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
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
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."