Date of Conferral





Human Services


Gregory Hickman


The rise in diagnosable mental illness disorders in the United States is a major concern. However, researchers indicate that African Americans are far less likely to seek mental health treatment than Caucasian Americans. This qualitative, phenomenological study addressed a research gap regarding the beliefs, perceptions, stigmas, and practices of African American clergy regarding their promotion of mental health services. Two conceptual frameworks consisting of the sociocultural theory and the social learning theory guided the study. There were two research questions used to guide the exploration of the purposive sampling of 6 African American clergy from major African American denominations across the southeastern United States. Responses from the in-depth, semistructured interviews, after being analyzed, coded, and categorized, were grouped into 3 main themes: (a) stigmas African American clergy have regarding mental illness, (b) African American clergy's promotion of secular counseling for mental health treatment, and (c) clergy's personal experiences with mental illness and secular counseling. The results were that African American clergy had stigmas regarding the use and promotion of mental health services and relied more on prayer as the first line of defense. Social change implications include bringing awareness to African American clergy at large and how their perceptions, beliefs, stigmas, and practices affect their congregations and communities. An increased knowledge of mental illness and interventions, with sensitivity to African Americans culturally and spiritually, may improve the rates of African Americans help-seeking behaviors and minimize the risk of stigmatization.