Conclusion: Into Action

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

Conclusion: Into Action

A pastor asks, "How can I get my congregation involved in the community mental health action in our town?" A priest muses to himself, "The new mental health program in this area is good for making referrals; it helps make my work more effective. But, what should my people and I be doing to help it? How do we get started?" Or a rabbi poses this problem, "With all the other things I have to do, how can I guide my congregation to gear into local mental health strategy?" These are the kinds of practical questions which some clergymen are raising. Those who are not raising them, should be!

Effective involvement of churches and temples in community mental health requires strategies for moving into action. This concluding statement will suggest some key aspects of such strategies, designed for leaders of local congregations, denominational and ecumenical leaders, those in the mental health field, and seminary teachers and administrators. Each of these groups has a significant role in releasing the untapped mental health potentialities of religious organizations.

A Strategy for the Local Church or Temple

Those congregations which have come alive to their mental health mission typically seem to have gone through certain general stages ūüôĀ These strategy steps are adapted from "An Alcoholism Strategy for the Congregation" in H. J. Clinebell, Jr.‚Äôs Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic[Nashville: Abingdon Press, rev. ed., 1968])

1. Someone who is a "self-starter" and is concerned about mental health took the initiative. In some cases this was the minister; in others, a layman. Frequently the layman was in a mental health profession. In other cases, the person who took the initiative was one who had had painful personal or family problems and who knew firsthand the crucial importance of mental health work. Experience shows that if a layman takes the initiative, it is essential for him to discuss the matter with his clergyman and get his support. Most ministers are pleased when a lay person shows an interest in helping to begin a mental health emphasis. The main point here is that in most successful projects, one or two concerned persons started the ball rolling.

2. A mental health action team (or task force) was recruited and trained. In some congregations, an existing committee was used. In others, an ad hoc action team was established to he responsible for only this one area. In such cases, it has proved to be important to keep the lines of communication open between the mental health action team and related committees -- e.g., social action, education, and pastoral care committees. The main point here is that some one group should have particular responsibility for developing a congregation’s mental health ministry. Otherwise, this issue often falls between various groups in the church.

The mental health task force should include mental health professionals from within the congregation; if none are available in the membership, they can be recruited from the community as advisors to the group. Other members should be drawn from the youth and adults in the congregation who are both relatively mentally healthy and socially concerned. It is essential that they care about people.

The training of the task force should include experiences which will awaken a lively interest in making their church relevant to the community mental health movement. Helping them catch the excitement of this social revolution and the challenging of the opportunity with which it confronts the churches, serve to enliven and motivate a task force. It is useful to have them read chapters from a book such as this one (see the list at the end of this statement) , and then discuss it in the group. The theological nature of the mental and spiritual health ministry should be emphasized in terms of the particular beliefs and traditions of the group. Mental health should be seen as a central concern for the servant church in the last third of the twentieth century.

3. The unmet needs of the local situation were discovered and priorities established. Before the task force decides on a course of action, it should explore the unmet mental health needs in these areas within the congregation and in the community: (a) To what extent are persons of all ages finding "life . . . in all its fullness" within the groups of the church? (b) What are the needs in the community for better treatment and more effective prevention? (c) What resources in the church and community can be developed or mobilized to meet these needs? If a task force is perceptive, they will discover a sea of unmet needs and unrealized human potential, both in the church and in the community at large.

Two priority lists should be drawn up -- one of unmet mental health needs within the church and the other of unmet needs in the community. The final decision about what is needed most should be made by the entire task force. By so doing they are determining the starting point of the action project (s) in which they will then be more likely to participate with enthusiasm. If a small clique chooses the goals, it should not be surprising that involvement by the other members will be less than wholehearted. By using the democratic process in decision-making, the mental health task force practices principles of good mental health in its own operations. Ideally, two projects should be chosen as a starting point for action -- one focusing within the church and one in the community. It is important to maintain this inreach and outreach balance in mental health action projects.

4. Plans were formulated by the task force concerning procedures in the project or projects that have been chosen. Plans should be cleared with the responsible parties and boards within the church administration. Brainstorming can be useful in drawing out the creative ideas of all group members. Alternatives approaches should be discussed and compared by the task force and a decision reached concerning realistic implementation of the projects chosen.

5. Action was initiated involving the task force and others whom they recruited and trained. After work is begun, it is helpful to have regular evaluation and feedback sessions which may lead to scrapping the particular project or revising it radically.

It is desirable to maintain a four-pronged perspective in planning action for mental health, as represented by this diagram:


Within the church:

A. (Prevention) Releasing the growth potentialities of persons through the church program.

B. (Treatment) Ministering to the troubled through pastoral care and counseling.

In the community:

C. (Prevention) Social action to htlp make a more person-fulfilling society. Mental health education in community organizations.

