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Ministry with Persons with Mental Illness

Perspectives from a pastoral theologian, a psychiatrist, and a psychologist

Ministry with Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families. Edited by Robert Albers, William Meller, and Steven Thurber. Fortress Press (2012).

Book jacket features a painting of a landscape with green fields under a deep blue sky
 

Book review by Tina Schlabach

In Ministry with Persons with Mental illness and Their Families, a pastoral theologian, a professor of psychiatry, and a psychologist have teamed up to make a unique and valuable contribution to all who minister to persons and families affected by mental illness.  

This book’s unique contribution is the integration of spheres of knowledge. These editors bring together the work of specialists in psychiatry, psychology, and theology as a collaborative dialogue between the disciplines.  Fifteen different experts contribute to chapters on nine conditions selected as most common or most challenging. Topics include:

  • depression
  • addiction
  • schizophrenia
  • borderline personality disorder
  • anxiety disorders
  • eating disorders
  • autism
  • acquired brain injury
  • dementia.   

As a pastor who has worked to equip congregations to become safe and supportive communities for persons managing mental illnesses and for their families, I found this book to be one of the best I’ve yet discovered. On my bookshelf I have books that explain mental illnesses from a clinical viewpoint, and many written resources on pastoral care and counseling skills. This book, however, integrates the theological and the clinical in an accessible style that is relevant to those ministering in the congregation.

In each chapter, psychiatrists describe the medical aspects of the condition, providing accurate information about each diagnosis. “The logic is that one needs to know something about what is transpiring before being able to respond in an effective way”  (p. 6). Utilizing the resources of their respective faith traditions, pastoral theologians then guide readers in how to best give spiritual support to those affected, their families, and caregivers. I found this holistic approach to be most helpful.  As a pastor I found encouragement, useful suggestions, and guidelines in each chapter, given from the contributors’ shared conviction that the faith community has an essential part to play in the journey of caring, coping, and bringing hope and healing.

While I was reading this book for review, my own congregation was unexpectedly thrust into a crisis. One of our members dealing with an addiction had a relapse. As we formed support groups for the troubled member and for his family, we shared information from this book’s chapter on Substance Abuse Disorders with all who committed to walking with the affected persons. 

I recommend this book as highly valuable for pastors and others ministering to and learning from those whose lives have been challenged and disrupted by mental illness. 

Tina Schlabach
 

Tina Schlabach completed nine years of ministry in pastoral care with the Waterford Mennonite Church congregation in Goshen, Indiana. She and her family are preparing to movShe later moved to Tucson, Arizona, where Tina is involved in supporting immigration justice work, and offers spiritual direction and pastoral counseling from her home.

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