Faith Leaders, Mental Health Professionals to Connect at Feb. 28 ‘Healthy Minds’ Conference

By todd

LITTLE ROCK – How can faith leaders and mental health professionals learn from and collaborate with one another to reduce mental illness and related stigma? Experts from religion and psychology will discuss this and more at the day-long “Bridging Faithful Spirits and Healthy Minds” conference co-sponsored by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Feb. 28 in the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center.


This second annual event, which includes presentations from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., is free and open to faith leaders, mental health professionals and educators, with a limited number of seats available for the general public. To register, contact Shelia Moore at 660-7550, or register online at


Keynote speakers for the conference are Kenneth Pargament, Ph.D., psychologist and author of several books on the integration of spirituality, psychotherapy and mental health, and Rev. Leroy Gilbert, Ph.D., senior pastor of the Mt. Gilead Baptist Church in Washington, D.C and former chaplain of the U.S. Coast Guard.


The conference is presented by the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute, the Veteran’s Administration South Central Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC), and the Central Arkansas Coalition for Faithful Spirits and Healthy Minds.


“Bridging the gap between mental health professionals and faith leaders is a promising approach to reducing the stigma associated with depression and other mental illnesses,” said Teresa L. Kramer, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAMS Department of Psychiatry and conference facilitator. “Coalitions of ministers, mental health professionals and researchers have been exploring ways to improve the recognition of individuals with various disorders and address the problems in accessing and initiating care.”


Pargament is a professor of clinical psychology at Bowling Green State University and co-director of SPIRIT, a center for spiritual and psychological research and practice comprised of an ecumenical group of psychologists studying religious and spiritual life. He will discuss these issues in a presentation titled “From Research to Practice: Building Bridges between Religion and Mental Health.” 


Gilbert, who retired from the Navy Chaplain Corps in July 2002 and served as Chief of Chaplains for the U.S. Coast Guard, will speak on “A Faith-Based Approach to Developing Healthy Minds.” 


Another speaker will be Yolanda Alvarado, a Hispanic activist, champion for women’s rights and mental health advocate who has helped improve community and state mental health services in Michigan and Texas. She is founder/director of Faith-based Mental Health Initiative, a collaborative of the Bexar County Mental Health Task Force, which she chairs, and NAMI San Antonio, of which she is a board member.


Additional presenters will include:

  • Rhonda Mattox, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at UAMS, who will discuss her recent research in a presentation titled “The Phrase That Delays:  Faith, linguistic barriers and mental health disparities”
  • J. Vince Roca, Ph.D., a psychologist and clinical coordinator for the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, who will speak on “Warriors Returning,” which will highlight needs of veterans and their families as they return from deployments
  • Rev. Kathy Manis-Findley, executive director of Safe Places, who will speak about “Domestic Violence and the Church”
  • Rev. Rebecca Spooner, who will discuss the role of the church in building a collaborative network


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,538 students and 733 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with about 9,600 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $5 billion a year. For more information, visit