The typical format of the Roundtable meetings included three distinct elements: 1) Introduction of new people 2) Discussion of “burning issues” and 3) New topics. Within this basic structure, however, each Roundtable session was participant directed with the assistance initially of the consultant, and then of the facilitators. This resulted in one format difference between the two Roundtables. In the SPA 6 Roundtable, the participants, by their choice and consensus, decided to open and close each Roundtable session with prayer. This option never came up in the SPA 7 Roundtable. Thus, this group-determination of how each Roundtable session would be structured, how much time would be spent on each element, including the topics of discussion and even adding particular elements, goes a long way toward explaining why participants found that the Roundtables were both a positive and beneficial experience for them.
When asked what topics they most enjoyed, the participants consistently cited the “burning issues” discussion as their favorite part of the meetings. The “hot” or “burning issues” were described to us as “any concerns, any particular issues, anything on the news, a case or concern that any of the clergy or the DMH staff have,” that would be brought up for discussion with the group. These burning issues were typically real-life dilemmas that clergy or MH staff were encountering in their daily service to the community, and through the group discussions, the participants were able to think through some of the questions or quandaries associated with these issues. These discussions were key components of the entire Roundtable process.
When asked if they felt that there were any issues or topics that should have been addressed and were not, most participants responded in the negative. However, one MH staff expressed regret that legal-ethical issues such as state regulations regarding confidentiality and abuse reporting were not discussed, especially at the onset of the Roundtable. She explained that clergy get frustrated when they try to follow up on client referrals they have made to county contracted agencies only then realize the restrictions on providing information, or requirements for reporting that MH staff are required to follow by law.
In the other Roundtable, however, participants identified the topic as an important point of discussion. We were not privy to the internal discussions of the Roundtables, or how particular topics were chosen for discussion and others were not. The structure of the Roundtable is dependent on the members, which makes this issue a function of this particular Roundtable and their internal decisions, not the Roundtable structure as a whole.
While most clergy interviewed felt that their knowledge of DMH services and programs had increased, sometimes exponentially, as a result of the Roundtable, one clergyperson felt that more time should have been spent addressing what DMH has to offer the community. She explains,
I could still use more information about the structure of the entire department. I don’t fully understand what’s really available out there. And in particular I could use more information about counseling resources that are available for my community.
For many Roundtable participants, the missing piece was not talk, but action, and creating a model for working across disciplines toward a common goal. As one clergyperson put it, “As far as issues or topics, I think we covered a lot of issues and topics. But for me, it’s how do we get a working model?”