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Power, reverence and sexuality - Facing desire in pastoral care

Conference paper
Authors Lisa Rudolfsson
Inga Tidefors
Published in Nordic Association for Clinical Sexology (NACS) - 33rd conference, Oslo 2011
Publication year 2011
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords Transference, Counter transference, Pastoral care, Sexual desire
Subject categories Psychology, Psychology of religion


Background: As part of a project concerning pastoral care, one prominent aspect was how to face desire when caring for confidants. Clerics discussed feelings provoked when perceiving that a confidant was attracted to them, and different strategies to cope with such feelings. Method: Focus group interviews with male and female ministers within the Church of Sweden, and male priests within the Swedish Catholic Church were conducted. Transcripts were analyzed according to thematic analysis. Results: The secluded area was described as potentially sexually loaded. The clerics portrayed an image of the confidants’ transference, as sexually attracted to him/her. The fear of one’s own desire towards the confidant, or the confidant perceiving one’s desire, was also described. This brought on counter transference reactions, e.g. clerics minimizing or refusing any physical contact and dissociating from feelings provoked, resulting in a distanced attitude towards the confidant and what was being shared. Discussion: The clerical position is a position of power and reverence, which can be sexually desirable. Moreover, pastoral care involves meeting people in grief and in strong emotional states and the psychological structures surrounding experiences of being cared for/attaching to someone could also provoke sexual feelings, as these systems are intertwined. The described image of transference and the provoked counter transference reactions involve both the one in inferior position desiring the “helper”, and the one in power position perceiving, or being afraid of, being desired by the confidant. Focusing on pastoral care one might wonder what is lost when clerical reactions create distance and limits the good aspects of physical contact and closeness. The image of being desired might also be seen as creating hierarchal structures and maintaining positions of power. This power ingredient in desire has implications beyond the sphere of ministry and Church.

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