Published September 26th, 2021 at 6:00 AM
The Rev. Carla Aday and Rabbi David Glickman have this in common: They recognize they’re not qualified to provide professional mental health counseling to members of their congregations.
Aday, pastor of Country Club Christian Church, puts it this way: “All of our clergy receive requests for personal, family and spiritual guidance, and while we are well equipped to offer education, pastoral support and spiritual insight, we are not trained mental health professionals. So when families or individuals seek longer-term care we refer them to a counselor in the mental health field.”
And Glickman, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom, says this: “I have not had folks come to me thinking that I am a qualified mental health professional. But I have had people come to me in distress because of their own mental illness or the mental illness of a family member. I am pretty quick to try to help them find qualified mental health care.”
Now, thanks to a newly forming effort to make mental health care more available through Kansas City area congregations, the people whom Aday and Glickman refer to counselors may be able to find them in offices located inside their own houses of worship.
“Since the synagogue (or a person’s church, temple or mosque) is already a safe and familiar space for many, having counseling in the building that folks already know may minimize stigma and increase the level of care,” Glickman notes.
The Kansas Missouri Mental Health Collaborative is just about to start operations and hopes eventually to have counselors available across the metropolitan area. (Leaders are waiting to launch a website until the Internal Revenue Service gives final approval, expected soon, to the group’s 501-c-3 nonprofit status.)
The collaborative’s goal is to make professional counseling services more accessible geographically through shared office space with partner congregations and community organizations as well as making it more affordable by offering reduced counseling fees when needed.
Alice Carrott, who, with her husband, Al Eidson, has been working with others to create the new collaborative, says the religious idea that people are called to love one another is at the root of what the new service plans to offer.
“When we think about families as a unit of our churches,” says Carrott, a member of Village Presbyterian Church, “if one family member is having challenges with mental health, it affects the entire family. And if one member gets help then all members of the family feel they are being helped. And churches are made of families.”
Eidson adds: “I think this fits neatly with the idea of food pantries. I see it as a very similar service to families who need it. It’s that same expression of caring.”
Eidson and Carrott have spent much of the COVID era raising money for the collaborative, finding congregations willing to participate, locating office space and creating the job description for an executive director.
The collaborative will be connected to a national interfaith counseling network called the Sohliten Institute, which used to be known as the Samaritan Institute.
The pandemic — coupled with such public discussions about mental health recently coming from prominent athletes, including Olympic gymnast Simone Biles — has revealed to many people the reality that mental health issues are common and that people are increasingly willing to seek help without worrying about the stigma of mental illness. As Rabbi Glickman notes, “This pandemic has created a secondary pandemic of mental health emergencies.”
An example of the growing interest in mental health for all people is this recent article in The Beacon about how Black area residents are locating therapists who can help.
Early this year, Carrott, Eidson and others who are working to create the new collaborative connected with Jewish Family Services (JFS) to get a better understanding of how that agency approaches mental health services. Collaborative representatives since then have attended JFS monthly meetings on this subject and see a great networking potential.
“We also think it’s important to have the interfaith community woven in. It’s not just a Village Church project,” Carrott notes. “For sure we want to include all religions.”
As they imagined what this collaborative might look like, says Eidson, he and others visited a similar project in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. There, mental health counseling and services are available in more than 50 locations. Staff counselors see patients one day a week at each of those locations — whether they are churches, schools or some other community center.
“Part of the model,” he says, “is that you take all the brick-and-mortar costs out of it.”
Counselors will be paid out of fees charged plus what comes in from fundraising. Clients would be asked to pay whatever they can on a sliding scale, Eidson says, but “this will always be a fundraising operation. It just has to be.”
Aday hopes this new collaborative will help solve the problem of people waiting too long to seek mental health counseling.
“Sometimes folks don’t get help until there is a crisis,” Aday says. ”Then they call the church because a loved one is suicidal or dependent on a substance. In these situations we often wish we could have helped them get services before a crisis point was reached. I’m hopeful that this collaborative will help us encourage more folks to reach out proactively for growth instead of only reactively in times of crises.”
Religion tries to guide people to a flourishing life. But that kind of generative life, Carrott says, has “got to be mind, body, spirit. It can’t be just mind.” And yet if the mind is unwell, the whole person is, too.
Bill Tammeus, a former award-winning columnist for The Kansas City Star, writes the “Faith Matters” blog for The Star’s website and columns for The Presbyterian Outlook and formerly for The National Catholic Reporter. His latest book is Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.