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Mitchell Rosen: Navigating different approaches to helping people

In the early 1990s, I had the wonderful experience of working for a religious medical school and teaching university — I was director of business development for Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center. Previously, all of my education and employment was with secular institutions, so I had no idea what to expect.
Loma Linda University is a well-known and highly regarded medical school and college. The Behavioral Medicine Center is Loma Linda’s psychiatric hospital which not only treated patients but also provided a great learning environment for their medical students, residents and students of psychology, social work, and marriage and family therapy.
Working at the psychiatric hospital was not much different from the other psychiatric hospital where I had worked with a few exceptions. As a member of the executive committee, I attended meetings with the administration and department heads. Each meeting began with a prayer.
As most people are aware, Loma Linda is a Seventh Day Adventist institution. I was raised Jewish. Didn’t matter, as we rotated who would lead prayer — the emphasis was not on ritual or vocabulary but values and helping. It was a nice experience listening to and occasionally leading prayer before we got down to business.
Another new experience was to work with a chemical dependency unit with a director who was not a psychiatrist, psychologist or clinician but a pastor. The chemical dependency medical director was a physician, but the program director was not. It was my job to reach out to the large network of congregations and educate the pastors about our programs for mental illness and chemical dependency. Being immersed into the world of clergy was a new experience for me and I’m sure I learned as much if not more than the pastors I spoke with.
Working with congregations of many different religions, some of the pastors were open and appreciative about drug and alcohol resources while others expressed their religion did not have a problem with chemical dependency. Unfortunately, no religion, ethnicity or culture is immune from this problem.
Another frustrating experience was speaking with clergy about domestic violence in their congregations. More pastors were open about acknowledging domestic violence existed, however the approaches each clergyperson expressed varied widely. Some thought prayer would be the best treatment or perhaps spiritually based couples counseling. In my experience, few thought divorce or separation was a best first choice.
The Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence has a pamphlet, “What every congregation needs to know about domestic violence.” It’s straightforward and attempts to educate the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.
I know as a mental health professional that facilitating marriage counseling in a partnership where there is domestic violence is a bad idea. Too often the perpetrator expresses remorse, vows to change and when they get home with their partner, hurts them for telling a counselor they are abusive.
Some congregations were open to having the pamphlet and others said it sent a bad message to have this issue on display out in the open. Congregations are like any other places of business; some want to admit a problem and address it straight on and others want to pretend. What I learned from my experience was the importance of trying to educate pastors, business leaders or school administrators that domestic violence, like chemical dependency, is a problem that affects us all. There is no religion, culture or ethnicity that is immune.
Mitchell Rosen is a licensed therapist with practices in Corona and Temecula.
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