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SPC Gives Grace and Hope to Marriage

By Brett Wilson | March 17, 2014

Though pastors often stress the significance of strong marriages as they speak from the pulpit, very seldom do they have the time in their workday to effectively counsel couples experiencing marital struggles.

This problem spurred Dr. Jim Sells and Dr. Jen Ripley, associate professors for Regent University's School of Psychology & Counseling (SPC), to ask "how are the marriages in the church?"

"We spend a lot of time with couples in this context," said Sells. "We want to share with pastors how we do our craft and allow them to adapt this into their ministry with the families that they're entrusted to serve."

Together, Sells and Ripley began a training seminar for pastors, lay counselors and ministry leaders who counsel couples. The seminar, which launched recently at River Oak Church in Chesapeake, Va., was funded by a grant from the Huston Foundation in Philadelphia.

"They were supportive of the project and were able to underwrite a large portion of the supervision experience that the pastors are going to receive in the coming months, after their one-day training," said Sells.

Branching out from the daylong training seminar, participating pastors were also invited for online consultations under the supervision of Regent Psy.D. and Ph.D. students from March through the end of June. There, their training will provide a more in-depth understanding of marriage counseling.

Sells and Ripley will supervise the Psy.D. and Ph.D. students who will continue to lead the pastors through the next few months of couples counseling training. Sells hopes that this training model will assist in bridging the chasm between pastoral ministry and mental health service providers.

"Pastors have serious challenges in meeting all of the marital needs within their church's congregation," said Sells. "There is a large disconnect between how well pastors are trained to counsel couples with marital difficulties and the size of the need they have to face every week."

Sells explained that the biggest challenge pastors come against is their lack of time. Though their ministry would reflect marriage as a high-priority from the pulpit, the pragmatics of their daily tasks and the challenges that come with counseling couples is difficult to balance.

However, according to Sells, more than 40 percent of all mental-health needs are addressed by a member of the clergy. And while many educational institutes include training programs for counseling, they only have a "shelf-life" of just a few weeks in terms of having a direct impact on a pastor's work.

"I like seeing broken things fixed," said Sells. "Conflicts between two people is often the mismanagement and misunderstanding of people's pain—and in marriages we sometimes see one another as a threat and someone we must convince of our position rather than an ally that is seeking to bring further wholeness to our lives."

Learn more about Regent University's School of Psychology & Counseling.


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