Every now and then, I like to write about people or organizations I think you should know. In this post, I present part 2 of my conversation with Joe Padilla, co-founder, president, and CEO of Mental Health Grace Alliance. I often mention this organization when I speak, or when people ask me about Christian resources to help individuals and families affected by mental illness. It’s a great organization, founded by wonderful people, and I’m excited to help you learn more about them. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read part 1 of this conversation.
And here’s the rest of my conversation with Joe:
You’ve told us about your family’s inspiring recovery story. What are some other ways your own background has led you to this kind of ministry?
My basic background is in church planting ministry, small group growth, discipleship, and pastoral care. Plus, I directed development work in Asia and Africa. Also, part of my development work was starting a small business in Africa. I’ve always been in some sort of development and leadership position in regard to pioneering or start-up work (ministry, business, and social nonprofit development). Plus, as I mentioned, on my own I have extensively studied research in neuroscience, psychology, and other medical science to understand the connection between how the brain works and mental health recovery concepts. That has helped because Dr. Stanford and I did a lot of workshops, seminars, and keynotes together–I rode his coattails in that sense, but he felt confident with my overall knowledge in mental health.
But I would say our personal experience is the key to really understanding the heart of the sufferer, the science, and the sincere love of God. Not as well as Dr. Stanford, but I can take the science and mental health knowledge and translate it to someone deep in the journey (as I can identify personally) into the language they can understand. In addition, I can translate this language and understanding to the clergy, because I know that world well and how they think. Usually after I finish my 40-minute workshop with clergy leaders (Solutions for Mental Health and the Church), they finally understand, have the a-ha moment, and most of them are no longer intimidated and want to pursue the support groups. Professionals appreciate it because I validate them as well and help to bridge the pastor and the professional closer together. That is at the heart of our organization–our programs should be bringing the professionals and the church into closer working relationship (especially since there has been tension there).
What needs were you seeking to meet when you started?
We were trying to help people navigate the mental health care system, faith issues, and mental health recovery process. That led Matt and I to co-author all our materials and resources and programs. The heart is that we are “re-storying” people’s comeback stories and reinventing effective community support! We want to make this simple and accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime!
What do you offer?
1. Support groups that work!
Dr. Stanford and I co-authored support groups that facilitate personal discovery and active learning, all within deep community support. We offer groups for families (Family Grace Group) and separate groups for peers (Living Grace Group). They are based on faith integration, psychoeducation, and tools to see life and grace be practical. We even have evidence-based results on the peer group, showing that it reduces symptoms, increases faith, and aids overall mental health recovery.
We’ve made it easy for any church or community to start and facilitate groups. The training to start a group is absolutely free, through our video e-course on our website (Grace Academy). Any individual or group can do the training videos and only order the workbooks they need to start a Family Grace or Living Grace group or both. They simply register their group with us.
We provide monthly free support webinars for group leaders and anyone wanting to start a group.
2. Thrive Mental Health Recovery Workbook
This is for those in the Living Grace Group who want to go deeper into their own mental health journey. Dr. Stanford and I put together a full workbook of what I did with my wife for her whole-health mental health recovery approach. We also added many other topics and tools to help people in their unique journey. These are the topics that therapists or psychiatrists don’t have time to cover. So this workbook supplements and works alongside professional care wonderfully. We have seen many professionals refer clients to this program. Our team in Los Angeles and Dr. Stanford and I have coached and consulted hundreds through this program; we know it’s changing lives.
I go around providing keynote presentations, workshops, and some specialized training called Mental Health 101 (four hours for church and lay leaders to recognize, respond, refer, and restore lives). Dr. Stanford and I developed this training, and it comes with a small resource guide.
What are some ways you have seen the work of the Grace Alliance make a difference?
One family was in a distressing situation with a loved-one, and they went in to meet with the pastor and elders for prayer. The meeting didn’t need to go very long as they provided heartfelt ears and prayer; however, this church had both the Family Grace Group and the Living Grace Group…which just happened to be meeting at the same time. The pastor walked the couple over to the Family Grace Group and said, “This is where you need to be.” The couple was shocked to find a group that completely understood what they were going through, immediate community support, and a curriculum that could provide them more helpful ideas.
In our Living Grace group, a man came to the meeting and absolutely loved the meeting. He then told the leader afterwards why he came. He said, “I’ve been in the hospital with (another member in the group). He was tied down and put in a ‘safe room,’ and I know he has a difficult life. But ever since he has been coming to this group, he is a completely different person, he is absolutely changed…whatever he has, I want it and that’s why I’m here!”
A Living Grace group member told us, “My life is so difficult, but I love coming to this group because it’s probably the only time during the week I don’t experience any symptoms.”
Another Living Grace Group member with a very debilitating mental illness often struggled with his own faith. He was never able to understand salvation, and he feared he had committed the unpardonable sin. He was never feeling safe with God. He opened up, stumbling over words, fidgeting, rocking back and forth, and with restful conviction said, “I’m starting to realize God loves me.” Emotions are difficult for this person; however, he says now that when he journals he sometimes can’t stop crying because of the love of God.
A man with a difficult mental illness struggled with 25 voices and hallucinations. He was barely living, playing video games all day to manage and distract. However, he started to come to the Living Grace Group and other programs. He started seeing God break through some deep personal challenges, and energy came back. Over a two-year period, he started to improve and got his voices down to five and minimized the hallucinations. He then became the Living Grace Group leader and one of the most influential leaders we’ve ever seen.
Another woman told me the Thrive Recovery Workbook, along with the coaching she received, has been the most helpful resource ever. She told me that she had been in counseling for years, but this was the first time she was gaining ground. Her husband confirmed this.
I could go on…
Why do you believe there’s so much hope for people affected by mental health challenges?
Because the research shows it, period! I could go into the faith factors that you know, but everyone wants empirical evidence. I’ve researched throughout history, up to what’s happening now across the world, even in third world cultures without mental health advancements. I know, that I know, that I know, that I know, it can get better. I’ve personally worked with people with serious schizophrenia and other challenging disorders and have seen absolute life transformation. And I’m not a professional–I just know the simple ingredients and process that work. Yes, everyone is unique and some take longer than others and everyone has a unique journey. It takes time, it takes patience, it hurts, but everyone has their unique comeback story.
Where is the Grace Alliance going from here?
We have been steadily growing, but we are strategically working on trying to scale our growth for our support group and providing more video online support.
We are also working on a whole new exciting development of our support group materials for 2019! We’re getting good feedback, getting a deeper understanding of where people are, getting feedback from churches, getting good insight from mental health research, and learning future concepts on how we can help build and shift toward better discovery and active learning. We’re having exciting development meetings to explore where we can go and help reinvent the way we do support to be effective and fun!
Joe Padilla is a Baylor University graduate and a licensed and ordained minister. As CEO of Mental Health Grace Alliance, Joe has co-authored all the curriculum and programs, conducts trainings, oversees all the operations and development, and serves as a consultant with other mental health organizations. In addition, Joe has been a keynote presenter across the nation for various mental health conferences, seminars, and churches. Most importantly, Joe has deeply enjoyed coaching hundreds of families and individuals across the U.S. to discover their own mental health recovery.
© 2017 Amy Simpson.