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Evangel psychology profs present research on healing at international conference

Published on Jun 6, 2016 by Paul K. Logsdon

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Two Evangel University psychology professors presented their research on “Healing and Counseling Outcomes” at the 2016 International Conference of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS).

Dr. Heather Kelly and Dr. Geoff Sutton provided preliminary results of two studies looking at what aspects of a person’s faith contributes to their success in Christian counseling. The CAPS conference was held during the spring semester in Pasadena, Calif.

“Our research focused on finding factors that help predict effective outcomes,” said Sutton. “In looking at such things as age, personality, hope and relationship to God, one finding stands out as highly significant.”

According to their research, a person’s degree of hope is the most powerful predictor of how people benefit from Christian counseling. Positive outcomes were shown in psychological health, spiritual well-being, satisfaction and likelihood of returning.

“Of course, other things are important too,” said Sutton. “Clients who practice their faith by such activities as regular Bible study and prayer, also had highly favorable counseling outcomes.”

Clinical implications taken from this research include the suggestion that counselors should assess both the psychological and spiritual well being of their clients.

“There is value in encouraging the development of hope, and assessing hope before or early in treatment,” according to Kelly. “The research shows that incorporating religious/spiritual themes may promote satisfaction and the likelihood to return, and thus protect against client dropout.”

The detailed presentation can be examined online “Healing and Counseling Outcomes: What do Client Factors Contribute?”

CAPS is a non-profit organization founded in 1956, which encourages understanding of the relationship between Christianity and the behavioral sciences at both the clinical/counseling and the theoretical/research levels.

There are currently 2,000 members in the U.S., Canada and more than 25 other countries.

The research team

Geoff Sutton, a 1972 Evangel graduate, completed his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is a licensed psychologist and holds the title of professor emeritus of psychology at Evangel, where he has worked since 2001.

He conducts research on spirituality, forgiveness and other virtues, and he is the author of more than 100 publications.

Heather Kelly earned her Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary. After teaching eight years on the California coast, and seven more in Florida, she moved to Springfield in the summer of 2014 to teach psychology at Evangel University.

She has been a licensed psychologist in the state of California since 2003.

Sutton and Kelly were joined in the research by colleagues Ev Worthington and Brandon Griffin of Virginia Commonwealth University, and Chris Dinwiddie of Southwest Baptist University.

“We also appreciate the help from EU psychology majors Linda Hicks and Allison Godfrey, who helped with data collection,” Kelly added.

For more information Master’s in Counseling (Clinical Mental Health), contact Dr. Donna Washburn, department chair, at: