Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Psychology


The church in its move toward professionalism has furthered the divide between clergy and church laity. Consequently, on one hand, clergy are increasingly lonely and disconnected from those around them and, on the other, congregations are dependent and dissatisfied. In addition, loneliness and a fear of intimacy have been linked with clergy burnout and sexual misconduct. Whilst these trends reflect systemic problems within the church, much of the literature has recommended professional support from outside the church. Interestingly, little attention has been given to clergy being more integrated into the church community, including the value of laity as sources of support. In the present study, fifty-eight parish clergymen from five denominations were sampled to examine their relationships with people and God, and to whom they turn in times of trouble. Clergy were interviewed individually on two separate occasions using quantitative and qualitative measures. Personal construct psychology was used as a theoretical framework, and a model for understanding the relationships of clergymen was proposed. From this perspective, intimate reciprocal relationships act as forums for clergy to test their spiritual meanings. However, clergy can avoid these potentially threatening two-way forums by choosing to operate from the basis of their social role instead, resulting in impoverished relationships with people and God, an active avoidance of social support, poor adaption to their complex religious environment and loneliness. Further, due to the abstract nature of their training, inexperienced clergy are believed to be particularly prone to loneliness and have a less dispersed network of supports. Results largely confirmed the hypothesised model and also showed that turning to laity for help was associated with many advantages. A comprehensive strategy was recommended to improve the functioning of church groups, so as to reduce the incidence of clergy loneliness, burnout and sexual misconduct.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.