CADER Partners with School of Theology to Train Faith-Based Leaders in Behavioral Health & Aging

Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash

Since 2018, the Center for Aging and Disability Education and Research (CADER) at Boston University School of Social Work has trained faith-based leaders in the area of behavioral health in aging. Funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Suicide Prevention Fund, this program was developed in response to the high prevalence rates of behavioral health concerns in older adults and the reality that a majority of older adults who have these concerns do not get necessary services and treatment. Older adults are, in fact, more likely to seek help for mental health challenges from their faith leaders. The goal of this training program is to equip leaders with the knowledge and skills to support the individuals and families who turn to them: recognizing common signs and symptoms, understanding where and how to make referrals for services, and identifying strengths and resources. This type of intervention can lead to early recognition and ultimately benefit the health system as a whole.

To pilot test this curriculum, CADER organized a Clergy Stakeholder Advisory Group in collaboration with Boston University’s School of Theology, to review the existing Behavioral Health in Aging Certificate and offered feedback around implementation for clergy learners. This online certificate program consists of five courses on the topics of mental health and aging, substance use, mental wellness and resilience among older immigrants and refugees, suicide prevention, and Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Learners rate their skill level at the beginning and end of each course to measure changes in their perceived competence related to the course content.

A total of 40 clergy learners have completed the certificate, and their feedback has been exceedingly positive. Across all courses, 94 percent of learners felt this training would help them in their work with older adults, and 93 percent endorsed that this training expanded their knowledge and understanding of the topic area. Further, learners demonstrated statistically significant increases from pre-course to post-course in the self-assessments of their skill level across all 44 course competencies.

Moving forward, CADER plans to continue training faith-based leaders and to facilitate partnerships between faith communities, social service organizations, and aging service providers in order to expand the reach and improve the quality of services for older adults.

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This project was funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Suicide Prevention Fund.