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School of Theology and Ministry

Philip Browning Helsel

assistant professor of pastoral care and counseling

Philip Browning Helsel

Contact Information | (617) 552-6524
Simboli Hall 313


B.A., M.Div., Ph.D. (Princeton)

Research Interests

Social class, mental illness, community and parish pastoral care, antiracist pastoral care, trauma and addiction, and the pastoral care of caregivers.


Philip Browning Helsel, "Phil," earned his doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary and also holds his M.Div. from Princeton. Before arriving at the STM, he was an instructor and teaching fellow at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA (2010-2011). A Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA), he has been a chaplain, congregational pastor, and a pastoral counselor in training. A frequent lecturer and presenter, he is also a co-chair of the Society for Pastoral Theology’s Group on Interreligious and Intercultural Pastoral Care.

Current Courses

Fall 2015
Trauma and Addiction (TMPS 7086)
Introduction to Pastoral Care & Counseling:Narrative (TMPS 7093)

Spring 2015
Pastoral Care and Mental Illness (TMPS 7148)
Faith, Counseling, and Service of Justice (TMPS 7064)


Pastoral Power Beyond Psychology’s Marginalization: Resisting the Discourses of the Psy-Complex (Palgrave Macmillan, New Approaches to Religion & Power Series, Ed. Joerg Rieger, October 2015).

In times of massive economic inequity, why do so many Americans consider themselves mentally ill? Exploring the psychological effects of debt, foreclosure, and unemployment, this book shows how our mental health categories are poorly equipped to explain the stresses of the current economy. Philip Browning Helsel provides concrete advice to ministers and counselors wishing to help those struggling with the stress of being in a member of the modern working class. 'Pastoral power' is the ability to help people define and resist the suffering that results from an unjust economic system. Helsel argues that psychological labels can reduce people to 'problem-identities' and make them feel internally responsible for their emotional problems. Drawing from the counter-conducts of pastoral power described by Michel Foucault, and highlighting the testimonies of the consumer/survivor/ex-patient movement, this book helps communities resist social class oppression while questioning the oversimplification of mental health pathology.

Peer-Reviewed Articles
“The Relational Basis of Agency: An Integrated Psychological/Theological Approach,” Annals of Theoretical Psychology (October 2014, with response by Jean Valsiner).

“Definitional Ceremonies as a Counter-Ritual to Case Conferences in Pastoral Care,” Practical Matters (2013, Peer-Reviewed section), Issue 7.

“Narrative Pastoral Care and Communities of Identity in the Parable of the ‘Good Soil,’”
Pastoral Psychology
(Online First:

“Writing Autobiography as Desperate Spiritual Art: A Narrative Psychological Approach to Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City,Pastoral Psychology, (2011, Vol. 60, No.1, p. 363-375).

“Enjoyment and Its Discontents: Ecclesiastes in Dialogue with Freud on the Stewardship of Joy,” Journal of Religion and Health (2010, Vol. 49, No. 1, p. 105-116).

“Liminality in Death Care: The Grief Work of Pastors,” Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling (2009, Vol. 63, No. 3,4,

 “Simone Weil’s Passion Mysticism: The Paradox of Chronic Pain and the Transformation of the Cross,” Pastoral Psychology (2009, Vol. 58, No. 1 p. 55-63)

"In Memoriam: The Disenfranchised Grief of Hospice Chaplains," Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling (2008, Vol. 62, No. 4 p. 337-342).

“John Prine’s Images of God and Male Melancholia: Terror, Forgiveness, and the Persistence of Desire,” Journal of Religion and Health (2007, Vol. 46, No. 3 p. 359-368).

“Warren Zevon’s The Wind and Ecclesiastes:  Searching for Meaning at the Threshold of Death,” Journal of Religion and Health (2007, Vol. 46. No. 2 p. 205-218).

“Living Without a Why: The Senseless Faith of Meister Eckhart,” Presence: The Journal of Spiritual Directors International (2006, Vol. 12, No. 2 p. 7-14)

 “Social Phobia and the Experience of Shame: Childhood Origins and Pastoral Implications,” Pastoral Psychology (2005, Vol. 53, No. 6 p. 535-540).

“A Response to the Works of Robert Perske,” ed. Gaventa and Coulter. The Journal of Religion, Disability, and Health (2003, Vol. 7, No. 1/2 p. 175-177); also appeared as chapter in edited volume:  The Pastoral Voice of Robert Perske, Edited by David Coulter and William Gaventa. Binghampton, NY: Haworth Press, 2003, p. 175-177.

Encyclopedia Articles
“Child”; “Faith”; “Father”; “Gender Roles”; “Transitional Object”; “Via Negativa” Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Leeming, David A.; Madden, Kathryn; Marlan, Stanton (Eds.)  Blanton-Peale Institute: Springer Reference (2009).

Book Reviews
Donald Capps and Nathan Carlin—Living in the Midst of Limbo: Life in the Midst of Uncertainty. Journal for Pastoral Theology (2011, vol. 21, Issue 2, p. 11.1-11.3)

Julia Kristeva—This Incredible Need to Believe. Reviews in Religion and Theology (2011, vol. 18, Issue 2., 297-299).

William B. Parsons, Diane Jonte-Pace, and Susan E. Henking (Eds.)—Mourning  Religion. Reviews in Religion and Theology (2010, vol. 17, Issue 1, p. 41-43).

Donald Capps—Jesus, the Village Psychiatrist. Reviews in Religion and Theology (2009, vol. 16, Issue 3, p. 368-370).

Carrie Doehring—The Practice of Pastoral Care: A Postmodern Approach. Koinonia Journal (2008, vol. 20, p. 107-109).

Adam Phillips—Going Sane: Maps of Happiness. Pastoral Psychology (2008, Vol. 56, No. 4, p. 459-461).