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Unique self-help guide targets LDS young adults

Culminating work by distinguished BYU psychologist Allen Bergin

After more than 40 years of pioneering research in validating and understanding the use of religion in psychology and psychotherapy, Allen Bergin, professor emeritus of psychology at Brigham Young University, has written what he considers to be the culminating book of his career.

The book, "Eternal Values and Personal Growth: A Guide on Your Journey to Spiritual, Emotional and Social Wellness," was written as a self-help guide for young single adults in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It allowed Bergin to do something in writing that all of his other books and articles did not.

"It was culminating in the sense that it's the only one of the 12 books that I've written that is explicitly addressed to an LDS audience," he said. "It was sort of a wonderful thing to be able to set aside some of the usual academic guidelines and to do something more heartfelt as opposed to purely intellectual."

The book, a second edition of which was published in June 2003 by BYU Studies, is designed to facilitate spiritual, emotional and social growth using a blend of psychological research and LDS gospel principles.

"The book helps young single adults work out the emotional barriers to being a fully functioning Latter-day Saint," Bergin said. "This book is not a cure-all for all those things, but it is a guide to start with and to work through."

The book is a collection of case studies, excerpts from talks by general authorities of the LDS Church, personal experiences of students Bergin taught, and practical tools and exercises designed to educate the reader about ways to grow personally and spiritually.

The book is not designed to be a remedy for serious clinical mental disorders, Bergin said.

"If you work it through, you'll see if you need outside help above and beyond what you get from the scriptures and your prayers and studying the book," Bergin said. "Then you can go for extra help that you might need."

Bergin's intellectual contribution to the field of psychology, as well as his desire to incorporate religion into psychology, makes the book a valuable resource.

"This is one self-help book that delivers so much more than it promises," said Wendy Watson, a marriage and family therapy professor at BYU.

Bergin said the initial stimulus for the book came when he introduced a new class at BYU in the 1970s, Psychology 353: LDS Perspectives and Psychology.

"There was no textbook," Bergin said. "So I started working on it. But it wasn't until I retired that I actually got time to do it right and involve some other people in helping me."

Bergin approached eight professors at BYU about contributing to different chapters because of their expertise in specific areas. All eight professors agreed to help.

"Everybody who was there was really excited to do it," said Sally Barlow, professor of psychology at BYU, who contributed to two of the chapters. "He had been thinking about this book for a long time and so he had chapters and chapters of material that he'd written longhand while he was thinking about this over the last 10 to 15 years.

"He brought me some of the material he had written and he said, 'I need you to add to this, and expand it and edit it,' so I did," she said. "I kind of organized it and added a few things I thought were important."

Bergin is highly respected in psychology and has a long list of accomplishments. Of his 11 other books, three are endorsed handbooks of the American Psychological Association. He is the recipient of the APA's Society for Psychotherapy Research's Career Award, the American Psychiatric Association's Oskar Pfister Award in Religion in Mental Health and many other honors.

"He's a heavy hitter," Barlow said. "He's one of the most cited researchers in psychology in the world. He made a huge contribution in just the general psychotherapy literature by talking about general principles and research in the kinds of things that really help therapy work."

Bergin always had the desire to combine religion and psychology. In the 1970s when he came to BYU from Columbia University in New York City, he saw the opportunity to develop that ambition.

"I could really focus on clinical psychology and personality and psychotherapy," Bergin said. "There was the great emphasis as always of trying to harmonize the two, the secular and the sacred, but also to somehow take the inspiration of the Gospel and let it influence your professional work. I had always done that, but being at BYU made it a lot easier."

While teaching at BYU, Bergin became better acquainted with Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve, who knew Bergin through his work as Commissioner of Education for the LDS Church.

"We were talking about doing a Gospel approach to human behavior," Bergin recalled. "He made a rather startling statement--at least it was startling at the time. I think I understand it now. The statement was, 'We don't need a Sigmund Freud of Mormonism, so to speak. We have already had revealed to us the basic principles of how to live. Your job is to help us learn how to apply those principles.'

"So, psychology could be an applied spiritual science, so to speak, doing research and case studies to help people understand how to work the flavor of the Gospel covenants and doctrines into their lives," Bergin said.

Elder Maxwell's influence, as well as that of others, guided Bergin to develop the Psychology 353 class and eventually write "Eternal Values."

The book represents a lifetime of using the science and art of healing to become a disciple of Christ, said C. Terry Warner, a philosophy professor at BYU who met often with Bergin during the '70s to discuss human behavior.

"In this new book, he shares many useful questions, self-assessment tools, resources and strategies," he said. "He includes stories of individuals with whom readers can identify and from whom they can draw hope. And he does all of this with an unusual sympathy for the way in which struggling souls actually think, with utmost respect for their agency and with an inspiring faith in Christ's healing power."

Bergin has already found other uses for the book. He and his wife taught from it while teaching at the La Jolla LDS Institute of Religion in San Diego as part of an LDS mission completed in the summer of 2003. Bergin said the class was popular and many students told him the book had changed their lives.

"This book has been an invaluable resource in our transition from two independent single lives to a healthy marital relationship," said Kim and Steve Mercer, a graduate student and graduate of the University of California at San Diego who both took the class from Bergin.

Bergin hopes people continue to use the book both on and off the BYU campus. BYU Studies is talking with Deseret Book about carrying "Eternal Values" while Bergin would like other LDS schools to use it in their curriculum.

"I would hope that it helps the committed Latter-day Saint put the doctrines and covenants of the gospel into their lives in a more powerful way than they have in the past by applying some of the ideas and techniques that have emerged from scholarship and social science," he said.

The book is available at the BYU Bookstore and through BYU Studies at Call (801) 422–6691 for more information.

Writer: Thomas Grover


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