Keith and Sarah Condie, Co-Directors of the Mental Health & Pastoral Care Institute at ADM, were privileged to attend ‘The Struggle is Real’ – a conference on mental health and the mission of the church, at California Baptist University at the end of March. Keith and Sarah report on their time at the conference and their learnings:
The conference was run by the American Association of Christian Counsellors. While most of those attending were psychologists and counsellors working in a variety of settings, a good number of delegates were ministers and others with pastoral responsibilities in churches. The particular focus of the conference was how the church might assist those struggling with their mental health.
Statistics were shared on the extent of mental health concerns in the USA, but one of the most powerful aspects of the conference was the willingness of some of the speakers to share so openly about their own experiences. It was deeply moving to hear Christian leaders speak about the impact upon them of a family member’s suicide. One speaker shared that youth suicide in their local community was a stimulus for their church to reach out with help to the local schools. Another shared how, as a young man, he had had to flee the family home due to abuse from his alcoholic father. The love he had received from Christians at this time changed his life and shaped the way he conducted his academic work and therapeutic practice.
In addition to the plenary sessions, we also participated in numerous workshops. At a number of these, we heard some thoughtful consideration about how Christian faith relates to psychological theory and practice.
Overall, one of the key positive messages we heard throughout the workshops was that gracious, compassionate relationships provide the sense of safety that facilitates positive change and provides the support that is needed by all of us for our mental wellbeing. Churches, therefore, have much to offer and, by working in partnership with mental health professionals, can assist in achieving positive outcomes.
We left the conference with much to reflect upon. We were inspired by what some are doing to fight stigma and to educate churches in how to provide an effective pastoral response to mental health concerns. We were challenged by how much more still needs to be done. But, above all, it deepened our conviction that the Christian gospel and the community of the church can make a positive contribution to mental health.