Adaptation: The case for professional versatility in a windy world

Ministering change

We see the value of adaptability during periods of economic crisis. But we evolve professionally for all sorts of reasons—not just in response to a falling sky. We evolve out of curiosity. We evolve to pursue new interests. We evolve when we recognize we have more to learn.

That’s the case for Associate Professor of Psychology Jerry Bockoven, whose career has seen both significant and nuanced evolutions over time. Bockoven began his career as a Baptist minister. He was serving as a head pastor in a small community in eastern South Dakota when he realized his education had only just begun.

“I got a call from the town mayor one day and he asked me, ‘Is so-and-so in your congregation?’ I said that yes she was. He said, ‘We’re having some trouble with her. Could you come down here?’

“So I headed over there and I found her naked on all fours, mooing like a cow in the mayor’s front yard. She was having a psychotic episode. And I had no idea what to do,” Bockoven said. “Nothing I’d learned in seminary had prepared me to deal with that.”

He paused and said, “That was the day I decided to study counseling.” Bockoven earned his Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Oregon in 1988.

Today, Bockoven leads no congregation. He gives no Sunday sermons. Yet he would say that fundamentally little has changed. “I wouldn’t say that [psychology] has replaced ministry for me. I’d say it’s enhanced my     ministry.”

A minister tends to the needs of others. Whether Bockoven’s job title reads pastor, counselor or professor, tending to others is what matters to him. And that core has remained unchanged throughout his professional evolutions.

For two years, Bockoven treated sex offenders almost exclusively. “They were a group of people that needed somebody—that needed attention. And that work was rewarding to me because I knew I was helping to prevent other people from being victimized.”

Later, he moved on to work directly with the victims themselves. “I wanted another way to express who I am.”

As years went on, Bockoven found himself increasingly interested in helping to prepare the next generation of psychologists, counselors and therapists—an evolution that led logically to his work in Nebraska Wesleyan’s Psychology

Department. Today, Bockoven strives to show his students that “you’re not just smart; you’re smart for a reason.” He believes the better his students understand themselves, the more effective and adaptable they’ll be throughout their careers.

“If anything helps you to be adaptable,” he said, “it is to know yourself. When you know the essence and fundamentals of, say, the gas engine, you can work on cars or trucks or motorcycles or tractors or lawn mowers. In the same way, when you know the essence of yourself, you can find any number of roles that speak to who you are.

“The deeper you go, the more adaptable you become.”