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Mental illness is not frequently discussed in the Black Church, but the Rev. Dr. Mitchell Curry hopes to advance the conversation.
As he marks 66 years in the ministry along with 47 years as a psychotherapist, his believes the church is poised to address the subject.
“Pastors and churches don’t talk enough about mental health nor do they fully recognize mental illness when they see it,” noted Dr. Curry, an ordained A.M.E. minister and former pastor who has also led parishes in the C.M.E., Presbyterian, Congregational and Baptist denominations.
“In every congregation I’ve ever had, I’ve encountered people with mental disorders, from board members to laity and especially in these times with many depressed by poverty and the economy.
“I got interested in mental health because in the churches, I discovered so many mental disorders that I was not prepared to deal with. I did not have the training,” he recalled.
His religious education is far from lacking with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees from Turner Theological Seminary, Andover Newton Theological School and Claremont School of Theology, respectively. However, his desire to help congregants with mental issues persuaded Dr. Curry to look for advice.
“A friend of mine, Whitney M. Young (the late legendary head of the National Urban League), encouraged me to go back to school for social work,” he said.
So, he earned a master’s degree in psychiatric social work and later obtained a PhD in advanced psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Also, he received advanced training in pastoral counseling.
Armed with these skills, Dr. Curry was able to incorporate them in his ministry using Christ as his Guide.
“Jesus dealt with the mind, the soul and the spirits of the people. He healed them and I wanted to do that,” said Dr. Curry.
“I’ve counseled people of different faiths, denominations and cultures and I found that they basically have the same needs. I thought Blacks were the only ones with mental problems, but I encountered these problems while working in mixed and all-white congregations,” he said.
Another commonality is the lack of discussion about it, observed Dr. Curry. “People in Black and white communities have a stigma about mental illness. They don’t want anyone to know they have mental, family, marital, drug, or alcohol problems.
“But there is a need for ministers to receive training in pastoral counseling so they will know how to recognize the problems, work around them and refer people to agencies to meet their needs.”
Dr. Curry, a fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a licensed psychotherapist, assists many Los Angeles pastors in establishing mental health ministries and consults with the LAPD 77th Division to train officers to distinguish symptoms between people with drug addictions and mental disorders.
Churches interested in forming a mental health outreach can call (323) 737-1484 for information.