Date of Conferral





Counselor Education and Supervision


Kristi Cannon


In the African American community, the Black Church and its clergy have served as gatekeepers to formal mental health treatment. Little is known about the beliefs of African American Christian senior pastors about mental health treatment and their personal views influencing their counsel to congregants seeking support through the church. This transcendental phenomenological study explored the lived experiences of African American Christian senior pastors in relation to how they understand mental health treatment and provide it to their congregants. The research questions explored three areas: (a) the senior pastors' experiences in rendering mental health treatment, (b) the senior pastors' personal experiences with mental health treatment, and (c) the senior pastors' views on their effectiveness in rendering mental health treatment to congregants. An emergent hand coding analysis of participant narratives collected from 6 participant semi-structured interviews generated 3 main themes and 14 sub-themes related to participant experiences. The results showed the senior pastors not wanting to do harm when congregants sought mental health support through the church; hence, the pastors referred congregants to formal treatment when issues were beyond their scope. Also most of the senior pastors felt comfortable participating in formal mental treatment as needed because it was beneficial for addressing personal and professional challenges. This study can assist the mental health community in making positive social change via the development of relationships and/or partnerships with African American Christian senior pastors looking to refer congregants to formal mental health treatment.