A series of articles from interviews with professionals who encounter the intersection of faith and mental health
CareNet’s sole mission is “to provide high quality, faith-integrated counseling and behavioral health services to clients and be a resource to the community that enhances mental and spiritual health.” As far as CareNet is concerned, faith and mental health cannot be separated. But, how do other professionals see the relationship between faith and mental health, particularly through CareNet, Inc.? For the next four newsletters, we will interview those whose paths cross this conversation to understand their perspective. We start our series with a view from the clergy.
The Reverend David B. Hodges is the Rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem. Mr. Hodges recognizes that as a priest, he can counsel people up to a certain level, certainly in their spiritual needs but not always in their mental health needs. It became very clear to him early on that he is not trained as a mental health expert. When the conversations of pastoral care reach a certain point for emotional needs and issues, he needs a professional to refer to. Additionally, in the everyday life of a priest serving a congregation, time is limited, even for counseling.
When Mr. Hodges came to his position at St. Paul’s a few years ago, he coordinated opportunities for the priests who are responsible for pastoral care to connect with local counseling centers to start conversations about the services they offer and opportunities for referrals.
While St. Paul’s may work with individual therapists, they were immediately drawn to CareNet Counseling of Winston-Salem because of its role as a center. They recognize that CareNet Counseling not only provides individual therapy, but they are also interested in partnering with the local congregation, providing seminars and forums, coming on site to the church campus, and thinking outside the box for new opportunities. For example, at St. Paul’s, they are working to create a premarital counseling program out of a need from his particular congregation. They also saw the connection with Wake Forest Baptist Health and the holistic approach of CareNet as a plus. They believe that CareNet helps St. Paul’s connect to their community as a whole as well.
The faith component to mental health is essential to Mr. Hodges. “Faith-integrated counseling means the parishioners are going to have conversations with the CareNet therapists that we’ve been having with them as their clergy,” he explains. “It would not make sense for them to talk to a priest about their connected spiritual and emotional needs and then go to an environment where none of that is a part of the mental health conversation.”
The Reverend Mike Queen, former pastor of First Baptist Church, Wilmington, and current interim pastor of First Baptist Church, Greensboro, comes to his connection with CareNet in similar ways to Mr. Hodges.
“I am not a trained counselor. There are some pastors who are trained that way, but I never felt I was particularly skilled at that,” Dr. Queen shares. “I was always the generalist who needed to refer people to a specialist. I didn’t have the expertise or the extended time needed to help those with a deeper issue.”
One of the things he is most proud of from his 20+ years of service at FBC Wilmington is their connection and support of the Wilmington CareNet Counseling Center. He knew he could refer folks there with confidence, which made all the difference in the world. He and the staff worked hard to teach the congregation that CareNet was there for them. One tangible aspect of this was the creation of the “client aid fund” designated to provide three free visits for anyone in the church, or connected to it, to visit a CareNet counselor.
In regards to faith-integrated therapy, Dr. Queen says that the people who meet with him come out of an inherent, natural desire for faith and therapy. “These people in our church are people of faith,” responds Dr. Queen. “When their world is coming apart, they want to know where God is, why it is happening. Faith is very important to them in the core of their being. A faith-based counselor gives them a framework around which to have a conversation. They are not afraid of God talk and are able to apply it. They can point to times when scripture, prayer, and stories provide help or similar situations. It strengthens their response, and encourages them to do things they are striving to do as a Christian.”
Dr. Queen closed with a story of a couple that was on the brink of separating after an experience of infidelity. He recalled that they didn’t have an ounce of hope that they could reestablish. But one year after they had almost broke up their marriage, they sat in his office holding hands and wiping away tears. They had not believed it was possible to be in a new marriage, better than it was before. Now they wanted to thank him for referring them to their CareNet therapist. This was one story of many that flood his mind and why he is an advocate for CareNet faith-based counseling.
For these clergy, who represent hundreds across our state, faith and mental health are inseparable. And CareNet is just the organization to provide the support they and their congregation need.