When Something Goes Wrong: Understanding Trauma and Psychopathology

MS 3XT3/5XT5/6XT6

Fall 2023
Mon 9:00am - 10:50am

This course will survey the broad categories and most common faces of psychological distress and dysfunction, with an emphasis on tracing the common theme and effects of trauma physiologically, behaviorally, emotionally, cognitively, relationally, and spiritually. Major diagnoses of mental illness will be reviewed, along with the current understandings of etiology and contemporary treatment approaches, including pharmacology. A strong emphasis will be on understanding the brain-behavior connection in human psychological distress, as well as exploring the relationship between modern conceptualizations of mental illness and biblical descriptions of sinful behavior and the concept of “evil”. Systems of integrating psychology and theology will also be briefly considered for advanced students. The goal of the course is to understand ourselves and others better as we grapple with the consequences of “when something goes wrong” in life and in relationships and deepen compassion for ourselves and others as we try to heal those consequences through relationship and faith, in contexts of both pastoral counseling and wider church ministry.

Trigger Alert: By necessity, this course will include discussions of some very graphic traumatic situations. Since we cannot hope to help others, if we are not in a healing journey ourselves, this course will also encourage self-disclosure at the level of comfort of the participant. Two participation assignments will be surveys of traumatic and stressful events. They will not be handed in to the instructor, and do not need to be shared with anyone else unless the student wishes. The aim is to encourage self-evaluation consistent with the themes of the course. If any student has concerns about this course, please contact the instructor privately.


  • To describe psychopathology and mental illness through a bio-psycho-social-spiritual lens
  • To explain how psychopathology and mental illness are related to adaptation to various types of trauma, especially developmental trauma
  • To distinguish the most frequent major diagnoses in mental health, their etiology, and contemporary treatment approaches, including pharmacology

      Advanced Students: 

  • To differentiate various systems of integrating psychology and theology, and various theologies of evil


  • To increase comfort with self-disclosure, within one’s own sense of safety and boundaries, and as appropriate to the assignments and class discussion
  • To practice empathic and respectful listening and reflection during class discussions
  • To increase tolerance in hearing others’ pain and being open to the experience of one’s own pain


  • To read about contemporary descriptions and categories of psychopathology, and perspectives on how psychopathology might be understood through a scriptural lens
  • To become familiar with professional journal articles related to the secular study of psychopathology and with the theological study of evil
  • To develop perspective and describe a “working theory” on how we understand mental illness in the context of scripture, and how it might be related to sin, demonic activity and evil
  • To identify possible symptoms of mental illness that may need referral to and intervention by a medical or mental health professional
  • To reflect on and discuss how we can promote compassionate awareness of and dialogue with the mentally ill in our congregations and communities
  • To reflect on and discuss how our own Christian world view, culture, and personal experiences have influenced our views of mental illness

      Advanced Students:

  • To be able to identify systems of integration used by other writers, and identify and develop one’s own perspective on the integration of theology and psychology, particularly in exploring the relationship between theological concepts of evil and psychological concepts of psychopathology