A review of Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry.
The next part of this section features Mercy’s advice regarding the Human Resources department. Their information on recruiting staff members has numerous reminders to be compliant with state and federal laws for employment and interviewing (again, they’re all about compliance and accountability—unless we’re talking about their care and treatment of residents). They also, of course have the normal common sense stuff mixed in with a lot of exhortation to pray and seek God’s guidance. Here’s some advice that seems to speak specifically to their views on qualifications and training:
“Heart Monitor—Degrees are great, but do not forget to do a heart check. Sometimes the best candidate may have less credentials, experience or education, but have an incredibly teachable spirit, willingness to serve (servant’s heart), and strong Christian walk.” (p. 25)
First off, let’s make sure to notice that the only staff left this could be referring to here is the staff that interact with and help the residents. Earlier, Mercy’s already specifically advised for legal counsel to be qualified and experienced and for accountants to be certified and specialized–plus we know that Mercy’s not talking about janitorial staff here because they have the residents do that work themselves. It seems fair to assume that the only category of staff left that credentials would pertain to are the staff that care for the residents.
And here’s the thing–sometimes a less credentialed candidate might be perfect for a job, but there’s a huge difference between a less credentialed but fully qualified candidate and throwing the idea of credentials out the window entirely. When I was at Mercy my first “counselor” had a bachelor’s degree, and THAT’S ALL. So this “counselor” was in charge of helping about ten girls who were struggling with multiple mental illnesses and abuse issues, often including suicidal ideation and various forms of self-harm with issues an interfering with their life to the point that they signed up to spend at least 6 months in a residential facility. Now, we’re not talking about feeling a little blue here, right? Think about it, how bad would your life have to be going for you to pick up, quit everything for an indefinite amount of time, give up all of your individual freedom, and live in a house with 39 other people who were also willing to do this? This is not teenage girls asking for advice about their latest friendship drama…this is a place where they lock up the cleaning supplies to make sure no one drinks them in a suicide attempt.
This stuff is so serious that there are regulations PROHIBITING individuals without the proper training, education, qualifications, testing, and oversight from even attempting to help someone in this way. Of course, the next question always is, how do they get away with it then? 1) They’re faith-based, 2) they don’t call it “treatment”, at least not anymore, and 3) nobody’s called them on their shit. Now, let’s remember that if Mercy were breaking the law with finances or employment (as we’ve seen them caution against repeatedly), nobody would accept “they’re Christian” as a reason for that to be okay. But legally, it’s true, they can skirt the rules and regulations that are there to protect the residents that they are “called by God” to help, and they can do that because they’re “Christian”. They aren’t, however, allowed to represent themselves or their services as something that they’re not. Which is a little surprising because their application materials and advertisements aren’t telling people to come and listen to sermons and maybe talk to a prayer counselor every now and then. They aren’t asking people to donate money so they can build a new house so they can pray the demons of mental illness out of more people. An organization that prides itself on its financial accountability is skirting so close to being illegal in it’s self-representation that they have become more and more careful what words they use to describe their program the longer it has been established.
There’s admonitions to seek legal counsel on the questions you’re allowed to ask job applicants and reminders to make sure that the paper applications are compliant with state and federal laws. It’s nice to know that Mercy is at least consistent in the value they place upon qualifications and compliance regarding, well, everything except the treatment and care of residents. They also tell readers to “openly discuss spiritual warfare, as in one’s ability to recognize it and take authority over it” (p. 25) when they are looking to fill job positions. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs or spiritual practices, it’s quite clear that this is considered more important than actual credentials of staff. Although, funny, they didn’t suggest checking out the lawyers this way…or the accountants…but I guess those people wouldn’t be helping those with demons, oops, I mean mental illnesses.
They also point out the importance of record keeping for employment records. Unsurprisingly, they seem to be very keen on keeping detailed records for finances and employment, but as many residents will attest to, record keeping on residents (which in qualified mental health facilities meets or exceeds that which you’d see in a medical hospital) is painfully absent. I know that when I tried to get back assignments and records from Mercy shortly after my stay there, I was given a one paragraph discharge statement that basically said I was all better now. There wasn’t any information about anything that I’d done during the months I’d been a resident or even what issues had been addressed. Again, we can clearly see that Mercy’s advice to keep detailed records for employment and finances doesn’t apply to the care and treatment of residents. Mercy prides itself on being above reproach in everything except what they say they are specifically called by God to do.
Now, Mercy does tell readers to “identify state and federal licensing requirements…determine how these impact your ministry” and ensure compliance in order to maintain and retain such requirements. It’s interesting again that Mercy basically says make sure you’re not illegal here while they are admonishing thorough accountability in other areas. There’s no mention of consulting professionals in the field of mental health care to determine what licensing you need or anything telling why it’s important to be licensed and certified to provide checks and balances for the care and treatment of residents, but in the following bullet point they tell readers about their need to have specific workers compensation insurance saying that “you will need to understand the intricacies of the coverage and how to manage possible workplace injuries in order to be a good steward of your ministry” (p. 27). I’m not saying that this worker’s comp isn’t important, but does it seem odd to anyone else that making sure to understand the “intricacies” of worker’s comp insurance is seen as a requirement for being a good steward of the ministry, but seeking certification to ensure that standards of care are being met doesn’t even fit into the picture? Wasn’t the ministry to help young women? The way Mercy talks about it, the ministry itself is the organization, its image and its successful fundraising, and helping young women is just a side project.
I would think that being a good steward of a ministry seeking to serve and help those with mental illnesses would probably mean having qualified staff and seeking appropriate professionals to ensure that residents are receiving the best possible treatment, but this seems to be less important than making sure that the organization has the best insurance coverage for workers compensation. I guess, my definition of ministry stewardship and its focus on the people being ministered to is a very different definition than what Mercy is using. Or maybe it’s just a reflection of what Mercy actually cares about, after all, we’re on page 27 of 41 and the only instructions or advice Mercy offers to those wanting to open a residential counseling center about residents has been multiple recommendations to use resident testimonies for fundraising and that staff should be sure to judge applicants “willingness to change” so that they can be sure to exclude those who aren’t worthy of getting help, but hey, there’s still a few pages left, right?
**All quotes are from Mercy Multiplied, Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry, Retrieved October 2015.**