Executive Director Article: Looking Ahead

Written by Trace Haythorn, Executive Director

Filed under: News

Trace smiling at cameraLast week, I was invited to attend a conversation hosted by the American Psychiatric Association Foundation in Washington DC. The attendees were a wonderful mix of psychiatrists, academics, clergy, and nonprofit executives. I was there in my role with the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab, though I was certain to keep ACPE at the table as well. This was not the first meeting of the group, though the attendees included several first-timers like me. 

The title of the gathering was “Mental Health and Faith Community Partnership.” We heard presentations from both clergy and mental health professionals on several topics: the need for partnerships between psychiatrists/mental health providers and faith communities; modes for building faith-based community connections to mental health care; and caring for the caregiver, i.e., addressing burnout and mental health needs of faith leaders and psychiatrists/mental health providers. I came away with three strong impressions as I listened to this diverse group of leaders from around the country share their work. 

First, there are so many beautiful people doing so many beautiful things – hope is made real through their collective efforts. To be clear, these were not simply presentations about the successes of these different groups. The stories were about the “real real,” stories of struggles and pain, frustrations, and set back challenges, and obstacles. And yet, amidst all of it, the hearts and minds guiding these efforts see a world full of possibility, of successes and transformations, of renewed hopes and lives.

Second, as I listened to these stories, I had a slideshow of your faces scrolling through my brain, knowing the many ways you serve in your capacities as ACPE members and also the ways you serve in your communities. I saw the faces of those who are working for racial justice, who advocate for people with disabilities, who continue to fight for peace, who stand on the frontlines of advocacy for women’s health, and who work to create hospitable places for refugees. For so many of you, ACPE is but a slice of the ways you live and serve, working to transform this world into something more beautiful, more whole, and more holy.

Third, I also felt concern. We never really got to the 50,000-foot questions about the underlying systems and structures that make all of this work necessary. I have no doubt that if we could start a society or a nation from scratch we would make many very different choices. That said, what are the larger, meta-level questions we need to be asking about the field of mental health, professional spiritual care, and the role our collective work has in addressing the deep needs of those we serve? 

I know our Board of Directors is working to ask such questions, and in the next few weeks, they will begin looking at the programmatic implications for how we might live into our next chapter as an association, as colleagues, as agents of change and care and witness in this age in which we find ourselves. We have so many people doing so many beautiful things in the world. And now what?