Carol Burrell-Jackson, PhD, LMSW

Use of ministers in times of distress by Black Christians: A comparison of congregant and clergy responses, and review of clergy referral attitudes and practices

Most of the 26 years of my social work practice experience has been in outreach family therapy, clinical supervision, and program and staff development. I have been interested in the integration of one's faith and social work practice, and observed the importance of faith in the lives of those clients whom I have served over the years. In my spiritual life, I presently serve in ministry through the church at which I worship, and as the Clinical Director of POWER Inc., a faith-based community development corporation. It is the intersection of these facets of my life that led to a curiosity in Black Americans seeking help from their pastors or ministers in times of difficulty. I wanted to explore the types of things which Blacks would be more likely to discuss with their pastors, and what areas they would be least likely to discuss. Similarly, I am curious about pastors' views on the types of issues their congregants elect to share (or not share) with them, and their views on referring congregants to mental health professionals. My dissertation is a secondary analysis from a qualitative study conducted through the University of Michigan's Program for Research on Black Americans. Data was collected from focus groups of religious Black Americans and individual interviews with Black Pastors and Ministers for this study. The questions which I seek to answer through my secondary analysis are:

  • For what problems do congregants report seeking help from clergy?
  • For what problems do congregants report avoiding seeking help from clergy?
  • What problems do clergy say congregants discuss with them?
  • What problems do clergy think congregants avoid discussing with them?
  • Would clergy refer to a mental health professional or social service agency? Under what conditions?

I am still analyzing the data. I expect the results to provide important information to social workers regarding some of the thinking behind Black Americans' help -seeking practices. A majority of black Americans report a belief in God and close to 80% report affiliation with the Christian faith. This study may help to inform the type of assessment data collected from Black religious clients. Social workers can also have a better sense of the clergy concerns and attitudes related to referral, and collaboration with mental health professionals; this can afford an opportunity for social workers to reach out to clergy to collaborate on behalf of clients.