Beyond the Clinical Hour: How Counselors Can Partner with the Church to Address the Mental Health Crisis – James N. Sells, Amy Trout, and Heather C. Sells

Beyond the Clinical Hour: How Counselors Can Partner with the Church to Address the Mental Health Crisis by James N. Sells, Amy Trout, Heather C. Sells
Series: Christian Association for Psychological Studies Books
on March 19, 2024
Genres: Academic, Healthcare, Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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The global mental health crisis is growing faster than our existing mental health care system can address. To meet the scope of human need, we need new models of care. The good news is that there is an institution uniquely positioned with the resources and the heart to help: the church.

Psychologists James Sells and Amy Trout and journalist Heather Sells know firsthand the urgency of the situation―but they have also witnessed creative partnerships between churches and mental health professionals springing up across the United States. In this book, they call clinicians, students, and educators to collaborate with churches and lay leaders to envision and then create innovative solutions in their own communities.

Challenging the dominance of the traditional "clinical hour" as a one-size-has-to-fit-all model, Sells, Trout, and Sells give concrete guidance on how mental health professionals can work with churches to provide consultation, train lay leaders, and develop and evaluate programs to expand a continuum of care. They also explore the skills, theological foundations, and research-based knowledge that both Christian counselors and church leaders need to integrate their spheres of expertise.

Both a call to action and an encouraging roadmap, this book charts the way forward for combining the science of the mental health discipline with the service of Christian ministry.

Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) Books explore how Christianity relates to mental health and behavioral sciences including psychology, counseling, social work, and marriage and family therapy in order to equip Christian clinicians to support the well-being of their clients.

This guide for mental health professionals explores how they can partner with churches to provide quality mental health care to a broader number of people. As the authors explain, the need for mental health services has risen rapidly, especially during and after the pandemic, and demand far outpaces the available supply. The authors challenge counselors and therapists to think beyond existing models, and to work with churches to provide care. They distinguish between serious mental illness, any other mental illness, and cases of “personal / relational need,” and they contend that churches have the resources and personnel to help with many of these cases under a licensed therapist’s guidance, enabling therapists to focus more of their time on people who need intensive, expert help.

The authors encourage clinicians to consider alternative models of care, such as providing some licensed clinical services in a church context, training and supervising lay counselors in churches, and serving as a mental health consultant to answer questions that arise. The authors explain that even though people often view the church and psychological science in opposition to each other, they can work together in an integrated partnership that greatly benefits people who need help. James N. Sells, Amy Trout, and Heather C. Sells make a convincing case for why this modified approach is necessary and helpful, and they share occasional brief case studies throughout the book, highlighting church-based mental health ministry partnerships that have made a difference in people’s lives. They also acknowledge the harm that well-meaning, unqualified church counselors can cause, and their model guards against this through active training and supervision from licensed therapists.

Beyond the Clinical Hour is academic in content and tone, but it is well-organized and very readable. The book starts out by identifying the problem, exploring the surge in mental health complaints and identifying how church partnerships can help ease the supply and demand issues that prevent people from getting help. Then the authors write about theories of integration between Christianity and psychology, and they reflect on ways that counselors can live out these ideas. The final section suggests paths forward, exploring the role of the church in “soul care,” describing models for professional supervision in church-based mental health practices, and exploring how clinicians can work together with church leaders to achieve common goals, even as they may disagree on various points and approach issues differently. The final chapters address ways to measure outcomes and assess program effectiveness, and explore different financial and ethical considerations.

Overall, this book is well-written and helpful, but it also very abstract. Many chapters focus on high-level reflection, opining about psychological and theological concepts in a way that justifies the idea of this model, but doesn’t show how to put it into practice. The abstract theorizing can help therapists with exclusively secular training who haven’t thought about these issues before, and these chapters can also persuade skeptics that the authors have a solid psychological and spiritual basis for their suggestions. However, Christian therapists who are already experienced with integrating their faith and their profession will likely be disappointed that this book spends so much time on high-level ideas, without much practical advice for how to design, build, and sustain a church-based mental health ministry.

Even in the chapters focused on practical issues, there’s a lot of theorizing and broad vision-casting, without many clear action steps. Of course, the authors can’t provide a prescriptive system, since different situations will vary so widely, but this book would be stronger if the authors had shared more examples, more practical advice, and more troubleshooting ideas for common objections and problems that might arise. For example, the authors repeatedly highlight how essential it is for lay counselors to have high-quality training and ongoing development opportunities, but they don’t share many ideas for what this can look like. I also wish that the authors had shared suggestions for how people can scale mental health ministries to the size of their church, since most of the examples in this book involve large, well-resourced churches that run lots of different programs.

Beyond the Clinical Hour: How Counselors Can Partner with the Church to Address the Mental Health Crisis is a helpful resource for established therapists and counselors who want to try a new approach to meeting the ever-rising, overwhelming needs in their communities. This is also a valuable resource for Christian students in therapy and counseling programs, especially the book lays basic groundwork for understanding the integration of psychology and the Christian faith. However, because the book spends so much time on abstract theories and big ideas about the relationship between faith and counseling, it doesn’t offer as much practical advice as many readers will want. I hope that there will be a sequel to this book, or others published in the future, that build on this foundation with more detailed practical advice.