The “Why” & “What” of Project #3: 

This project focuses on the development of a training program and materials for mental health providers. There is strong rationale for the integration of RS into mental health assessment and treatment, including (a) the demonstrated links between RS and health and well-being; (b) preferences of many mental health consumers for spiritually sensitive care; and (c) ethical mandates from the major mental health professions (Koeing, King, & Carson, 2012; Pargament, 2007; Stanley et al., 2011). In spite of this rationale, professionals from most mental health disciplines do not generally receive training on RS issues (Oxhandler et al., 2015); Schafer, Handal, Brawer, & Ubinger, 2009; Vogel, 2013). This educational deficit may have negative consequences for mental health care, including (a) the under-identification and under-use of potentially valuable RS resources; (b) inattention to RS struggles and problems that have been shown to interfere with health and well-being; (c) a less effective therapeutic working alliance between mental health providers and clients as a result of RS bias, insensitivity, or lack of knowledge on the part of therapists, and; (d) a lack of sufficient collaboration between mental health professionals and clergy in addressing people’s psychological problems and well-being.

Project Activities:

To address this gap in education, we propose to develop and evaluate an online training program to foster basic RS competencies in mental health care. We are calling the program, Spiritual Competency Training in Mental Health (SCT-MH). This online training is the first of its kind and with its ease of access and relatively low expense, it could reach a large potential market of mental health professionals. SCT-MH is characterized by several core features:

  • The training is basic. It is aimed at fostering basic RS competencies with respect to the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that make for effective mental health care. It is geared toward professionals who have little, if any training, in this area, and do not necessarily intend to specialize in spiritually-integrated care.
  • The training is multi-disciplinary. It is designed to reach mental health professionals from social work, psychology, psychiatry, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and pastoral counseling. It focuses on core RS competencies and attempts to target the specific interests of particular disciplines that go beyond the scope of this basic training approach.
  • The training is grounded in state-of-the-art science and practice. It will continue to build upon advances in knowledge gleaned from scientific studies of RS and mental health as well as draw on instructional materials on spiritually integrated psychotherapy and spiritual competencies. Course materials will be revised on the basis of feedback from consultative experts in RS who come from various mental health professions, as well as the emerging data from our provider and client surveys.
  • The training is based on sound pedagogical principles. It makes use of proven adult-learning instructional methods – self-pacing, goal-setting, engaging activities, multi-modal presentations, and self-testing.
  • The training is empirically evaluated. Our team will continuously assess pre-post changes among program participants with respect to their basic RS competencies in mental health care. We will also evaluate participants’ levels of program satisfaction and gather their concrete suggestions for ways to improve the training program.

SCT-MH consists of a total of four to six hours of training through eight modules linked to the 16 basic RS competencies. The modules cover a number of common stereotypes about RS: the diversity of RS expressions; why it is important to address RS in treatment; the importance of the therapist’s own RS attitudes, beliefs, and practices; how to assess RS; how to help clients access RS resources, and; how to respond to RS problems that arise in treatment.

Desired Changes:

With the findings from Project #1 (Survey of Mental Health Professionals) and Project #2 (Mental Health Clients), we believe that the findings from this project will complement the results by providing empirical evidence for the viability and effectiveness of a training program for mental health professionals. In hopes of reaching a large audience, this project should lead to several outputs and outcomes, including:

  • An online training program available through edX;
  • Publications documenting the feasibility and effectiveness of SCT-MH;
  • Effective advocacy for training in RS competencies to mental health professional bodies;
  • Successful efforts to foster wider adoption of training in RS competencies in mental health care;
  • Greater knowledge about and interest in basic training in RS competencies;
  • A longer-term goal of refining SCT-MH and evaluating the training program in a larger sample through a randomized clinical trial with a follow-up assessment.

What We Found:

  • The online program on spiritual competency training in mental health (SCT-MH) was successfully developed and evaluated. Over the course of this pioneering eight-module program, participants in SCT-MH manifested significant improvements in spiritual competencies involving skills, attitudes, and knowledge.

You can find access to the course here: