University of Missouri - Saint Louis

The Graduate School


An oral examination in defense of the dissertation for the degree

Doctor of Philosophy in Education

Rachelle D. Smith
M.Ed. in Counseling and Family Therapy, August 2006, University of MO – St. Louis
B.A. in Psychology, May 2002, University of MO – St. Louis

Counseling Religious African Americans: Implications for a Social Justice Model of Intervention



Due to a complex history of unethical societal and medical practices towards African Americans from U.S. institutions such as the U.S. Public Health Services and Johns Hopkins Hospital, relevant literature confirms a consistent lack of collaborative relationships between the African American religious community and the professional counseling community. Thus, some religious African Americans who may have needed counseling services did not receive them, as Black churches commonly dismiss the relevancy of professional counseling. The purpose of this theory-building study was to examine the perceptions that lead to such dismissals and, inspired by action research approaches, derive the best methods that secular professional counselors could implement in partnership with African American churches to provide effective social justice approaches to mental health service delivery to their parishioners. This study utilized a basic qualitative design with grounded theory tenets. Research questions were: 1) How can professional counselors effectively work with the leaders of African American religious institutions to provide professional counseling services to their parishioners? 2) How do religious African Americans think that a model of professional counseling should operate in their church? 3) What, if any, are the ethical concerns that could arise from a social justice model of counseling service delivery that is implemented within an African American church? Methods included semi-structured interviews with eight pastors and church administrators found through purposeful sampling, 50 pages of field notes and reflective journals entries about the interviews, and research derived from relevant literature. Open, axial, and selective coding were used to analyze the data. Four overarching themes emerged from the data: 1) establish and maintain trust, 2) assist the church in developing an increased awareness of counseling resources and ethical practices, 3) assist the church in developing counseling resources that are culturally appropriate for its parishioners, and 4) implement an evaluation process. The analysis of these themes led to the development of a social justice model of intervention that could be utilized to establish and maintain collaboration between some African American churches and the professional counseling community. The study also yielded relevant implications for teaching, practice and research.


Date: June 27, 2013

Time: 10:00a.m. to 1:00p.m.

Place: TLC Conference Room 1


Defense of Dissertation Committee


Susan Kashubeck-West, Ph.D. (Advisor)

Lisa Dorner, Ph.D.


Angela Coker, Ph.D.

Lynn Beckwith, Ph.D.