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Professional News
Founder Surprised By Popularity
Psychiatric News
Volume 40 Number 21 page 14-14

Of the various experiences that prompted Michael Torres, M.D., to found the Institute for Mental Health Ministry, one that occurred in 1995 was especially crucial.

The pastor of Ebenezer AME Church—a large church in Prince George's County, Md.—and his wife had a passion for mental health issues. They wanted to set up a mental health counseling center that would offer treatment at the church by licensed mental health professionals, but from a faith-based perspective. Their proposal for such a center was accepted by the church leadership, and Torres was asked to serve as medical director.

The center opened in January 1996. Within five months, some 1,500 parishioners had come for treatment, which was way beyond what Torres and the other six psychotherapists at the center could handle. "It was an amazing experience to see how needed our services were," Torres said." It didn't matter to parishioners whether we accepted their health insurance or not. They were so relieved to finally have a place where they could feel comfortable discussing issues of spirituality and religion."

The program ended up succumbing to financial difficulties, so the church relinquished it. "But," said Torres, "that was my first experience with what I would call a church-based counseling center, and it helped me develop the concept for the institute.

"The institute, I decided, would be a consortium model. This way it would meet the needs of multiple churches, multiple denominations, and pool the resources of the few mental health professionals with a strong interest in spirituality and religion. It would also eliminate some of the pitfalls of a church-based counseling center—for example, patients feeling uncomfortable seeing a provider with whom they interact in the context of church services and activities."

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