Date of Conferral







Ruth Crocker


Pastors are often called upon to counsel people troubled by what may be a diagnosable and treatable condition. Current research suggests that pastoral counselors (PC) are reluctant to provide a referral to a mental health professional (MHP) citing that only 10% of help seekers are referred, leaving millions of Americans to suffer with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. The current literature indicates that PCs feel inadequately trained to counsel those with mental illnesses and the reluctance to refer is due to a distrust of MHPs. Currently, there is little qualitative research on pastors' counseling and referral experiences. In this study, social constructionism and the theory of planned behavior were used to address 3 research questions by describing PCs' experiences, describing PCs' opinions of MHPs, and examining PCs' referral decision criteria. Purposeful sampling was used to recruit 9 Southern Baptist Convention PCs from the Atlanta Metropolitan area. Giorgi's descriptive phenomenological method was used with a priori and emergent coding to analyze data collected from semistructured, face-to-face interviews. While feelings of inadequacy were confirmed by this research, it was discovered that PCs are motivated by a spiritual obligation to counsel and the reluctance to refer is not based on a distrust of MHPs, as cited by some research. Instead, PCs in this study prefer MHPs who offer Christian counseling. MHPs may want to consider incorporating spiritual sensitivity into their practice to increase PC collaboration. Increasing PC referrals may result in positive social change by decreasing the number of parishioners who suffer with undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses.