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The Contribution of ACT to My Development
by  Fr. Bob Sears SJ

      From the time I joined the Jesuits in 1953, I was always drawn to study psychotherapy as well as the regular course of studies.  I was drawn to integrate theology and therapy during my theological studies in Germany. I experienced a depression there which eased when I was led to read Is 43:18ff "Remember not the events of the past..., see, I am doing something new!” I began then to experience God creating NOW, and this awareness of God’s healing presence deepened when later I participated in a Psychodrama training group in Holland.  In 1968 I began my doctoral work at Fordham University (1968-72). I joined the charismatic group there and worked toward my dissertation: Spirit Divine and Human: The Theology of the Holy Spirit of Heribert Muhlen and its Relevance for Evaluating the Data of Psychotherapy. In 1972 I began teaching theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago (JSTC).  I taught Trinity, Grace and Jung and Theology, and was led to Murray Bowen and Family Systems therapy through a course I team-taught with Dr. David Augsburger.      

      My contact with ACT was through ACT members who prayed for me some time before JSTC closed in 1981.  One got the prophetic word “burden,” and I suddenly realized I had said in the womb, “I won’t be a burden,” and that I had been parenting myself since then.  Later that same year I attended my first ACT Conference at Burlington, Ontario. I sat next to a woman who said, “I think you need healing.”  I said, “Yes,” and her prayer and later ministry began the deeper healing of that “mother wound,” and also made me aware of wounded child in others.     

      About that time also I was part of a Jesuit “charismatic theology’ group with Matt and Dennis Linn, George Montague and others which introduced me to “generational healing.”  When I joined ACT I continued with that group and later with a small group that met for four days every summer to discuss theological/healing issues.  After JSTC closed, I began teaching at Loyola University’s Institute of Pastoral Studies (IPS), which also connected me to Chicago area ACT members who discussed such issues.  All of these groups deepened my understanding of family systems so that later I team-taught a course for many years in “family systems and healing” with a family therapist at IPS.  It was during that time that a small ACT group prayed for me and my family and discovered a generational wound six centuries back that had led to wounding artistic males down through the generations.     

      During those early years in ACT a subgroup of us from region 12 got together to study alternative medicine to learn how it related to Christian thought.  Dr. Ted TePas had known doctors who had been involved in energy healing and left the church because of it, and he was very cautious about studying it further without careful discernment.  So we addressed issues like homeopathy, flower essences, Mariel, acupuncture and acupressure – all from a Christian theological point of view.  This later got us interested in energy healing and the ACT Circle of Inquiry regarding energy healing was established.  That led me to write a paper on a “Christian Approach to Discerning Spiritualities” (1999).    

       In 1993 I gave a talk at the ACT conference in Achison, KS which touched Serafina Anfuso who would later play a significant role in my healing.  Serafina was invited by ACT member Grace Gibson to give a workshop in our region in February, 1994.  What Serafina said, “In Nazareth there is no judgment,” struck a deep cord in me and I felt called to join the healing group she was forming in our area. Her no JAB rule (no judgment, advice or blame) was a great help to deal with my tendency to judge myself and others.   That group focused on early bonding issues, lasted for some five years and touched on many issues that were important to me, all of which helped me with my clients.  I won’t go into all of those issues except to say that for me many of the issues regarded male-female bonding. This focus continued to heal my mother wound and open me to creative relationships.    

      During this time, because of my teaching schedule, I wasn’t able to attend many ACT International Conferences.  The ones I did attend opened me to new areas of healing.  Leanne Payne, the author of The Broken Image¸ opened me to the issue of homosexuality at the Conference at Pheasant Run in the Chicago area.  But mostly it was small groups, like the TePas group in Evanston, that opened up new areas for me.  John Lehman introduced us to Theophostic ministry, which proved to be a great help, and a member of Reba fellowship, Dan Yutzy, introduced us to Jim Wilder’s Thrive group that also has been very valuable.  Contacts I have made through ACT have played an immense part in my ongoing growth in the healing ministry.    

      Another important contribution has been Doug Schoeninger and the Journal of Christian Healing.  Most of the articles I have written after my first article, “Trinitarian Love as Ground of the Church” (1976) that I wrote for JSTC, have been for the Journal and with Doug’s editing.  These have addressed many issues – “Family Systems and Healing,” “Trinitarian Love and Male-Female Community,” “Theology of Joy and Healing,” “Healing the Wounded Community,” “New Testament Communities and Healing,” and the more recent talks/articles on. “Scripture and Mental Illness,” and. “The Trauma of the Broken Church.”  These articles are available on my website: www.familytreehealing.com. Our ACT healing manual group, that I can now attend because I am no longer on a teaching schedule, has led me to articulate my method of counseling and is now challenging me to understand better pastoral ethics.    

      Another major contribution has been our Region 12.  I have been on the planning committee for our meetings for many years now.  We have four quarterly meetings with topics chosen to coincide with the National Conference themes, and one retreat outreach.  Our topics range from nutrition to energy healing to introductions to Theophostic Ministry and Prenatal Healing, Jim Wilder’s work (Thrive), Karl Lehman’s “Emmanuel Process” (an adaptation of Theophostic Ministry and Thrive) and sharing from members’ own ministries.  Our regional retreat also brings ACT members like Fr. Bob Faricy and Jack McGinnis (who taught us “Tapping”), Doug and Fran Schoeninger (intergenerational healing) and this year Matt Linn, as well as others, such as George F. Cairns, M. Div., Ph.D., who introduced us to the centering prayer of Thomas Keating.     

      Providentially I am led to pursue areas both for my healing and to develop ACT Conference themes.  Recently I was given a book by Chris Prentiss (The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure) that showed the importance of primal pain at the root of addictions and led me to read Arthur Janov’s The Primal Scream and several other of his books.  I did my Jesuit 8 day retreat on that theme and have since used it frequently in my counseling practice.  That year the ACT Conference was on addictions, and I was prepared to offer a workshop using those books.  ACT has also urged me to teach “discernment” from an Ignatian perspective so integrating the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is now taking my attention.  Finally, our Ecumenical Relations Committee, which has frequent conference calls, has been a rich experience and was a significant influence for my paper on “The Trauma of the Broken Church.”  I knew little about ecumenism but a good bit about trauma and putting the two together was a rich experience.    

      In general, I would say that ACT has been one of the most significant influences in my growth and the development of my ministry since the time I joined in 1981 till now.  For me the most important influences have been small faith sharing groups that have opened up many areas of healing for me, but also the context of the whole Association in its effort to open up new areas of understanding. The personal contacts and interchange that ACT provided have been the most important influence, and the opportunity to write for The Journal of Christian Healing.  I have been enriched by ACT's ongoing work that integrates theology and therapy, and am challenged to find ways to apply these insights in the healthcare fields and in spiritual direction.  

For more information, please contact: 
Clergy and Religious Chair
Sister Betty Igo, SFP, M Ed, MS


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