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Community Mental Health: The Role of Church and Temple by Howard J. Clinebell, Jr., (Ed.)


Howard J. Clinebell, Jr., is retired professor of Pastoral Counseling, School of Theology at Claremont, California. Published by Abingdon Press, New York, Nashville, 1970. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.




Churches and temples, with their long tradition of concern for human wholeness and growth, have a major stake in the preventive mental health thrust. It is here that they can and should make a vital contribution; this is their most important contribution to the mental health revolution!

Prevention is a multi-leveled thrust. As was made clear in the first chapter, primary prevention consists of reducing the incidence of an illness in the population at large; secondary prevention involves reducing the duration of an illness through early diagnosis and treatment; tertiary prevention has to do with reducing the permanent damage from the illness by effective rehabilitation.

Primary prevention, as viewed in this volume, involves fostering positive mental health (as distinguished from the mere absence of gross psychopathology) through stimulating the growth and fulfillment of persons. For this to happen, the social conditions which block human actualization must be changed. In terms familiar to clergymen, the pastoral function (counseling, nurturing the growth of individuals and families) and the prophetic function (social action) are complementary, and equally essential in a churchís mental health ministry. Changing the systems of injustice, discrimination, conflict, and exploitation which stultify human development is a crucial part of the mental health role of the churches and temples.

Because prevention covers a wide spectrum, the chapters in this section range over a considerable area. The main emphasis is on primary prevention. The opportunity of churches to utilize their own programs to help persons cope constructively with crises, grow through small sharing groups, and satisfy their interpersonal and spiritual needs is discussed by three of the authors (Clinebell, Jernigan, and Leslie) Two of the authors (Brown and Bockus) look at the overall characteristics and climate of our society as these influence the development of persons. The implication of rapid social change for creating a person-maximizing society are examined. One paper (Bonthius) deals with how clergy and laymen can function effectively in changing community systems and structures. Two papers (Purdy and Snyder) describe ways in which clergymen have participated in the preventive aspects of community mental health programs.

The importance of primary prevention becomes evident when one recognizes that there will not be in the foreseeable future nearly enough professional counselors and psychotherapists to meet the constantly expanding populationís need for such services. The only realistic hope lies in more available and efficient preventive programs, in addition to pouring increased efforts into salvaging persons after the damage has been done. Therapies are costly; often they are only partially effective. The mental health movement is properly giving highest priority to providing humane treatment for those suffering most acutely; but it is also devoting increasing energy to prevention. Religious organizations exist as centers of human growth and actualization; primary prevention is therefore the mental health area in which they have a natural and almost unlimited opportunity. There is a spirit of excitement in those churches and temples which are coming alive to this opportunity.

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