Pamela Cooper-White, Shared Wisdom: Use of the Self in Pastoral Care and Counseling, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2004) 246 pages.


Started with four cases in pastoral or counseling ministry, this book quickly drew my attention when I started reading. Though these cases are not typical if being put into the culture of mainland China, I can still find something similar to me in the case of Gary and Terence while I serve in mainland China as a house church leader. In this book, Pamela Cooper-White makes an important contribution to the philosophy of pastoral counseling. She not only provided the development and concept of countertransference during the past decades, but also introduced a new concept of putting countertransference at the center of pastoral ministry. The counselor’s focus in the ministry is not only the counselee, but more on the counselor himself. While the counseling ethics or “code of conduct” sounds more negative for the professionals, dealing with countertransference would be more positive and prevent the counselor from crossing the line.

Countertransference in Relational Paradigm

The relational diagram is the central theme that Pamela leveraged to build the theory of countertransference and use of self. In relational diagram, “both helper and helpee are simultaneously both “I” and “Thou.” Instead of one expert and one client, both subjectivities are honored, and both contribute to and, in fact, construct the knowledge shared between them.“ (p246). But it does not mean that counseling ethics are not important. There is still a difference between the helper and helpee, and the helper has been entrusted with the responsibility to care for the other. From this point of view, countertransference will create a danger in which both partners in the therapeutic process begin to recapitulate dynamics from each other. While the classical view of counseling ethics focusing on the requirement and line, early notice to possible countertransference in relational paradigm can prevent the helper from crossing the line.

Pamela provided a “Self-Care comes first” (page 66) method to help us review ourselves before entering into the relational world. She suggested a step-by-step guide for counselor to realize the potential countertransference through doing self-care, leveraging classical counter-transference review, and pastoral assessment for the counselee. But she does not stop here, she further suggests totalistic countertransference, in which each layer of conscious and unconscious communication is listed and analyzed. From these steps, self-exam on countertransference is highly encouraged and prevents the problems positively.

Countertransference in Chinese house church pastoral ministry

From a professional psychotherapist point of view, countertransference is discouraged and the counselor should watch out to that. However in all my trainings and ministry experiences in Chinese house church of mainland China, a certain kind of countertransference is encouraged. As a minister, we were told to share our experience, especially similar experience with counselee, so that the empathy will grow in the conversation. When any believer experience low time of the life, he/she is always encouraged that God will use this experience to help others sometime in the future. Is it a mistake? Or it’s a positive use of countertransference? Pamela does not answer this question in this book.

Though it’s even the first time I heard of this word of “countertransference”, this book reminded me a lot of potential “red-flags” in our ministry. In Chinese house church culture, self-sacrifice and Christ-like love is highly advocated and promoted. But when applying into the counseling ministry, there’s a potential risk of countertransference that the counselor leverage the counseling to meet his/her needs of being self-sacrificing and being Christ-like. Counselors will have this kind of need in order to prove that he/she is a good minister, or get more respect and reputation from the “sheep”. When we think that human mind are complicated and fallen after creation, it should not only refer to the helpee but also the one who offers help.

Dr. Cooper-White is a professor of Pastoral Theology, Care and Counseling in Columbia Theological Seminary. She engages in interdisciplinary work at the intersection of theology (including feminist/Womanist/global, Anglican, and Trinitarian theology), contemporary psychoanalysis, and postmodern/postcolonial theory (Source: Columbia Theological Seminary Website