TMC Launches New Program for Mental Health Practitioners

The Theology, Medicine, and Culture Initiative at Duke Divinity School (TMC) has announced a new formational opportunity for Christian mental health practitioners: The Certificate in Theology and Health Care (CTHC) Mental Health Track.

This program will augment the existing Duke Divinity School Certificate in Theology and Health Care (CTHC) program, which invites practicing and future clinicians to be formed intellectually, relationally, and spiritually for excellent and faithful healing work. This program was successfully established in a hybrid format in the fall of 2021 with a focus on physicians, nurses, and other health professionals in general health care practice.

Dr. Warren Kinghorn

Enabled by a recent gift from The Pittuloch Foundation, the CTHC Mental Health Track grows out of the recognition that even when mental health professionals work in broader health care institutions, they face specific questions and situations that require a specialized formation process.

“Clinicians are increasingly comfortable with talking about spirituality in mental health care, but we want to go deeper than the language of spirituality,” says Dr. Warren Kinghorn, a psychiatrist and theologian who is co-director of the Theology, Medicine, and Culture Initiative.  “Christian faith provides deep resources for cultivating joy, engaging suffering and trauma, seeking justice, and recognizing the dignity and worth of every human being. We seek to form clinicians for grounded, faithful, imaginative, joyful mental health work.”

Duke Divinity School consulting faculty member Dr. John Swinton will join Dr. Kinghorn in leading the CTHC Mental Health Track. As Chair in Divinity and Religious Studies and Professor of Pastoral Care and Practical Theology at the University of Aberdeen, Swinton brings extensive experience in the areas of nursing, health care chaplaincy, disability theology, and mental health care to his work with this program.

Dr. John Swinton

“Theology is in some ways the ‘missing dimension’ of contemporary mental health care,” contends Swinton. “Spirituality is now well accepted as important, but when it comes to theology, there is often a strange silence. Yet theology opens up perspectives and options for understanding and practice that are vital for effective mental health care. Theological questions such as, ‘Is God really in religious delusions?’, ‘Where is God when you have forgotten who God is?’, ‘Where is God when I as a practitioner am overwhelmed?’, ‘What is the role of prayer and the Holy Spirit in my practice?’, ‘Do we really need it?’, ‘Are healing and curing the same things?’ help us to look at our experiences and those of our clients differently,” says Swinton. “When we see things differently, we are offered the opportunity of practicing differently. When we practice differently the possibility of faithful healing in all of its complex dimensions becomes a reality. This course will help us explore such complex questions and develop new ways of caring that are compassionate, spiritual and faithful to the God we seek to worship in all of our lives.”

Through graduate coursework, formation seminars, and mentorship, the CTHC Mental Health Track will engage mental health clinicians in any discipline who desire to deepen and to strengthen their practice by connecting their healing work to the resources of Christian faith. Specifically, the program will appeal to clinical psychologists (PhD, PsyD), clinical social workers (LCSW or equivalent), marriage and family therapists (LMFT or equivalent), licensed professional counselors (LPC or equivalent), psychiatric nurse practitioners or physician assistants, psychiatrists (MD or DO), and licensed substance use counselors.

Dr. Robin Liles

Retired North Carolina A&T State University counseling professor, clinical mental health counselor, and current hybrid CTHC participant Dr. Robin Liles has said of her experience in the program: “I’m a mature woman – I’ve had many life experiences, both wonderful and dreadful; I have come up against the question of God over and over in my life – I’ve never been afraid of that question. I consider myself an expansive thinker, and I’ve read the Bible literally hundreds of times, and yet…and yet…this program is taking me to another level, is deepening my understanding of my relationship with God. For me, the CTHC program has offered the structure necessary for that deeper exploration to unfold.” Liles reflects further on the value of integrating her personal formation into practice, stating: “Clients often report feeling unsheltered, vulnerable, lost and alienated. I believe that there is a particular solidity, a grounding, if you will, when the work of clinical mental health counseling is rooted in the ways of Jesus. In my professional experiences, I have observed that this grounding is one from which my clients, as well as my graduate students seeking to become clinical mental health counselors have benefited…even without my talking about God.”

In seeking to provide good care, Kinghorn says that mental health clinicians often wonder, “What new technique or technology can I use to fix my patients’ problems?” But Kinghorn suggests an alternative approach, saying that “good mental health care is not a matter of fixing. Instead, it’s about being a person who can walk alongside those who are suffering with wisdom, compassion, patience, and joy. We’re inviting clinicians to dig deeply into the resources of their faith to sustain that healing work.”

To learn more about the CTHC Mental Health Track, visit us online and sign up to receive more information about our programs of study.

Pictured above: The 2022-2023 Hybrid CTHC cohort during August 2022 immersive week at Duke Divinity School.