Peter F. Schmid

Implications and challenges of the belief in a triune God and a person-centred approach

A Norwich Centre Occasional Publication. Foreword by Brian Thorne.
Norwich (The Norwich Centre for Personal & Professional Development) 2006
56 pages, 5 £, 7,90 EUR

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Western tradition tends to give preference to the individual and to the value of autonomy and authenticity. In contradistinction, there have always been traditions focusing on the community and esteeming the value of relationship. Throughout the history of the west, the unum-multum-problem has dominated the fashioning of concepts in theology, philosophy, psychology and psychotherapy. In theology, the concept 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 new peak of understanding of both God and the human being. This led to significant consequences for the understanding of the human being as a person, a being of innate plurality. It is communication, originating in encounter and presence, which builds community.

The foundations of a person-centred understanding of the human being originate in experiences conceptualised as experiences with God and initiated by God. In other words: at the start of what we know today as the Person-Centred Approach there was spirituality and reflection upon it. I am convinced that we need to go back to these roots to really understand what the PCA is about. Central to this exploration is the Jewish-Christian tradition and its spiritual, theological and philosophical considerations of what it means to be a human being.

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 in the practice of person-centred work, particularly in groups.




Image of God and of the human being, theology and anthropology, Trinity, person, group, community, communication, plurality


I. The image of God

1. Why and how to ask the question about God
2. The unum-multum-problem
3. The belief in a triune God
4. God is community – a social understanding of the Trinity
5. God is ‘person’ is ‘group’
6. Perichoretic love: God, the ‘dancing group’

II. The image of the human being

1. What does the image of God say about the image of the human being?
2. Community: The human being as a person
        Substantiality and relationality
3. Plurality: Becoming oneself through the encounter with the Other
        Societal and political consequences
        Sexes and sexuality
        The Other
        The Third One, We, the Group
4. Communication: Presence through and in dialogue and diakony

III. Consequences for the understanding of the Person-Centred Approach

1. Christian theology and PCA: Two different, yet mutually challenging approaches
2. The essence of PCA
        A fundamental ‘We’ – The person in the community
            A political perspective
            A co-perspective
            A group perspective
        The client is the expert – plurality and encounter
            The client is the expert
            Sex and gender awareness
        The therapist is present – person-centred communication as dialogue
            Non-directivity, kairoticity and immediacy
            Research and training
            Dialogue with other orientations
3. A paradigm shift within the Person-Centred Approach



Among British person-centred practitioners there is still a lamentable lack of knowledge about the work of their European colleagues. This is to some extent the result of the reluctance of both British and American publishers to invest money and energy in the necessary translation into English from other European languages. Although the new international journal (Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies) is to some extent remedying this situation, it remains the case that many prominent European practitioners remain relatively unknown in Britain. This occasional publication seeks, in however small a way, further to redress the balance. 

Peter Schmid is an unusual figure in the person-centred firmament. Not only is he a leading therapist and theoretician both in Austria and on the world stage but he is also a distinguished practical theologian and philosopher. In this paper – originally presented in a previous form at an international conference in Norwich in 2004 – he brings these two primary strands of his professional and personal life together. The Christian theologian and the person-centred practitioner join forces in presenting perspectives on the understanding of human-beings and their relationships which have the potential for transforming both the practice of therapy and the life of the Christian church. It is a long time since I have read a treatise on the Holy Trinity which has packed such a revolutionary punch or an essay on person-centred therapy which suggests that the greatest days for the approach lie in the future.

Peter Schmid challenges his readers to exert their intellectual capacities and their emotional energy to the full. It is a challenge well worth accepting.

Brian Thorne

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