Collaboration Between Clergy and Mental Health Professionals in Postdisaster Contexts: Lessons From the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster

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Abstract

This qualitative study explored clergy perspectives on collaboration between clergy and mental health professionals in postdisaster contexts. A phenomenological methodology (Colaizzi, 1978) was employed to examine the perspectives of clergy first responders (N = 8) to the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in rural West Virginia. Results revealed four conditions clergy thought would optimize collaboration between clergy and clinicians in postdisaster contexts: (a) mutual respect, (b) preestablished professional relationships, (c) mental health professionals’ sensitivity to religious/spiritual issues, and (d) clergy members’ training in disaster spiritual and emotional care. Clergy responses also revealed three primary barriers to postdisaster collaboration with mental health professionals: (a) cultural mistrust and suspicion, (b) perceived ulterior motives, and (c) differences in service delivery expectations. We discuss these findings and their implications in light of the existing literature on clergy–clinician collaboration generally and on clergy–clinician collaboration in postdisaster and rural contexts specifically.

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