Paper Psychotherapy & Theology

Peter F. Schmid


“In the beginning there is community”
Implications and challenges of the belief in a triune God and a person-centred approach

Invited paper, presented at the International Conference 'The Spiritual Dimension in Therapy and Experiential Exploration: a conference for those counsellors, psychotherapists and other practitioners concerned to explore the significance of spirituality to their life and practice' (Norwich, 18th – 22nd July, 2004) on 20th July 2004 (revised version to be published in the Conference Reader by Moore, Judith & Purton, Campbell, 2005).


Western tradition tends to give preference to the individual and their values of autonomy and authenticity. On the opposite, there have always been traditions favouring the community and esteeming the value of relationship and of thinking in societal categories. Throughout occidental history the unum-multum-problem has been dominating the building of conceptions in theology, philosophy, psychology and psychotherapy. In theology, the conception of and belief in a triune God (‘God as communication and community’) brought the dialectics of unity and plurality, identity and difference, individuality and community to a hitherto unknown peak of human thinking and understanding of both God and their image, the human being. This leads to tremendous consequences for the understanding of the human being as a person, a being of innate plurality, for example as men and women. It is communication, originating in encounter and presence, which builds community.

In this paper I am going to explore the social and community-centred aspect of Christian belief and its consequences for a person-centred image of the human being both in anthropological theory development and the practice of person-centred work, particularly in groups. The PowerPoint presentation will be followed by a discussion with the audience.


Spirituality,  unum-multum-problem, community, God, Trinity, triune, Christianity, theology, unity, plurality, identity, difference, individuality, perichoretic love, image of the human being, anthropology, person, encounter, communication, response, correspond, sexes, the Other, the Third, We, group, presence, dialogue, essence of the PCA, non-directivity, kairoticity, immediacy, paradigm shift.

 Click here to download the pdf text file including the PowerPoint slides,


Schmid, Peter F.
, In the beginning there is community. Implications and challenges of the belief in a triune God and a person-centred approach. Foreword by Brian Thorne. Norwich (Norwich Centre Occasional Publication Series) 2006, 56 pages
Click here to order the booklet.


   Thank you so much for your input to the conference, for your brilliant presentation.
Judy Moore, UK


I have enjoyed your excellent paper immensely and it resonates profoundly with my own experience and understanding. Thank you for your major contribution to the Conference. Your paper is very significant and deserves a wide airing.
Brian Thorne, UK


Wonderful lecture.

Lee Fields, UK


The Spiritual Dimension Conference inspired me in terms of making a difference but this time it was in terms of being able to respond to a call - Peter Schmid's sense of 'pro-vocare', a response being called forth through a meeting with the other. The sense that it is my ability to respond which is my ethical resonse-ability in the world. I long to respond and I reach out in response to.
Peter Schmid's challenge to the person-centred approach to therapy is a move from the individual to the person, the relationship to encounter and from I-Thou to We. For him the 'We' always comes first so social therapy becomes as important as psychotherapy and therefore the political significance becomes obvious. Instead of immediately starting with one-to-one therapy he was challenging us to begin with the group as that is where we come from and where problems arise.
Suzanne Keys in "Person to Person", Oct. 2004


I was inspired by Peter Schmid's paper and his exploration of a triune God as community. I felt encouraged by his comparison of a male and female articulation of the actualising tendency.
Caroline Kitcatt in "Person to Person", Oct. 2004


You were such a wonderful presence at our conference last year that I would very much like you to be involved in the planning of the 2008 conference.

Judy Moore, UK, February 2005


I just wanted to share what I recently read from Peter Schmid:
"The Other: similar to me and yet different, neighbor and opponent, friend and enemy, mirror and enigma. Empathy is the ability, the challenge and the attempt to enter a relationship in solidarity with the Other, acknowledging diversity and yet trying to become aware of and understand him or her. To be empathic means building a bridge to an unknown land. Empathy bridges the gap between differences, between persons — without removing the gap, without ignoring the differences; it does not pretend identity of the two, nor does it give up at the sight of diversity; it does not mix up what is different nor does it surrender in view of the depths of otherness — it bridges. In expecting the unexpected, empathy is the epistemological foundation of person-centered therapy." (from

Ian Lee, December 2004


  I enjoyed your paper very much and have just in fact printed it off your website for further study - and also to pass on.  It was a privilege to be present at your lecture.  Thank you.
Joan Lyon, Luxembourg