D. (Treatment) Working with other groups for better treatment facilities in the community and encouraging the participation of clergy and lay in their programs.


In order to convey a clearer picture of the many kinds of mental health action projects which churches can initiate, here are some examples in these four areas.

A. The following are some ways in which churches can develop preventive projects within their own programs. (Many of these have been implemented by congregations.) Churches can --

Develop a child-study group for parents to help them meet the needs of their children and themselves more fully.

Set up growth groups for persons in particular age categories most vulnerable to stress.

Develop a church school teachers training series in methods of creating a positive climate in the classroom.

Establish a marital enrichment group for the recently married.

Encourage the worship committee to examine the weekly worship service to find innovative ways of making them more need-satisfying.

Train leaders of ongoing groups in leadership methods which increase the self-esteem and involvement of group members.

Organize a couples’ retreat on the theme, "Deepening Your Marriage."

Change the church school curriculum to increase an emphasis on factors which make for good interpersonal relationships.

B. The therapeutic or healing aspect of the church’s mental health role within its own fellowship has to do with the topics discussed in Part II of this book. Here are some illustrative projects from local churches which suggest the wide range of possibilities. A church can --

Recruit and train a pastoral care team of sensitive laymen to work with the clergyman in supporting persons going through difficulties in living.

Encourage their minister to take clinical training or obtain in-service consultation regarding his counseling to sharpen his tools in helping the burdened.

Employ a minister of "pastoral care and group life" to give special leadership to the growth/healing needs of the con-gregation.

Set up a systematic program to acquaint the congregation with available church and community resources for helping persons with problems in living. This includes speakers from A.A. and the local mental health clinic, and a regular statement in the church’s newsletter regarding the availability of counseling by the minister.

Form a group for alienated youth or school drop-outs, co-led by a social worker, for example, or the minister and one of the youth.

Organize a counseling group for couples with troubled marriages, led, for instance, by a clinically trained chaplain from the community hospital.

Organize a group for parents of handicapped children, perhaps led by a psychologist or other qualified member of the congregation.

C. Fostering primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention in the community is a major responsibility of a congregation that aims at being a creative leaven in society. Churches can participate in prevention through --

A social action project to encourage businessmen in the congregation and community to employ recovered alcoholics, exprisoners, and former mental patients (tertiary prevention)

A similar program to encourage employment of ghetto-trapped youth (primary prevention)

A church-sponsored halfway house which is available to recovering psychiatric patients, alcoholics, or ex-prisoners (tertiary prevention)

A project aimed at improving teachers’ salaries in ghetto schools (primary prevention)

Cooperating with a community project to encourage recognition and early treatment of alcoholism and other emotional problems (secondary prevention)

A systematic effort to encourage church members to become involved in the activities of the local Mental Health Association, a citizens group which engages in educational and preventive programs on all three levels.

The leaders of a church giving recognition to National Mental Health Week in its newspaper publicity, indicating the stake of the church in the mental health of its community.

A social action project aimed at mobilizing congregational support of legislation to provide more opportunities for job training for the poor (primary prevention).

A project aimed at increasing the role of governmental agencies in disseminating family planning information in the United States, and in developing countries through the U.N. (primary prevention) Interrupting the population "time bomb" is tremendously important for the mental health of our planet! The same is true of the efforts to protect the physical environment from pollution.

A project aimed at reducing international threats and conflict, with special emphasis on the effective control of nuclear and biological weapons (primary prevention).

Prevention in the community is a broad goal. The above are only suggestive of hundreds of projects which contribute to the three levels of prevention.

D. Here are some illustrations of how churches can cooperate with other groups in working for more adequate treatment resources in their communities, states, nation, and the world. Churches can --

Encourage the minister and laymen to become involved in citizens advisory committees of community mental health services (such services are beamed toward both prevention and treatment)

Become familiar with the state’s master plan for community mental health development and help both to publicize and to encourage moral support of its implementation.

Cooperate in providing volunteers for working in mental hospitals, hospitals for the mentally retarded, and in community mental health programs.

Work through the council of churches or denominational headquarters to establish a religiously oriented counseling center serving the community.

Encourage the appointment of clinically trained pastoral specialists to the staff of the community mental health service in their catchment area.

Work for the involvement of clinically trained clergymen at the state planning and programming level in the mental health program.

Convene regular meetings of interested social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and pastoral counselors to discuss the spiritual dimension of mental health, and cooperation between clergymen and mental health professionals.

