Objective: Little is currently known about the pastoral counseling work of pastors of African-American churches. The authors interviewed the pastors of nearly all African-American churches in a metropolitan area about their pastoral counseling work and related aspects of their ministry.
Methods: Of 121 African-American pastors identified, 99 completed a semistructured interview describing their backgrounds, attitudes, concerns, and work. The interview included detailed queries about how they understood and carried out any pastoral counseling work.
Results: The respondents averaged more than six hours of counseling work weekly and often addressed serious problems similar to those seen by secular mental health professionals, with whom they reported readily exchanging referrals. Many of the respondents reported having and maintaining specialized education for their counseling work, which they described as including both spiritual and psychological dimensions. Most of the pastors reported that they observe and address severe mental illness and substance abuse in their congregations and that they also counsel individuals outside their own denominations.
Conclusions: African-American urban ministers functioning as pastoral counselors constitute an engaging and useful group with experiences and skills that can be tapped by interested secular professionals. Their work represents a significant mental health resource for persons who lack sufficient access to needed care.