Pastors face more
By Katy Attanasi
As awareness over
mental health issues grows, many churches and pastors are
working together with mental health professionals to address
a growing demand among people in the pews.
According to the
National Institute of Mental Health, more than 18 million
Americans suffer from depression, nearly one in 10 adults.
The number of people reporting depression tripled in a 10-year
span ending in 1997.
In addressing mental
health concerns, pastors are often on the first line of defense.
of people are much more likely to talk with their pastor than
with a psychologist,” says Lee Wetherbee, director of
clinical services at EMERGE, a mental health ministry in Akron,
Ohio, affiliated with the Assemblies of God. “Pastors
are expected to fulfill many more roles than what they used
The demands can
be draining. “I recommend for their own spiritual and
mental health that pastors have a network of counseling professionals
they can count on either to seek support from or to refer
people who have more severe clinical needs than they are equipped
to handle,” Wetherbee says.
As a result of
one such referral network, after 25 years of pastoral ministry,
David Welle, pastor at Calvary Assembly in Willoughby Hills,
Ohio, does less counseling now than he did when he first started
ministry. “My job is to do crisis intervention and initial
counseling,” he says. “People feel free to come
to me to get them started on counseling, but I explain to
them that I am not a professional counselor but a pastor.
They can access long-term counseling with a Christian counselor
or find personal support and encouragement through developing
ongoing accountable relationships with mature Christians.”
refers individuals to the private practices of Christian counselors,
one of whom holds office hours at the church. Calvary Assembly
subsidizes part of the cost of counseling sessions when necessary.
of God in Springfield, Mo., has confronted the growing demand
for pastoral care and counseling by founding Safe Harbor Counseling
Center. Started three years ago, the center now facilitates
250 patient hours a month. The ratio of unchurched to churched
patients is four to one.
David W. Johns,
director of Safe Harbor Counseling Center, sees a spirit of
teamwork growing among pastors and counselors.
on pastors is overwhelming,” he says. “We need
to develop a feeling of cooperation rather than competition.
When we do that, we realize that helping and restoring people
is our common purpose.”
Melody Palm, assistant
professor of psychology and counseling at Assemblies of God
Theological Seminary in Springfield, Mo., says the restoration
instantaneously heal and we rejoice in those miracles, but
more often than not it’s a process of healing and working
through the issues that may be contributing to or actually
causing the depression,” she says. “Prayer is
one avenue by which to fight depression, just as we would
use that avenue to fight any disease or sickness. However,
as God has called us to be stewards of our bodies and minds,
we are to pursue all avenues that can help us get well, spiritually,
biologically and psychologically.”