Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 53, Issue 4, pp 1267–1282 | Cite as

The Pew Versus the Couch: Relationship Between Mental Health and Faith Communities and Lessons Learned from a VA/Clergy Partnership Project

  • Steve Sullivan
  • Jeffrey M. Pyne
  • Ann M. Cheney
  • Justin Hunt
  • Tiffany F. Haynes
  • Greer Sullivan
Original Paper


The history of the relationship between religion and mental health is one of commonality, conflict, controversy, and distrust. An awareness of this complex relationship is essential to clinicians and clergy seeking to holistically meet the needs of people in our clinics, our churches, and our communities. Understanding this relationship may be particularly important in rural communities. This paper briefly discusses the history of this relationship and important areas of disagreement and contention. The paper moves beyond theory to present some current practical tensions identified in a brief case study of VA/Clergy partnerships in rural Arkansas. The paper concludes with a framework of three models for understanding how most faith communities perceive mental health and suggests opportunities to overcome the tensions between “the pew” and “the couch.”


Mental health Clergy Pastoral care Veteran Religion Spirituality 



The authors would like to acknowledge VA South Central Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC) and the VA Office of Rural Health for support and funding for this project. We also recognize Elise Allee and Carrie Edlund for editorial and research contributions, as well as the Chaplains of the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. Finally, we recognize the many community clergy and mental health providers who came together at places like Western Sizzlin of Russellville to begin the process of honest dialogue and collaboration between "the pew and the couch."


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steve Sullivan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jeffrey M. Pyne
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ann M. Cheney
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Justin Hunt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tiffany F. Haynes
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Greer Sullivan
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.South Central Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical CenterCentral Arkansas Veterans Healthcare SystemNorth Little RockUSA
  2. 2.Center for Mental Health Outcomes ResearchCentral Arkansas Veterans Healthcare SystemNorth Little RockUSA
  3. 3.Division of Health Services Research, UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute, College of MedicineUniversity of Arkansas for Medical SciencesLittle RockUSA

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