Shalem’s Congregational Assistance Plan (CAP) aims to be responsive to the various churches and faith communities that use the program, and one of the ways we do that is to solicit feedback from the clergy and leadership of participating churches.
CAP is a service that enables churches to make short-term, professional faith-based counselling support available to their members and affiliates. There are currently 70 churches from 7 denominations across Ontario who use CAP to provide up to 6 free, confidential counselling sessions per case. Several faith-based schools are also using a modified version of the service called the Counselling Assistance Plan for Students (CAPS).
Feedback from clergy and church leaders has been an important part of both the development and growth of the CAP program over the years. The program was developed in response to hearing from churches that they were struggling to meet the mental health needs that are beyond the scope or expertise of the pastoral care churches can provide. Pastors are often front-line responders to mental illness and family crises and said that they sometimes felt out of their depth or that the volume of needs exceeded their ability to be able to fully address within their congregation.
As part of ongoing research and reviews of the CAP program, feedback has been solicited from pastors and leadership of the churches using CAP, as well as from clients who accessed CAP and other stakeholders. Pastors have consistently expressed surprise at the number of congregants seeking counselling through the CAP program. Typically, clergy had not expected that so many of their parishioners had a need for counselling, based on their knowledge of church members’ needs.
Pastors have also expressed high degrees of appreciation for CAP’s help in managing the personal, relational and emotional needs of their congregations that have exceeded the pastor’s scope of practice or expertise.
Another way the CAP program seeks to enhance pastoral care in faith communities is by giving occasional reports with information about the top presenting issues raised in counselling. The information is given in the form of non-identifying compilation of statistics, to protect the identity of the program users. Pastors indicated that they have found this information helpful so they can be aware of themes such as grief or depression or anxiety. Some have shared that they have shaped a sermon series or other pastoral responses according to the themes or topics they become aware of.
One other finding is that pastors from CAP churches are under-represented among the service users, suggesting that they are less likely to take advantage of the counselling services than their parishioners. This is despite the fact that a 2009 study conducted by the University of Toronto’s Centre for Clergy Care found that the number of pastors who were experiencing clinical depression was twice the national average compared to the general population.
Feedback from pastors is invaluable in helping Shalem continue to develop and fine-tune the CAP program and ensure that the services remain effective and responsive for faith communities. We are committed to finding ways to continue to increase the conversations about mental health, decrease the stigma associated with counselling and make faith-based professional counselling services even easier to access, including for pastors themselves.
Susan Winter Fledderus is a Clinical Therapist with Shalem Mental Health Network.