The perception of clergy of their role in counselling parishioners for emotional and psychological difficulties.
Professional counselling is scarcely available and hardly affordable for the vast majority of the South African society. However, clergy could be a source of help available for those who may not afford treatment expenses for consulting psychologists and psychiatrists. This study looked at the role that clergy working in pastoral situations in a mainline church in the province of KwaZulu-Natal play in the provision of mental health. A questionnaire survey was distributed to 52 licensed clergy investigating the types of problems presented to clergy, how clergy respond to their parishioners’ emotional and psychological problems, and how confident and how competent they feel in dealing with the problems presented to them. It investigated factors that enhance and hinder the helping process. To analyze and interpret the data, a series of statistical procedures were run using Statistical Package for Social Sciences and qualitative content analysis. Findings indicated that a wide variety of emotional and psychological problems were presented to clergy, including bereavement, alcohol or substance abuse, marital conflict, divorce and relationship problems. Clergy had a very positive attitude towards their role in counselling, and its importance in their ministry; however, the training of clergy has been considered insufficient to meet the needs of parishioners with emotional and psychological problems. Clergy reported a high level of perceived self-efficacy that seemed inconsistent with the training clergy have in emotional and psychological difficulties. Clergy tended to refer more severe psychological difficulties to either government, Non-Governmental Organisations or Faith-Based Organisations for specialised intervention. No formal support was reported to be available to clergy who engage in counselling although a large proportion of clergy mentioned getting support from fellow priests. The discussion of findings is focussed on empowering clergy to continue providing counselling for common emotional and psychological difficulties for their parishioners. Clergy may be a valuable resource in promoting mental health of their community members.