Responding to the Mental Health Needs of Multicultural Faith Communities

Glen Milstein, PhD and Terry Dugan, MA

Culture and religion play an important role in the use and delivery of mental health care services.  Both culture and religion influence the way people attribute and cope with the symptoms of mental illness, the people they consult for help, as well as their willingness to seek formal mental health care and adhere to treatment when they do seek professional help.   There is mounting evidence that many members of Latino, Black, Asian and Muslim groups seek assistance from faith-based organizations for emotional and psychiatric problems.  In many cases, comfort and counsel provided by clergy are enough to help them through an emotional crisis.  However, sometimes, emotional problems require another source of help. 

The Center has conducted a project to assist clergy in recognizing when a referral to professional mental health services would benefit a person in distress, and in serving as a cultural broker.  A pastoral education guide and four booklets have been created for both pulpit and lay clergy to help them recognize when distress is serious enough to require referral to formal mental health care.

Materials were developed in consultation with the members of the clergy and representatives of several cultural groups.   Building on the clergy's experience with bereavement and the support and resources marshaled in faith based communities to address this issue the Pastoral Education Guideand an accompanying Pastoral Education Workbook, explain how to use a modified version of the K6 screening tool for serious mental illness.  The assessment has been modified to include several questions about culturally-based symptoms of distress. Vignettes are used to illustrate problems encountered and solved by pastoral counselors in the Latino, Black, Korean, Jewish, and Muslim faith communities. The publications promote clergy-clinician collaboration by providing the tools for and examples of how clergy serve as liaison with professional mental health care providers.

Both the Guide and the Workbook address the stigma of having a mental illness among cultural groups in faith based communities by adapting the work of  the Mental Health Ministries in promoting recovery from mental illness through accommodating and supporting members who are receiving care.  The Guide also contains an extensive list of resources.  It is recommended for pastoral counseling education programs for clergy, chaplains, and lay ministers and for leaders in the faith based community who want to pursue individual study.

A Pastoral Education Guide

Resources that assist clergy in

  • Serving as a cultural liaison between congregants with mental health challenges and clinicians and
  • Addressing stigma and promoting recovery in persons with mental illness.
Illustrative vignettes that show

A Pastoral Education Workbook

Provides a tool to assess the severity of emotional problems and additional vignettes.

Recommended for pastoral counseling training programs for clergy, chaplains, and lay ministers, and for religious leaders who wish to pursue individual study.


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Carole Siegel, Ph.D.

Gary Haugland, MA
Lenora Reid-Rose, MBA

Jennifer Hernandez, MPA
Administrative Director