Date of Conferral







Benita Stiles-Smith


There is little research addressing the mental health literacy of Roman Catholic clergy in their job as spiritual counselors for parishioners with anxiety. Devout individuals struggling with fear- or worry-driven anxiety often call on divine assistance for help as a frontline defense. Anxiety is a leading mental health problem, disturbing about 40 million U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 years. This study explored the mental health literacy perceptions of six Catholic clergy leaders and their awareness of fear- or worry-based anxiety, drawing upon the concept of the triune brain and using evolutionary threat assessment systems theory as a theoretical foundation. The research questions addressed anxiety awareness, clergy preparedness, and clergy counseling strategies. A qualitative design with a phenomenological conceptual framework was used. Participants were selected from the Catholic Diocesan Directory based on the job identifier “priest” or “deacon.” Data were obtained through semistructured interviews and analyzed using qualitative software to explore Catholic clergy perspectives. The research outcome showed that Catholic clergy leaders differed in their range of understanding of anxiety driven by fear or worry as a serious mental illness. Five of the six participants felt “prepared” or “very prepared” to counsel parishioners coming to them with pervasive anxiety driven by fear and worry. Counseling included praying, listening, and assessing using fundamental counseling skills. This study may contribute to positive social change by supporting greater awareness of the need for professional mental health education, training/updating secular curriculum, religious education with nonsecular curriculum, and mental health programs among Roman Catholic clergy leaders.