Shalem’s Congregational Assistance Plan (CAP) has been the focus of a number of research projects over the years, exploring many aspects and benefits of the program.
Several years ago Shalem Mental Health Network had the privilege of beginning a working relationship with Dr. Rick Csiernik, professor at the School of Social Work at King’s College University of Western Ontario. One of Dr. Csiernik’s area of expertise is his leading role in the field of Canadian Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) research. Shalem’s partnership with Dr. Csiernik has been a significant blessing as we benefit from receiving his direction and involvement in the development of CAP research.
In 2010, a Research Committee was struck to explore the development and effects of the CAP program. The committee includes Dr. Csiernik; Mark Vander Vennen, Executive Director of Shalem; Ken VanWyk, Executive Director of Christian Counselling Services in Toronto; and Marg Smit-Vandezande, Shalem’s Director of CAP.
In the past 6 years this Research Committee has coauthored and published their findings, and is continuing its work to help contribute more academic literature in the area of faith-based counselling support.
The first study, A Tale of Two Churches: The Development of a Congregational Assistance Program, was published in 2013. It is a case study involving two different churches that were part of CAP’s pilot project. CAP was presented as drawing upon the principles of employee assistance programs to provide professional counselling services with no direct-cost user fees, with the added feature of all service providers being faith-based. The research showed that the rate of use of the program for a range of personal issues exceeded expectations. The program’s ease of access, confidentiality and lack of fees were cited as significant factors.
The second study, Bringing EAP to Faith Communities: Genesis of a Canadian Congregational Assistance Plan, provides a history of how CAP began and describes its structure, implementation, and utilization data for the churches that piloted the initiative.
The findings of this study indicated:
- CAP is a unique model of offering a faith-based counselling program that has not been in existence in the country.
- After 7 years of use, the attrition rate has been zero with a growing number of contracts being added each year.
- Some churches continued to fund CAP through special collections through out the year, while others added their CAP ministry as a regular budget item.
- Pastor’s feedback included their being surprised at higher utlilization rates than what they knew to be reflective of congregants in need. There was also much appreciation for both the support from CAP to help manage the psychosocial needs in their congregations, especially as those needs exceeded the Pastor’s scope of practice to do so.
- A striking finding was that Pastors from CAP churches were themselves not accessing the service. This is despite the fact that a study conducted by the University of Toronto’s Centre for Clergy Care of 338 ministers from six Canadian denominations found that the number of pastors diagnosed with clinical depression was twice the national average (Moll & O’Brien, 2009)
Dr. Csiernik is currently undertaking a study with CAP’s Service Providers regarding their experience with being part of CAP. Recent EAP research has found that there are distinct limits with this model of service provision. This finding led to undertaking a parallel study to ascertain if these issues also existed within the CAP model. Surveys were sent to all CAP Service Providers inviting feedback regarding their experience in providing services to CAP. The results of this Service Provider Study are currently being prepared for publishing.
A current endeavour of the Research Committee is to interview CAP churches and hear first hand feedback of how CAP has made a difference in their church. We want to know if there are any changes in their experience of stigma toward counselling and impacts on congregational mental health, what benefits and suggestions they have for improvement regarding the CAP ministry, and reflections from church leaders on why they believe their church has maintained CAP as a budget priority.
We are also making plans for future areas of research. The Research Committee hopes to learn more about the unique mental health needs of pastors and their families, and how these needs can be met.
To find out more about the CAP program and the results of the work of the Research Committee, please contact Marg Smit-Vandezande.