Faculty Corner: Dr. Suzanne Coyle Appointed Lois and Dale Bright Professor in Christian Ministries
Dr. Suzanne Coyle is an integral part of the CTS community, having served as Professor of Pastoral Theology and Marriage and Family Therapy at CTS for 19 years. This fall, Dr. Coyle was appointed to the Lois and Dale Bright Professor in Christian Ministries. Her experience combines pastoral expertise, academic excellence, and deep insights into the fields of theology and psychology with a particular attention to the role of story in a person’s narrative of meaning. As the Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at CTS, she passionately guides her students while balancing her scholarship by maintaining a private counseling practice. Dr. Coyle plays a pivotal role in shaping the institution’s academic and spiritual landscape.
The Lois and Dale Bright Professorship was endowed by Iowa Disciples businessman H. Dale Bright (1910-1996) and his wife Lois (1911-2013) and represents a commitment to the intersection of theology, psychology, and pastoral care. Dr. Coyle is exemplary of this commitment, blending theology and pastoral experience with clinical expertise to prepare students for both pastoral care and licensed therapy. The chair has previously been occupied by Nelle Slater (1986-1999), Brian Grant (1999-2008), and K. Brynolf “Bernie” Lyon (2008-2014). With research and teaching interests that span a diverse array of subjects, Dr. Coyle honors the legacy of this endowed chair while bringing her own unique passions to the role.
At the heart of her work lies a deep appreciation for the power of narrative. Dr. Coyle believes that storytelling is a potent tool for transformation, both personally and spiritually. “Humans have made meaning of their lives through story since speaking in language. Current brain research finds that the part of the brain that connects us with emotion lights up when we tell stories. So, through story, we connect with our emotion, our history, and glimmers of our future,” says Coyle. This emphasis on story permeates her published works, including Re-Storying Your Faith (2013), Uncovering Spiritual Narratives: Using Story in Pastoral Care and Ministry (2014), and most recently, Spirituality in Systemic Family Therapy Supervision and Training (Focused Issues in Family Therapy, 2022). Her scholarship delves into the intersection of ministry and culture in Appalachia, spiritual narratives, and learning outcome measures. She has published many articles and book chapters in peer-reviewed publications which continue to influence and inspire individuals in these fields.
Dr. Coyle earned her Master of Divinity (MDiv) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, an institution renowned for producing outstanding theological scholars. Her doctoral studies took her to the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, where she further honed her skills in communication and narrative. Additionally, Dr. Coyle holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Narrative Therapy and Community Work from the Dulwich Centre in Australia, an institution co-founded by Michael White, one of the pioneers of narrative therapy. She trained in narrative therapy at the Evanston Family Therapy Center and the Vancouver (Canada) School of Narrative Therapy and did her clinical training at Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York. CTS welcomed Dr. Coyle to the faculty in August 2004. She reflects, “I wanted to find a place to teach that would use my years of experience as clinician, pastor, and community leader. CTS fit that yearning. It also helped that I got a cell phone call from the Search Committee chair while I was riding in a golf cart. My childcare agency was having a gold scramble to raise funds. It was 85 degrees. Too hot! The chair said, ‘What do we need to do to get you to come here?’ That sealed the deal. And, as the story goes, I’ve been happily here at CTS ever since.”
Her vast experience is not limited to academia. Dr. Coyle maintains a private counseling practice which enables her to continue to learn, grow, and develop as a therapist while staying on top of contemporary therapy trends. She has also actively served as a pastor, which helps her understand and connect with students from the School of Theology alongside her School of Counseling students. She regularly consults with congregations, employing systems and narrative approaches to promote emotional well-being and growth.
When asked what she enjoys most about teaching at CTS, Coyle shares, “I have the unbelievable opportunity to use my academic preparation, clinical credentialing, and experience as a pastor and faith-based counseling center director in a teaching context. Sometimes I use pastoral examples as well as clinical examples in my teaching because I’ve spent many years on the ground in the counseling room, church, and community. CTS really fits me well—an answer to prayer. That’s why I’ve stayed here and not pursued other opportunities.”
The CTS MAMFT program has been accredited for an impressive 30 years by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), an organization in which Coyle is active on a national level. She serves on the Standards Review Committee for COAMFTE as well as being a Site Visitor. As a Site Visitor, she periodically joins Site Visit Teams that assess other MFT programs for initial accreditation and re-accreditation.
Dr. Coyle’s upcoming CTS Talk on November 9, titled “How to Uncover Your Spiritual Story,” is an invitation to individuals and communities of faith to embark on a journey of self-discovery and renewal. During her presentation in Sweeney Chapel at CTS, Coyle will share a narrative practice that uncovers spiritual stories, offering renewed hope for everyday life. Through this practice, the power, hope, and the Spirit can catalyze liberating actions that dispel oppressive narratives and foster spiritual growth. Participants will be provided with the tools to unleash the transformative potential of their spiritual narratives and connect the dots between their daily life experiences and the sustaining stories that offer joy and resilience. Dr. Coyle’s CTS Talk promises to be a transformative experience and continues the 2023-2024 CTS Talks series’ exposition of newly named CTS faculty chairs sharing their expertise with the broader community.