This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Hispanic, African American, and White ministers: The Intersection Between Spiritual and Mental Health Counseling.




Christianson, Boone

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Human Development and Family Studies


If talk therapy is to “shape the way people think and behave” (Minuchin & Fishman, 1981, pg. 2), then the vast majority of relational and mental health therapy is done outside of therapy clinics. It is conducted by friends, family members, teachers, coaches, or anyone that may be approached for help. A common source of therapeutic help is clergy, as religious people are more likely to seek personal counseling from religious leaders than any other source (Shim, 2007; Wang et al., 2003). However, there is a dearth of literature on what happens in these therapeutic relationships (Hook & Worthington, 2009). There is little knowledge of how clergy address problems, how effective they are, or their level of collaboration with mental healthcare professionals (referred to hereafter as “MHPs”, including all professionals licensed to treat mental health or relational issues, including medical personnel). These are important questions to address as the public gains greater awareness of mental health issues and collaborative relationships are created to best serve those who are mentally or emotionally struggling. In recent decades, there have been numerous calls for greater collaboration between secular and religious counselors (Carbajal, 2015; Coyle, 2017; Hedman, 2014; King, 1978; Kramer et al., 2007; Stanford and Philpott, 2011; Sytner, 2018; Weaver et al., 1997), but little evidence of improvement (Breuninger et al., 2014; Edwards et al.,1999). Collaboration is necessary as various presenting issues require different forms of treatment; many people approach clergy with problems that would be more effectively addressed by a relational or mental health specialist, and many approach MHPs with problems that could potentially be addressed by an empathetic minister or other helpful acquaintance. Weaver et al. (1997) argue that clergy are “frontline mental health workers,” and should be educated and supported in this role. Research on the Common Factors--or basic components of effective therapy--would suggest that clergy, even without extensive training, could potentially be effective in relational and mental health treatment (Duncan et al., 2010). In this thesis, I review the recent literature on the role of ministers as counselors, how this role differs across racial groups, and what is known about collaboration between religious and secular counselors. This study adds to this knowledge, especially regarding specific methods of clerical counseling, ministers’ self-perceived efficacy, ways to improve collaboration, and how race/ethnicity contributes to differences in clerical counseling. Keywords: Race/ethnicity, religion, clergy, collaboration, therapy, counseling