Carlos Fayard, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychiatry at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. During October 12-15 of this year, the church will hold its first international conference on health and wellness. The event, of which Fayard is lead organizer, will take place on the campus of Loma Linda University.
Adventist Review assistant editor Wilona Karimabadi spoke with him via telephone to learn more. For more details about the conference, please visit www.globalemotionalhealth.org.
Let’s talk about this conference. How did the whole idea first come about?
About six years ago I requested some funds to participate in an interfaith panel at the World Psychotherapy Conference. On the panel was an Anglican, a Muslim, a Jew, and I was the Adventist. So I started to think about how my faith informs the way I do my work as a psychologist.
The request of funds went to the Foundation for Adventist Education, who supported my trip. After the conference they said, “Why don’t you come and participate in one of our faith and learning events?” I did, and the ideas that I presented there were well received by a number of people. A couple of the organizers said, “Why don’t we have a follow-up symposium that will exclusively be dedicated to expanding on [the idea of] how our Christian faith and Adventist perspective influence our work. And so this is how we organized a symposium about two and a half years ago that accepted about 16 papers that were read and reviewed. [It was out of these papers] that the volume from Andrews University Press entitled A Christian Worldview and Mental Health: A Seventh-day Adventist Perspective came into being.
Now at this symposium, which was also cosponsored by the Education Department of the General Conference, [we thought] Why don’t we follow up with an open conference, as the purpose of this symposium was to collect papers and to read/critique them? And so the idea was left floating there. Allan Handysides (director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department) was at the symposium. He invited me to go to Geneva for the World Health Congress. The Geneva Conference was such a stunning success that I came away with the possibility of following that up with something that would fulfill the ideas that had been generated at the symposium. And following that, a partnership developed with my department [the Psychiatry Department at Loma Linda University School of Medicine], some of my colleagues, individuals in the Department of Education, and the Health Ministries Department at the General Conference. The partnership expanded and included individuals from family ministries, women’s ministries, and chaplaincy ministries. So the basic notion was “how a biblical role informs/influences mental health care in various environments and contexts in which the church operates.”
So let’s expand on that. How exactly does a biblical worldview impact issues of emotional health and how we deal with that?
A good place to start is by trying to understand what a worldview is. A worldview asks a basic question about who we are and what it means to be human. It is literally a way of seeing. Other people have said worldviews are like ants at a picnic—they get into everything. Now in science, a worldview has various degrees of influence as to how science is conceived, what methodology is adopted, what ideas are valued, how ideas are interpreted, and how they are implemented into intervention.
Now the disciplines that are associated with emotional health are in significant ways really worldview-dependent. You may also have within the sciences some elements that are not quite so worldview-dependent. For instance, if you look at the biological determinants of behavior, genetics, and neuropsychology, that would not be quite so worldview-dependent. [The same could be said for] learning, memory, intelligence, languages, and emotions.
Worldviews also inform ideas about what it means to be human. It should have to do with moral ethics, values; how you define what it means to be healthy, what it means to be mature, and what it means to flourish. It also influences how healing is defined and pursued. Therefore it has a shaping influence on how education/training occurs.
Now what about health and medical issues? What about diet and exercise? We can also see how faith contributes to recovery, or if it actually may be an impediment to the betterment of the person. A wholistic view will actually take all of these into consideration for intervention and treatment. A biblical worldview also asserts that God is present, God is active, and God is part of the process of healing through various ways.
Why is it important for the church to have this conference at this particular time?
The notion of worldview is a standard development in professional circles. Yet it has such a pervasive influence that we may not necessarily have only a critical perspective on the information that flows through us, but more than that, we have not yet developed a comprehensive and yet friendly perspective on biblical notions of human nature that can inform our work. So the notion of worldview is quite significant in articulating how a biblical perspective can be enriching to the way we deal with emotional health issues.
The church has come to a point where interest in emotional health has really mushroomed in some parts of the world. In Latin America alone about 800 students in Adventist universities are pursuing an education in psychology that will allow them to be clinicians. So this is something that will be quite significant and very important to help those students around the world in the way they think as clinicians in biblical terms. That naturally transfers to their work in the community, in hospitals, in clinics, and so on.
Who is expected to attend? Are they clinicians, students, and laypeople—is it open to everybody?
It is open to anyone. We have a track for pastors and chaplains, for clinicians, for example, in psychotherapy, addictions, and women’s emotional health issues. We also have a track for organizational leaders, and in education, curricular development, clinical training. So we’re trying to bring together the various stakeholders that are in our organization that have some influence on how we address issues of emotional health. We have a number of physicians that are nonpsychiatrists. We have a number of health educators and people in health ministry. We also have a track for family education, because it is a very important element in the prevention of mental health issues. So, if you have an interest in almost any angle that you can think about, I think you may find something that can be of use to you.
To your knowledge, is this the first conference of its kind in the church?
To my knowledge, it is. There have been similar events that I’ve known of. For instance, in Argentina at River Plate Adventist University they convened a similar symposium. But none of them have been quite as comprehensive as what we’re trying to do. [We are] bringing to the conversation some of the most prominent individuals [in this field] from around the world. For instance, we have some of the most prestigious researchers in the areas of religion and mental health. We also have some of the most well-known individuals in the area of developing Christian psychology. This is one of the distinctive components—the caliber of the individuals we’re bringing together.
This article was published August 18, 2011.