Science of the Soul

Psychology professor Mark McMinn marvels at grace, finds fulfillment in mentoring – and relishes the sweet swish of a three-pointer.

By Sean Patterson

To some, he’s the guy with the answers – the man with the sharp clinical mind, kind heart and listening ear . . . the deep thinker, author and mentor who’s spent countless hours tending to the brokenness of people’s souls.

To others, he is the farmer, beekeeper, avid sportsman and carpenter – the lover of life who relishes a construction project, a home-grown meal, a shot to win a noon basketball game, a riveting mystery novel or a quiet, contemplative evening with his wife of 31 years, Lisa, on their five-acre farm.

As he sees it, though, McMinn – clinical psychologist, father of three, mentor to students and clergy, national speaker – is, at his core, a man who marvels at the grace of God and the power of forgiveness and redemption.

In some ways, he’s still the simple kid from Forest Grove, Ore. – the one with the inquisitive mind who was torn between pursuing the mysteries of the physical and the mental. In the end, he compromised, choosing to major in both chemistry and psychology in college.

I like to tell people I'm the psychologist who grew up on a nut farm, he quips. I'm only a year and a half into my 50s, but I'm thinking this is going to be my best decade. I love my work, my students, my life. I feel like I'm living a fairytale – or, at least as close to that as it can get outside of Eden.

What differentiates George Fox's PsyD program from other schools’?
There's something unique about our integration of faith and spirituality into the program. In fact, it's quite rare – we’re one of only six Christian institutions nationwide with an APA (Association Psychological Association) approved doctoral program in psychology. Our faith is at the core of our identity and mission, but at the same time, our APA designation indicates we hold to the highest standards of all doctor of psychology programs.

What are you most passionate about in your position at George Fox?
I absolutely love research mentoring. To watch students go from asking the questions to collecting data to finally getting published in journals gives me the most satisfaction. Our students have published on some compelling issues including topics like the ethical implications of emerging technology in practice (Do you keep patients' vital info on your iPhone?) and the role prayer plays in forgiveness.

What is the most fascinating discovery you've made in your field?
About 12 years back, I was walking across a hospital parking lot and this realization came to me: In many of the psychological reports I had recently filed, my comment was needs a better social support system. Then I asked the question: What is the ultimate support system available? My conclusion was the church. Since then, I've dedicated my career to psychology in service to the church.

Elaborate on how Christianity and psychology intertwine.
The Christian narrative can be summed up like this: We were God's perfect creation, we fell, and he is redeeming us. Ultimately, psychology in the purest sense tries to do the very work of God – taking that which is broken and making it beautiful again.

What is the biggest misconception about psychologists?
Whenever you’re at a party and someone asks you what you do for a living, and you say psychologist, the conversation immediately shuts down. For some reason they think you can read their minds. That’s why, if anyone asks, I simply say, I teach.

Mark McMinn is professor of psychology and director of integration in George Fox's Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology. He is the author or coauthor of 10 books and more than 100 journal articles. He taught at George Fox from 1984 to 1993 before leaving to help start the PsyD program at Wheaton College, where he later assumed an endowed chair position. He returned to George Fox in 2006. He was recently named recipient of the university's Faculty Achievement Award for Graduate Research and Scholarship.