According to a new mental health survey, due to lack of training, a substantial minority of Presbyterian Church (USA) pastors are unequipped to handle mental health issues in their church.
The PC(USA) Research Services survey, published on Monday, found that 44 percent of the 4,507 pastors surveyed were not trained “to recognize mental health concerns or how to minister to those individuals and families who face them.”
On the other hand, 22 percent of clergy said that their mental health training “has been on the job or learn as you go.” Eighteen percent, however, reported taking a training course in either seminary or college, and 16 percent said they received training through continuing education courses.
Of the PC (USA) ministers who received mental health training, 61 percent reported that the training had improved their “ability to respond” to mental health issues in their churches.
According to Jashalund Royston and Susan Barnett of PC(USA) Research Services, the surveyed ministers “affirm their need for more training.” Royston and Barnett oversaw the mental health report.
“A significant number of ministers have concerns about their abilities to recognize and respond appropriately when confronted with an issue related to mental health or substance abuse,” Royston and Barnett wrote in an article published Monday.
“Forty-four percent report that they have not been trained to recognize mental health concerns,” they added. “Even more, 54 percent, view themselves less than capable to respond effectively to a colleague who shows signs of a mental health concern or substance abuse.”
The survey was conducted from September to November 2019 with about 23 percent of the denomination’s 19,243 ministers participating.
According to The Christian Post, in February of last year, PC(USA) Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Compassion, Peace & Justice Ministry published separate findings regarding mental health and the church.
About 6,000 members of the Presbyterian denomination took part in the survey, in which 54 percent of church leaders said that their church wanted to learn more about mental health ministry. The report also found that 30 percent had some training in tackling mental health issues.
“PC(USA) members, leaders, and ministers want to address the issues of mental health and mental illness in their communities and churches but do not know what to do, or what resources are available to them and, in general, are unprepared to act,” the 2020 study reported.
“While a solid foundation has been laid with the recent launch of the mental health ministry grant program, website, and Presbyterian Mental Health Network (PMHN), this work is still nascent and in need of support.”
Separate polling data found that nine in 10 pastors regularly counsel church members.
According to a 2019 Lifeway research survey, about 10 percent of pastors said they have a graduate degree in counseling or psychology, while 38 percent took graduate-level counseling courses.
Lifeway Research also reported that about 76 percent of pastors said that church members struggling with mental health issues are often referred to a professional counselor if more than two counseling sessions are required.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.