In Anton Boisen: Madness, Mysticism, and the Origins of Clinical Pastoral Education, Sean J. LaBat provides a critical re-assessment of Anton Boisen’s life and work. Based in thorough archival research, LaBat argues that Boisen, who suffered from intermittent severe mental illness, was a creative visionary, a mystic who re-imagined pastoral care and envisioned possibilities for the institutionalized other than shame and stigma. He shows how Boisen elucidated new possibilities in patient-centered health care, community care for the mentally ill, and reconciliation and dialogue between religion and science. Boisen explored the borderland of madness and mysticism, illness and inspiration, and practiced an interdisciplinary approach to his craft that is surprisingly modern and more relevant to the practice of medicine and the practice of religion than ever before.
Sean J. LaBat is a clinical staff chaplain at Central Virginia Veterans Administration Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia.
Chapter 1: Visit to a Little-Known Country
Chapter 2: Searching for Meaning in the Madness
Chapter 3: How Boisen Interpreted His Experience and Illness
Chapter 4: My Friends are Coming to Help Me
Chapter 5: Boisen’s Productive “Retirement”
Chapter 6: The Scientific Seer
At a time when clinical chaplaincy is grappling afresh with its place in 21st century healthcare systems, Sean J. LaBat’s portrait of Anton Boisen brings fresh insights by reminding clinical chaplaincy of its origin story. Boisen, the “patron saint” of clinical pastoral education, eschews simple categorization. His was a life of paradox: insight amid madness, flourishing amid brokenness, a legacy of interpersonal connectedness from a life of frequent disconnection. LaBat provides a poignant reminder of the importance of clinical chaplaincy’s core commitments to eschewing easy answers, holding the full complexity of human stories, and acknowledging the mysteries that surround us.
Sean J. LaBat caught something that most of us missed: that “critical mysticism” was a central – not a peripheral – aspect of Boisen’s thinking. Boisen – an introspective empirical theologian and psychologist/ sociologist of religion – didn’t ignore certain intriguing aspects of the mind just because they were hard to grasp. Rather than just toss out odd thoughts, Boisen asked if those thoughts could be evaluated and if they might bear kernels of truth, even amid confusion. LaBat has broadened our understanding of Boisen’s work. His thesis gets all the more intriguing as the book progresses.
Sean J. LaBat’s book provides a fascinating description of Anton Boisen that is both thought provoking and a page turner. LaBat details Boisen’s enlightening journey that should not be forgotten; this book does a great job ensuring that it will not. The reader will gain greater insight into how mental illness is constructed in historical context and a perspective shift of their own that is well worth the read. I recommend this book for mental health professionals or anyone who is interested in the intersection of psychology and religion.