Enhancing ministry
: Exploring the impact of Bowen family systems coaching on the work-related psychological health of Church of England clergy

  • Kathryn Kissell

Student thesis: PsychD


Research over the past twenty years indicates that while Church of England clergy continue to gain a great deal of satisfaction and accomplishment from ministry, stress-related illness is increasing. Relationships have been highlighted as a major source of demands leading to clergy stress and burnout; however, such interpersonal interactions have also been identified as vital resources supporting flourishing in ministry. This suggests that interventions focusing on relational dynamics may be valuable for enhancing clerical well-being.
Bowen family systems theory unpacks the relational and emotional systems at work in congregational life and understands clergy stress as stemming from the interaction between clerical leadership position and level of differentiation. Differentiation encapsulates the pattern of emotional functioning and relational behavior displayed when under pressure. Bowen coaching supports clergy to increase their level of differentiation thereby enhancing their intrapsychic and interpersonal resilience.
This study employed a quantitative, longitudinal, control group design to explore the impact of Bowen coaching on the work-related psychological health of Church of England clergy. Eighteen parochial clergy from three dioceses self-selected to participate in a 20-week, six-session, Bowen group coaching programme. Their results were compared to a demographically matched control group (n = 14).
In support of the research hypotheses, the coaching group significantly increased their level of differentiation over the research period while no such change occurred within the control group. Coaching participants also showed improvement in factors previously identified as valuable for clergy work-related psychological health. These included a close to significant decrease in the perception of ministerial demands as stressful, an increase in the experience of working relationships as sources of support and a significant reduction in the negative impact of work on home life. These findings indicate that Bowen coaching is a valuable resource for enhancing clergy work-related psychological health, benefiting clergy, their families and ultimately their congregations.
Date of Award20 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorJanek Dubowski (Supervisor) & Karin Moser (Supervisor)

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