Recovery History – The Emmanuel Movement : Religion Plus Psychotherapy

Recovery History – The Emmanuel Movement : Religion Plus Psychotherapy from



From – Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic

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Howard J. Clinebell, Jr. (1956)

The Emmanuel Movement is of salient importance to anyone who would help alcoholics. Though it is no longer in existence as a movement, it is anything but a mere ecclesiastical museum piece. Its goals, working philosophy, understanding of man, conception of alcoholism, and even some of its methods are worth emulating today. Here was perhaps the earliest experiment in a church-sponsored psychoreligious clinic. Here was the first pioneering attempt to treat alcoholism with a combination of individual and group therapy, the first attempt to combine the resources of depth psychology and religion in a systematic therapeutic endeavor. During its course the movement attracted many alcoholics and became well known for its success in treating them.

The movement came into being on a stormy evening in November, 1906, at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Boston, when the first “classes” for those with functional illnesses was held. The guiding genius of the movement was a brilliant Episcopal clergyman named Elwood Worcester. His associate throughout most of its course was the Rev. Samuel McComb. Both men had had extensive graduate study in psychology and philosophy. Worcester had a Ph.D. from Leipzig where he studied under Wilheim Wundt, founder of the first psychological laboratory, and physicist-psychologist-philosopher Gustav Fechner.

For a long time before 1906, Worcester had had a growing conviction that the church had an important mission to the sick, and that the physician and clergyman should work together in the treatment of functional ills. As a preliminary step he consulted several leading neurologists to ascertain whether such a project as he had in mind, undertaken with proper safeguards, would have their approval and cooperation. A favorable response was received, and the plan was launched.

The Emmanuel program of therapy consisted of three elements: group therapy administered through its classes, individual therapy administered by the ministers and staff at the daily clinic, and a system of social work and personal attention carried on by “friendly visitors.” The growth of the movement was phenomenal. Three years after its inception, a California disciple could write:

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