I recently started a fundraiser to help me meet the cost of attending a national mental health conference. I am presenting two workshops there, both dealing with the intersection of faith and mental health. For those of you wanting to know more about my work before you consider donating, here’s some background on one of the workshops.
Spirituality is now widely recognized as one of eight dimensions of wellness that is critical for mental health recovery (spirituality in this sense is broadly understood as a healthy sense of meaning and purpose that may or may not include formal religious belief). But even with the growing acceptance of spirituality in the mental health field, talking about spirituality in a mental health care setting can be a risk for someone labeled with a mental illness. As an example, someone wanting to talk to a mental health care provider about a spiritual experience they understood as “hearing the voice of God” could find their words misinterpreted to mean they are experiencing psychosis. Instead of affirming and validating an experience that could contribute to mental well-being, a provider might pathologize the experience and claim it is further proof of mental illness. This could then lead to a person being told that their spiritual experience was just a delusion that needs to be cured, or prescribed unnecessary medication. The person seeking care learns that it’s not safe to talk about this part of their experience, and an opportunity to find meaning and solace during a time of mental distress is lost.
Even if mental health care providers are open to spirituality, many providers feel out of their depth in matters of spirituality or have not received enough training to be culturally competent in this area. They may also face limitations in their workplace regarding talking about spirituality, or not want to be accused of pushing religious beliefs on someone. Mental health care providers will often advise a person in their care to seek out a chaplain or minister to talk to about their spiritual experiences and how it relates to their mental health.
Seeking out a minister or other faith leader for guidance and counsel brings its own complications. For some, formal spiritual settings have been a source of trauma, and seeking out a representative of a religious community could reignite more mental distress instead of alleviating it. In addition, some faith leaders have unhelpful understandings of mental health conditions that end up causing more confusion (and I’ve developed another workshop that delves into this topic). Ministers are also in a difficult position when there is a grey area between giving spiritual counsel and providing psychotherapy. If the minister does not have formal credentials there can be a risk of repercussions for providing mental health care without a license. So ministers find themselves erring on the side of caution and recommending a person in mental distress seek out a professional mental health care provider instead.
So what does one do when the minister says “seek a mental health care provider” and the mental health care provider says “talk to a minister”? Or when neither a minister nor a mental health care professional feel like safe options?
This is the gap in care I want to help bridge. I want to help empower others experiencing mental and spiritual distress create their own plans for care and find ways to explore the role that spirituality plays (or doesn’t play) in their recovery. One of the workshops I’m presenting contains practical steps for reflecting on the role of spirituality in their life, as well as ways to incorporate meaningful spiritual practices into their daily lives. These are tools that can also be used by mental health practitioners to help them provide more sensitive and appropriate care.
I also know that I don’t have all the answers, and when I give a workshop I learn from the participants as well. They share from their own lives and ask questions that help me see what’s missing or what needs to be changed in my work. Presenting at a national conference like Alternatives is an opportunity for me to discuss my ideas with a larger, more diverse community of peers. It’s part of the cycle of reflection, action, and integration that guides my work.
My fundraiser runs until September 20, and I would love your support. Click here to donate.