Write, telegraph, phone, and make personal calls on legislators and governmental officials (national, state, and local) encouraging them to support legislation designed to provide humane treatment for alcoholics, drug addicts, the mentally ill, and the mentally retarded.

Work to replace the inferior mental health treatment now available to the poor, with effective programs of therapy.

Organize a service to help families of those in prison.

Cooperate with other churches and temples in working to attract competent psychotherapists to the community and to set up community-sponsored outpatient services, alcoholic treatment programs, psychiatric wards in general hospitals, day hospitals, night hospitals, halfway facilities, and crisis clinics.

Organize the congregation to provide foster family care for recovering psychiatric patients.

Sponsor homeless alcoholics and released prisoners, much as churches sponsor refugees from war-devastated countries.

Provide a telephone referral service if none exists in the community, or a crisis counseling phone service staffed by trained laymen backed up by professionals.

Back research into the most effective treatment methods for different types of psychological and sociological pathology.

Sponsor research into the spiritual component in the causation and treatment of personality problems and emotional illnesses.

Give moral support and encourage government support of mental health activities around the world, through the World Health Organization of the United Nations. As an island of affluence in a widespread sea of crippling poverty (in many nations) , our country should share its resources and mental health personnel.

A part of the job of a church or temple is to develop its own strategy for reaching out redemptively into the community, using its own unique style of mental health ministry. In all four areas of mental health opportunity, a local church needs to develop its own master plan and strategy, to make its own unique contribution to the meeting of human needs. In developing their own thrust, churches should emphasize the spiritual dimension of mental health -- the role of values, meanings, ultimate commitments, and relationship with God. This is the unique contribution of churches and temples! Thus churches become the "salt of the earth," distributing their constructive influence through the lifestream of society to lift the quality of relationships and of the total human environment.

A Strategy for Denominational and Ecumenical Leaders

Leaders of denominations and of councils of churches are in a strategic position to encourage local churches to join the mental health revolution. Such leaders can set the tone of involvement in this vital social movement. Furthermore, they can develop pilot projects and cooperative counseling programs representing the united witness of a group of churches or denominations. Each denomination should develop its own mental health master plan, including objectives toward which it desires to move, ways of implementing the plan, and a timetable of target dates for achieving certain goals. By top-level planning and strategy, denominations and ecumenical bodies can exert a significant influence on the mental health movement and on the involvement of their churches.

Rather than discuss the matter in the abstract, let me report or some relevant developments:

The National Council of Churches has taken the initiative in establishing an Inter-faith Task Force on the Churches and Mental Health charged with responsibility for stimulating interest in this field among the denominational and faith groups.

In several parts of the country, the United Methodist denomination has established programs employing pastoral counseling specialists to counsel with clergymen and their families, and to provide in-service training for parish ministers.

The National Council of Churches now has a staff person whose responsibilities include the churches and mental health thrust.

The American Baptists in Southern California, as a denomination, sponsor a pastoral counseling service.

The council of churches in one California city sponsors a pastoral counseling center, open to the community.

Several denominations have programs through which they encourage their clergymen to engage in continuing education, including clinical training and study in the area of counseling.

One denomination has a program for encouraging local congregations and groups of churches to establish telephone crisis counseling centers.

Several interfaith professional groups have collaborated in setting unified standards for clergymen who serve on the staffs of community mental health centers. (See Kempson’s second paper.)

Most denominational and ecumenical groups have only scratched the surface of their opportunity in the area of community mental health. Of particular importance is their opportunity to exert constructive influence on the state and federal levels of mental health planning, with respect to matters such as the inclusion of qualified clergymen on mental health center teams. The more broadly representative and interfaith a group is, the more influence it will have on those responsible for mental health decision-making on state and national levels. Denominational curriculum writers, editors, and policy makers are in a strategic position to increase the emphasis on positive mental health in their teaching materials.

A Strategy for Mental Health Leaders

Leaders of local, state, and federal mental health programs need a strategy for releasing the untapped mental health potential in the churches and temples of their areas of responsibility. Such a strategy should be formulated in close collaboration with an interfaith advisory committee composed of clergymen representing the major denominations.

Here are some of the things which mental health leaders have been instrumental in doing to mobilize the resources of organized religion for mental health:

In at least three states, they have included clergy specialists on the state level of mental health programming.

In numerous places, they have involved clergymen in advisory and planning committees.

As reported in Hathorne’s paper, a number of community mental health programs are using clergymen in part-time staff positions.

Consultation for clergymen and various continuing education programs in pastoral counseling are being made available through staff members of community mental health services.

