USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Clergy/Mental Health Staff Roundtable Pilot Project

Perceived Benefits of the Roundtable

Relationship Building

When asked whether participating in the Roundtable had aided them in their work as MH staff or clergy, all of those that were interviewed provided at least one example of how the Roundtable had proven beneficial to them. The most frequently mentioned benefit was having developed relationships with specific individuals that participants would feel comfortable calling upon for advice or assistance in their work. One clergy person said that she has “some of their [MH staff] numbers programmed into my phone. As things arise, I do have this web of resources and people I know by name that we can contact”.  Another clergyperson said he thinks that at its most basic level, the Roundtable was “beneficial in putting a face to the Department of Mental Health and being able to have perhaps someone to call.”

Several MH staff stated that the Roundtable helped them feel more connected to individual clergy and to the communities in which their consumers reside. For example, one MH staff member related how much more he feels connected to the faith community in the area in which he works:

I would hear the names of churches, but now I’ve actually developed relationships with some of the clergy at those churches. I know more about the programs those churches are offering. I mentioned the conversation with [clergyperson]. I actually went to his…parish. So yeah, definitely, I feel more connected, informed…I don’t live in the community, but now I feel like I’m more connected, for sure.

Not only are MH staff making it a point to go to clergy, as in the example above, but clergy are also making it a point to come to MH staff. When they come, some come bringing those in need. For example, one clinical psychologist has developed such a strong relationship with one of the pastors who participated in the Roundtable, that now the pastor feels motivated to personally escort his congregants to the clinic where the clinical psychologist works:

I’ve seen him [clergyperson] at least three times in here. He’s walked people into the building. Clinic [X] can be an intimidating place. It looks like a fort. But he’s walked people in through the front door up to the glass window and made sure that they get connected. That’s powerful.

Increased Knowledge and Community Awareness

Many participants stated that the Roundtables offered opportunities to learn from others and facilitated the process of communicating across disciplines. “ I think I’ve appreciated developing an understanding of the vocabulary that people use to define their experience,”  said one MH staff. Similarly, a clergyperson stated that as a result of attending the Roundtable, he has gained a new respect for and awareness of what MH staff do. He has shared his new insights with his staff so that they can “help to spread the good news that mental health is a means to healing as well”.  Both clergy and MH staff stated that they enjoyed having the opportunity to learn about other faith traditions and how those traditions perceive mental health and illness.  Awareness about community resources, whether faith-based or DMH funded, was frequently mentioned as another benefit of the Roundtable.

Participating in the Roundtable has increased one social worker’s knowledge and improved his credibility with clients. When he tells clients that he is part of a discussion group that includes clergy and MH staff, they become very interested that his approach is not anti-religion or anti-God, and thus helps to build rapport with the clients. This then gives him the opportunity to assure clients that the mental health approach “considers [religion/beliefs] an important part of your life,” that they seek to build on, not to tear down.

Increased Self-Awareness

For some of the clergy, participating in the Roundtable had the unexpected benefit of making them aware of their own health and safety needs. Upon hearing another clergy member say that their tradition requires two weeks off, one clergyperson related his reaction:

That tweaked my brain, because me and my wife, we’ve been hitting this thing hard for five years, and we’ve only taken maybe five days in that five years. When I heard that, I started thinking, we need to really, really take some time off, for our well-being.

Another clergy member, who had been having significant problems with a congregant, realized that some behavior was simply unacceptable. She says that the Roundtable members helped her to “get over my flaw of being a pastor and thinking, ‘It’s just that person and they’ll get better’.  They helped me say, ‘You have to confront what is not OK’. That was really helpful.

Increased Mutual Support

The Roundtables have not only enhanced the ability of MH staff and clergy to help consumers, but relationships they have formed have also opened the door to mutual support between clergy and MH staff in times of need. For example, one MH staff shared that after a DMH employee passed away, one of the clergy from the Roundtable went to the clinic where the DMH employee had worked and performed a ceremony to help employees in that office to think about their loss in a more spiritual manner.

A Reduction in Feelings of Isolation

Clergy, more so than DMH, expressed their appreciation for having a forum to discuss job stressors, personal struggles, and difficult situations. More than one clergyperson expressed appreciation for the opportunity to have their experiences validated and normalized as they listened to others share similar stories. One explanation for why clergy may have benefited more in this regard may have to do with the fact the MH staff tend to have more opportunities to discuss situations through their time spent in supervision or case consultation. Conversely, clergy often work alone, or with a small team of ministers, and “case consultations” do not factor into a day’s work. Thus, one of the more unexpected results of the Roundtable was to create a space where clergy could process their work issues with other clergy and with MH staff, thus reducing feelings of isolation or the experience of feeling overwhelmed in their everyday work responsibilities.