More than twenty percent of Americans suffered from some form of mental illness in 2022, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Ministers and their staff are often called upon to provide emotional support and guidance to their congregations as access and affordability can limit other treatment options. What can be easily overlooked in this paradigm is the need for those serving others to seek emotional support for themselves. In 2018, Liz and Murray Garrott founded Sanctuary Counseling Center to provide affordable counseling to ministry staff and others in the nonprofit sector.
In his previous role as a full-time pastor, Murray observed that, “The helping vocations can be a lonely place, and those who serve in pastoral ministry are often assumed by others to be immune or protected from their own personal struggles. Ministry workers are often reluctant to open up with others about their personal lives, especially those parts of their stories that have never been verbalized.” He adds, “if those difficult parts of their past go unnamed and unprocessed, their emotional capacity to stand in the gap for others, connect with them, and help them walk through their own seasons of hardship becomes increasingly limited.” Murray’s anecdotal evidence is backed by research indicating that those who serve in ministry, along with their immediate family members, face mental health concerns at similar rates as the general population, but are unfortunately far less likely to receive help.
Serving alongside her husband Murray in a variety of different ministry roles, Liz also witnessed the need for counseling. “Working in church and nonprofit organizations has its unique challenges. Many of the people employed in these ministries spend their time and energy helping others and do not make time to help themselves.” Liz also adds, “The issues that arise during their counseling sessions are often the same as in the general population: anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, marital conflict, compulsive behavior and burnout.” The key is to help them seek the treatment they need.
Liz and Murray recognized two primary deterrents for ministry workers to pursue counseling: cost and stigma. In order to remove the financial barrier to seeking counseling, they developed a pay structure that ranges from $30 to $50 a session based upon income. Liz and Murray allow their clients to gain “buy-in” and be active participants in the counseling process by keeping fees well below market value. Their pay structure does not completely cover the cost of the treatment; therefore, Sanctuary Counseling relies on additional funding through the generosity of churches, foundations and individuals who see the value of their work and desire to help them continue to provide support to an integral part of the Memphis community.
Liz and Murray know firsthand the importance of the mental health of ministry workers and are in a strong position to reduce the stigma associated with seeking treatment. Sanctuary Counseling Center is a safe place where ministry staff, their families and other nonprofit employees are able to open up about their mental health challenges to a counseling staff who is dedicated to meeting their unique needs. Liz and Murray add, “We know there is a direct correlation between the emotional health of a ministry worker and their overall effectiveness in the places they serve. When a Sanctuary client prioritizes his or her own emotional health, the ministry organizations they serve benefit, as does the city of Memphis.”
When their children left for college, Liz and Murray were able to act on the need they saw in the ministry by moving to Orlando to obtain their degrees in counseling. When asked about their decision to open Sanctuary Counseling Center together, Liz says, “Working together has been a gift. We can help each other with the unique stresses of the job and also have time together that would not be possible in different work places.”
Sanctuary Counseling Center’s staff is comprised of 3 full-time and 3 part-time counselors, all of whom are licensed mental health providers, with the exception of their intern, who comes to them through a partnership with the University of Memphis’ Masters of Counseling program. “Our staff enjoys paying it forward by helping to train the next generation of mental health counselors,” says Liz.
With her Ph.D. and 30 years of experience in clinical psychology, Allison Garrott joined Sanctuary Counseling Center in 2022. Dr. Garrott specializes in a wide range of child, adolescent and women’s issues, including working with older women who are struggling with the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of aging.
Sanctuary Counseling Center has a waiting list of future clients that they would love to serve. Donations from churches, organizations and individuals can bridge that gap. If you or someone you know could benefit from the services provided by Sanctuary Counseling or if you would like more information on supporting the organization's important mission, visit their website, sanctuarycounselingcenter.org.