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Professor Receives Lilly Theological Research Grant

April 20, 2011

When Dr. Karen Mason, Associate Professor of Counseling and Psychology at Gordon-Conwell, was meeting with clients early in her career as a psychologist, she had a realization.

“It struck me that suicide is preventable,” she says. “It isn’t a big scary thing we can’t do anything about.”

So began an interest in suicide prevention that recently earned her a grant from the Association of Theological Schools and the Lilly Endowment to research the involvement of clergy in suicide intervention and aftercare.

The National Strategy for Suicide Prevention names members of the clergy as “key gatekeepers” who are in a position to intervene with individuals at risk for suicide, and studies show that suicidal people are just as likely to seek help from clergy as from mental health professionals.

The ATS Lilly Theological Research Grant will support a one-year project designed by Dr. Mason and her collaborator, Dr. James D. Wines, a psychiatrist with Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital and an expert in the field of suicide prevention.

The researchers hope to gain an understanding of the ways Catholic, Jewish and Protestant clergy

The final stage of the project will use the results of the study to create a webinar for clergy.

“We are studying the issues to be able to target the training,” said Dr. Mason. “My interest is understanding the role of clergy in preventing suicide in a community,”

Dr. Mason has worked in the mental health field since 1990, including two years as a manager in the Office of Suicide Prevention at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. When she came to Gordon-Conwell in 2006, she started thinking about the ways clergy were involved in prevention and aftercare.

This new study builds on a 2008 survey conducted by Dr. Mason, along with Drs. Pablo Polischuk and Ray Pendleton, both professors of counseling at Gordon-Conwell. Their project, also funded by a Lilly Theological Research Grant, surveyed Boston-area Protestant clergy on their procedures for referring suicidal people to mental health professionals. Their findings will be published in an article currently in press with the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling.