Get access

Ministering to madness: the narratives of people who have left religious orders to work in the caring professions


Peter W. Nolan School of Health Sciences, The Medical School, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT.


This paper examines the life stories of 14 men and women who spent time in religious communities and who subsequently took up work in the caring professions. Their accounts reflect the alignment between the ethics of care and those of religious life, the centrality of contemplation and self-examination to both Christianity and psychotherapy. There are further correspondences between their narratives and recent academic interest in the spiritual aspects of health care. They also describe profound changes and moments of uncertainty which parallel other transitional experiences like grieving or unemployment. For many respondents also, caring for others is part of caring for oneself. Disappointment with the religious life and isolation on leaving it appear to have brought the respondents into a close relationship with those who suffer mental illness. It is almost as if they seek to heal the distress in their own lives by proxy.

Get access to the full text of this article