Why integrate faith with mental health care? A view from clinicians

Esther Metzger, a clinician at CareNet Counseling Greenville, shares her experience.

I have been serving as a pastoral counselor for thirteen years starting with my training as a resident at The Pastoral Institute in Columbus, Georgia.  The beginning of my training there was marked by my ordination by the Presbyterian Church, USA as a Minister of Word and Sacrament into the specialized ministry of pastoral counseling.  This was indeed a privilege, along with a great deal of hard work!

In between the time of my training and my work with CareNet, I worked in the field of community mental health and gained training and experience in working with severely mentally ill adults, many of whom were dually diagnosed.

As a result of my seminary education and training experience that involved intentionally integrating theology and faith as part of my clinical work, I have learned to be mindful of perceiving individuals holistically to include one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual beings.

In my work at CareNet, I assess the individual’s faith and religious backgrounds and gain a better understanding of how they came to make their current faith commitments.  This is an important process in helping individuals gain an increased level of self-awareness and to begin to examine why they believe what they do, and how these beliefs affect the ways they view themselves, interact with others, and to specific circumstances.  I see my role as helping them ask questions about ways in which their beliefs have been both helpful and/or harmful to them.  I think it’s vital to help individuals better understand how their beliefs have a direct impact on their worldviews because this way of thinking also directly impacts the way they cope with various problems in their lives.

I have worked with many individuals who have struggled with the beliefs they grew up with, and the personal challenges they face through their lived experiences.  How does one reconcile the belief that divorce is wrong, only to be confronted later in life with a failing marriage?  Many women who have grown up with a traditional, Protestant faith, come to believe that their roles are to care for others, often at the expense of learning how important it is to care for themselves.  And, how do some individuals cope with depression when they also believe that there is no “good reason” to be depressed because they were taught that they should, instead, be grateful and not complain or fret.  “God will take care of everything”, so something must be wrong when one doesn’t trust that.  And, this often takes the form of guilt.

From a more positive perspective, one’s faith commitments also serve to strengthen one’s resolve and sense of purpose and meaning in life.  A sense of hope in the midst of despair, believing that God is present and working actively in one’s life, can provide direction and support when one feels utterly lost and alone.  Prayer is often utilized as a powerful tool in the journey of an individual’s healing process.  And, one’s faith community can serve as a significant source of support when individuals are suffering.

Nick DeJesus, a clinician and the interim director at CareNet Counseling Harnett County, also shares his experience.

Currently, I am a Ph.D. candidate with a major in Counselor Education and Supervision from Oregon State University and teach part-time in the master’s counseling program at Campbell University.  I have also completed additional post-graduate training in an intense 1-year clinical residency at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, working primarily with pediatrics and adults experiencing trauma. I am also an ordained minister, having served churches in Johnston, Harnett, and Cumberland Counties. I am available to counsel adolescents and adults (including couples and families) with a variety of needs including, but not limited to anxiety/stress, depression, healthy relationships, grief/loss, trauma/abuse faith/spirituality, perfectionism, self-esteem, blended families, and identity/sexuality. I am completing my certification as a Pastoral Counselor and Licensed Sex Therapist and am also an LGBTQ ally.

I am a current resident in the second cohort, which ends this summer, 2013.  It is a 3-year residency that offers specialized clinical training in the intersection of psychology and spirituality.  In May 2012, I became the interim executive director of the Central Region, which serves Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Sampson and Wake Counties.


The #1 most asked question I get when talking to people in the community about our mission and services is ‘what is unique about faith-integrated counseling?’ At CareNet Counseling of NC, every client we see, at least in my opinion, has spirituality, whether or not they practice or ascribe to any particular faith tradition or religious beliefs. We believe that when people ask questions about surviving the deepest places of human hurt, or are struggling to make sense of the tragedies they’ve experienced, or are attempting to decide how they are going to keep on living in the face of almost unbearable pain, we believe that part of that journey involves exploring the spiritual dimensions of life as that particular client understands it. This uniqueness is what attracted me to CareNet, and what I have personally experienced from working with clients who say this is also what attracted them CareNet. This weaving together of both the spiritual and the psychological aspects of the human experience not only provides clients with holistic counseling, but it also offers them a deeper sense of meaning and hope for their lives.

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  1. Why integrate faith and mental health? A view from a theologian | CareNet Counseling

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