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Open Session to Address Mental Health Needs Within the Black Church

New Program to Bridge Gap between Pastoral, Mental Health Counseling

Only about one in three African Americans who needs mental health care receives it, according to a 2002 Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health.

Additionally, religion is a defining characteristic among many ethnic minorities in the United States—but little has been done to integrate religious and counseling activities. Until now, no formalized, structured church-base counseling centers have been operating within Pittsburgh’s African American churches.

To help bridge the connection between the need for access to certified counselors and the African American community, Mount Ararat Baptist Church in East Liberty, along with its new Mount Ararat Counseling Ministry and Duquesne University’s Counselor Education  Program, are sponsoring a session that will examine how a Baltimore pastoral counseling ministry is assisting individuals and families with difficulties. Mount Ararat is planning to offer similar services.

The free program on Tuesday, Nov. 17, will offer information to the public and professionals. Through Duquesne’s Counselor Education Program, professionals attending will receive free continuing education credits.

Carla Debnam, executive director of the Renaissance Center of Maryland and a licensed clinical coordinator, will discuss services her organization offers in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, crisis intervention, youth and family counseling, and personal spiritual development.

The event will be from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Mount Ararat Baptist Church, a culturally diverse megachurch with more than 8,000 members, at 217 Paulson Ave.

“Many culturally diverse people do not take advantage of the mental health community. There are barriers in terms of access and transportation, lack of appropriately trained professional counselors or therapists in spiritual or pastoral counseling, the stigma, discrimination, or prejudice towards mental health issues   and other factors,” said Dr. Taunya Tinsley, an alumna of Duquesne’s counselor education and coordinator of the church’s counseling ministry.  “Many believe that God will take care of their problems, and many of them may come to ministers and pastors for counseling.  However, many persons may need more assistance beyond the ministers and pastors training that may include mental health counseling from licensed and trained professionals. We are trying to bridge this gap.”

Tinsley found that no other formalized, structured church-based counseling centers were operating within African American churches in Pittsburgh. In a survey of Mount Ararat members, Tinsley discovered that more than 98 percent of the respondents see a connection between spiritual health, physical health and mental health. Additionally, 46 percent of the participants had never been involved in counseling, but 87 percent said they would consider counseling,

Their top mental health issues were anxiety, depression, stress and grief. Also noted, but considered less serious were, financial/money issues, career planning, relationship issues, self-esteem, sadness and sleep disturbance.

“Giving people the tools and guidance they need to deal with these sorts of problems is a central to the work of a community counselor,” said William Casile, associate professor in Duquesne’s Counselor Education Program. “By working in partnership with one of our graduates in a key area of local need, we hope to be able to help improve the lives of our neighbors.”

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.