Holy ground, common ground: Perspectives of Christian clergy on their mental health role
AuthorSmith, Peter Joseph
AdvisorBelcher, John R.
MetadataShow full item record
AbstractPersons experiencing emotional problems, including serious mental illness, often turn to clergy as their first choice for help. Past studies show that pastors reported feeling inadequately trained to deal with the types of problems they encountered. In spite of this, pastors referred infrequently to secular mental health professionals (MHPs). This qualitative field study explored-the perspectives of clergy on their mental health role and developed "grounded theory" that addresses the clergy understanding of their role. Data were collected through ten field observations, and twenty-seven semi-structured interviews with nine informants (n = 9) from a range of Christian churches (Non affiliated Evangelical, Denominationally affiliated Evangelical, and Mainline) throughout central Maryland. The constant comparative method was used as categories and themes were identified from the data, and collapsed into working hypotheses at each of three rounds of data collection. Grounded theory was developed from the final working hypotheses. Analysis revealed that pastors' mental health activities were related to their role definition, which was in turn shaped by their religious beliefs, experience of God, experience in ministry, and expectations of help seekers. Similarities were found among all pastors regarding types of problems seen, value and limits of their role, the desire to help, and the role of trust in selecting a referral resource. Evangelical pastors differed from Mainline pastors in the use of religious language and symbols, preference for type of referral resource, and familiarity with secular MHPs. Charismatic pastors differed from other Evangelicals by the degree to which they saw mental health in religious terms, sought to import mental health technology, and had limited ties to the mental health system. These findings are significant for professional social work in the following areas. Diversity training in social work education should include a treatment of religious belief systems and their language and symbols. Direct micro practice would be enhanced by building trust with local pastors, and expanding the social work role from referral terminus to providing consultation and support for the pastor's role. On the level of macro practice, mental health outreach and education for local pastors would magnify the benefits of social work training and expertise.
DescriptionUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore. Social Work. Ph.D. 1999
Health Sciences, Mental Health
Education, Guidance and Counseling