Counseling and Human Services

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Date of Award


Degree Level




Proquest Document ID





St. Mary's University

Size or duration

xi, 125 pages

Document Type


First Advisor

Montilla, Esteban

Second Advisor

Scales, Mischca

Third Advisor

Wong, Christine D.


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to learn the practices, attitudes, and self-described competency of a sample of 12 African American pastors, with churches located in Texas, as they counsel their parishioners with mental health issues. Pastoral counseling formed the theoretical framework for the study. The researcher asked each pastor eight open-ended questions, inquiring about the pastor's experiences, practices, attitudes, and training in regard to dealing with their parishioners' mental health issues. The interviews were recorded and transcribed, and qualitative methods were used to analyze the responses to determine themes in the pastors' responses.

A total of 10 themes were identified in the pastors' responses. These were synthesized into three overall themes as follows. First, the pastors were aware of having limited competence for dealing with the mental health problems of their parishioners. As a result, they counsel and advise parishioners who approach them with relatively common mental health issues, but they refer parishioners with a serious mental health issue to mental health professionals. Second, the pastors show respect for the professional expertise of mental health professionals by referring parishioners to those professionals if they feel they cannot deal with a parishioner's mental health issue. Third, the pastors distinguish between cases where they believe they can help a parishioner with mental distress from those where a mental health professional is needed. When they judge they can help, they use various strategies to counsel parishioners. These strategies are generally based on the Bible and spiritual considerations, and they may reflect practical knowledge about how to engage people and encourage them to discuss their issues openly.

Several recommendations for further research were made. These included further study using more wide-ranging samples of African American pastors in different states and regions and from different religious denominations. It was also recommended that research be conducted on ways to increase communication and cooperation between African American pastors and mental health professionals.