Community mental health centers have provided psychiatric consultants for several pastoral counseling services.

Mental health professionals in various places have served as resource persons and trainers of pastoral care teams in their churches. Others have taken the initiative in arousing their clergymen and congregations to involvement in the mental health movement.

Leaders in mental health face two areas in which a great deal needs to be done in relation to churches. One is in helping churches utilize more fully their broad educational programs and their contacts with parents of young, impressionable children. The other is that of assisting clergymen and mental health services in making more referrals to each other, particularly of persons who are in the early stages of the need for help.

A Strategy for Seminary Teachers and Administrators

Seminary teachers and leaders are responsible for training tomorrow’s ministers, priests, and rabbis. As such they are in the most strategic position to influence the long-range mental health effectiveness of churches and temples. To utilize this opportunity, seminary teachers themselves need clinical training and growth group experiences to release their potential as creative teachers.

Here are some of the things that seminaries could do to increase their mental health impact:

The curriculum should be evaluated and revised in terms of its effectiveness in preparing the students to become facilitators of growth and healing, and of the development of therapeutic-redemptive communities in the churches.

Every student should be strongly encouraged, if not required, to take at least one quarter of clinical pastoral training and another in an urban internship; the first would help equip him to be a change agent in individual relationship, and the second would help equip him to be a change agent in organizations, structures, and social systems.

Pastoral and prophetic skills (using educational, counseling, and political models of change) should be taught in an integrated or at least interrelated way:

Field education should be offered in lively churches (which have a mental health program) where small groups of students are supervised by experienced clergymen (with faculty status) who are themselves instruments of growth and healing.

Seminary education should include supervised opportunities to learn how to work with other professions in serving troubled persons.

Throughout their seminary years, students and their wives should be members of growth groups led by qualified persons and designed to accelerate their personal, marital, and professional maturation.

The emphasis through the entire seminary experience should be on integrating traditional theological and contemporary psychosocial insights about man and society, and applying them to the needs of the present situation.

The skills of effective communication and relating should be at the center of the entire process of theological education, since these skills make it possible to bring the riches of a religious tradition to life in the experience of persons.

Financial plans should be developed to allow theological students who need personal or marital therapy to obtain as much of this as is required to release their potential for ministry.

Adequate support of student aid programs in seminaries would remove the exhausting pressure on many students to earn a living and support a family, often at considerable sacrifice of significant learning.

Seminary faculties could contribute to the mental health of students, and through them to the mental health ministries of the churches, by enhancing their own ministry to students, creating a climate of healing concern in the seminary community, and resolving devisive in-fighting that, when it exists, reduces the seminary’s effectiveness in producing mentally healthy and spiritually mature ministers.

The other teachers who are making a major contribution to educating person-centered ministers are the chaplain supervisors staffing the two hundred and fifty plus clinical pastoral education centers (accredited by the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education) Clinical training is, by far, the most important single learning experience available to a seminary student or minister. Nothing in theological education can equal the opportunities in clinical training for becoming open to self, for confrontation with human needs, for intensive supervision, peer teaching, and interprofessional experience. The mental health effectiveness of religious organizations could be increased dramatically in a generation if all seminarians were required to have this experience.

Throughout this volume, there has been repeated evidence of the enthusiasm of the authors for the church’s many and significant roles in the community mental health movement. Few qualities are more vital than enlightened enthusiasm in those who plan to move into effective action. This is a quality which is particularly relevant to the involvement of religiously dedicated persons in mental health programs, for the root of "enthusiasm" is two Greek words meaning "in" and "God." When a man of religious awarenesses pours his life into the person-serving work of mental health, he experiences enthusiasm in this profound sense. He discovers that he is in God and that God is in the relationships by which persons grow, are healed, and find life in all its fullness.


For additional reading

(The editor is indebted to E. Mansell Pattison for this list.)

Clinebell, H. J., Jr. Mental Health Through Christian Community. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1965.

Dittes, J. E. The Church in the Way. New York: Scribner’s, 1967. Knight, J. A. and Davis, WE. Manual for the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Clinic. Springfield, Ill.: C. C. Thomas, 1964.

McCann, R. V. The Churches and Mental Health. New York: Basic Books, 1962.

Maves, P. B., ed. The Church and Mental Health. New York: Scribners, 1953.

Pattison, E. M., ed. Clinical Psychiatry and Religion. Boston: Little Brown, 1969.

Seifert, Harvey and Clinebell, H. J., Jr. Personal Growth and Social Change. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969.

Westberg, C. E. and Draper, E. Community Psychiatry and the Clergyman. Springfield, Ill.: C. C. Thomas, 1966.