One of my goals for this blog and for Inclusion Fusion is to expose leaders with an interest in disability ministry to other leaders with unique interests and competencies that can help us better understand the challenges we face and the needs of the kids and families we serve. One such leader is Dr. Matthew Stanford from Baylor University, who has graciously agreed to be interviewed for the blog today. Part Two will run on Thursday.
Dr. Matthew S. Stanford is professor of psychology, neuroscience, and biomedical studies at Baylor University. He serves as the graduate director for the Psychology Doctoral Program. He received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Baylor in 1992. After graduating from Baylor he completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Prior to coming to Baylor in 2003 he was a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at the University of New Orleans. Dr. Stanford’s research focuses primarily on the biological basis of impulsive and aggressive behavior. In addition, his interests include the clinical usefulness of event-related potentials in the diagnosis of psychiatric and neurological disorders. He has conducted psychophysiological research in a variety of patient populations including those with aggression, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke and traumatic brain injury.
In addition to these areas of interest, Dr. Stanford was involved in the publication of a study last year, together with Dr. Diana Garland, Dean of the Department of Social Work at Baylor and Edward Rogers (lead author and former youth pastor) examining the relationship between mental illness and faith practice published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture that we reviewed last July on this blog. He also serves as Director and Founder of Mental Health Grace Alliance, a faith-based, non-profit organization created to promote understanding in the church and provide assistance and support to individuals living with mental illness and their families. Part One of the interview with Dr. Stanford will run today, with Part Two to follow on Thursday.
SG: Your group at Baylor has developed an interest in studying the impact of mental illness on family involvement in churches. What led you to see this topic as a necessary and worthwhile area for research?
MS: As a person of faith and a psychologist I have often been pulled assigned by fellow believers and asked questions about mental health issues or told of negative interactions between those struggling with mental illness and the church. That led me to begin taking seriously the interaction between those with mental illness and the local church. I came to Baylor in 2003 to specifically begin a line of research in the area in an attempt gain understanding and educate the church.
SG: Last year, your group published the results of a study of nearly 6,000 participants from 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations examining the impact of mental illness in a family on church involvement and spiritual practices. What in your mind were the key findings from the study?
MS: I would say that the key finding of that study was that approximately a quarter of families in the church are struggling to care for a mentally ill loved one. Those families are in significant distress and that distress has not only affected their personal relationships and daily lives but has also disrupted their ability to practice their faith and connect with God. Sadly, these families appear virtually invisible to the congregation as a whole.
SG: Was there any data to suggest that the presence of mental illness in a child or teen has more or less impact on church involvement and spiritual practices compared to mental illness in a spouse or a parent? Any hypotheses from data you’ve reviewed?
MS: While we didn’t specifically look at that question the families we surveyed were caring for a variety of loved ones suffering with mental illness including children. From what we can tell at this time there is no difference; both have a significant negative impact on the family’s spiritual practices.
SG: What additional studies is your group conducting (or planning to conduct) on the impact of mental health issues on spiritual practices? Is there research being done by other groups that churches served by Key Ministry should know about?
MS: Presently we are conducting several studies 1) the interaction of sexual assault survivors and the local church, 2) how personal spirituality or faith can be used therapeutically within a secular therapy setting and 3) the difference between the mental health needs of men and women in the church.
Dr. Stanford’s books, The Biology of Sin (available as a Kindle e-book) as well as Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness are available through clicking on the links above at Amazon.com.
Look for Part Two of the interview with Dr. Stanford on Thursday