being Support and Spiritual Formation in Community. Chester: University of Chester Press, 2020.

Hewson, Daphne and Michael Carroll. Reflective Practice in Supervision. Hazelbrook, NSW: Moshpit Publishing, 2016.

Leach, Jane. A Charge to Keep: Reflective Supervision and the Renewal of Christian Leadership. Kansas, MO: The Foundry Publishing, 2020).

Little, Miles, Christopher F. C. Jordens and Emma-Jane Sayers. "Discourse Communities and the Discourse of Experience." Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 19, no. 1 (2022): 61-69.

Morgan, Alice. What is Narrative Therapy?: An Easy-to-Read Introduction. Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications, 2000.

Paver, John E. Theological Reflection and Education for Ministry: The Search for Integration in Theology. London: Routledge, 2007.

Sachs, John Randall. The Christian Vision of Humanity: Basic Christian Anthropology. Collegeville, MN Liturgical Press, 2001.

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