South Florida counseling center wants to meet emotional, spiritual needs

Baptist Health South Florida recently named Elizabeth Skjoldal director of its counseling center. (Keila Diaz/FBW)For a long time the mental and behavioral health of people within the church has been pushed off to the margins to be dealt with in silence or not at all.

Southern Baptists have not been exempt from that.

But as the new director of the counseling center at Baptist Health South Florida’s Baptist Hospital, Elizabeth Skjoldal wants to develop a relationship with Florida Baptist pastors and their churches in order to provide a safe place for them to receive counseling.

Recently, national leaders within Southern Baptist life have talked about the need for the church to address mental health issues. In 2013 at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Houston, messengers passed a resolution on mental health, and Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, appointed the Mental Health Advisory Group to report and advise him on possible ways of better informing Southern Baptists about available mental health service providers and resources.

“There’s generally been a tension between pastors and counseling,” said Skjoldal.

Pastors are hesitant to send their church members to see a counselor because some counselors don’t have a friendly view of religion, she explains.

At the Baptist Health counseling center the counselors and therapists offer guidance based on a Christian worldview.

Depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder are some of the common mental and behavioral issues believers deal with. She calls them the no-casserole issues.

“When someone is sick, you can bring them a casserole. When someone has had a death in the family, you can bring them a casserole,” Skjoldal said. “But when someone is depressed or is bipolar, what do you do?”

By offering a safe and confidential place where believers can come and deal with these issues, the counseling center is stepping in to help churches that might not know how to help their members.

“We want to help them find answers to their spiritual needs,” Skjoldal said.

Born in Cuba to Baptist parents, Skjoldal came to the United States—with the help of Westover Baptist Church in Arlington, Va.—in the last Red Cross airplane that left Cuba some years after the communist regime took control of the island nation. Her desire to go into counseling was influenced by seeing her mother help the needy. She says that she remembers seeing her mother helping the homeless and the needy at every chance she got.

“That imparted in me the desire to help others,” Skjoldal said.

Prior to taking on the leadership of the counseling center, Skjoldal led the Caring for Miami ministry at Christ Fellowship. She is currently a member of Christ Journey Church in Coral Gables.

Skjoldal says that the vision for the Baptist Health program is to eventually integrate with the rest of the healthcare system at Baptist Hospital. Sometimes a nurse or a doctor can be great at offering emotional support for a patient, but most times patients and their families need another level of support that the counseling center staff can offer.

“We want to be there at all stages,” said Skjoldal.

Ideally, the counselors will be able to visit the patient and their families at home as they go through recovery or other medical procedures.

“We’re whole beings—physical, emotional and spiritual,” Skjoldal said.

At some point she would like for counselors to partner with churches to offer the counseling services at the church as “an arrangement where the church designates a room, and our counselors go and sit with people who want to talk to someone,” she said.

Some people feel that they need counseling but cannot afford to see a licensed counselor, but Skjoldal says that she doesn’t want money to be a reason why people don’t come to get the counseling they need.

The counseling center does take insurance, and it is currently working to get on all of the insurance panels. The center also offers a sliding scale that’s income based. The scale ranges from $35 to $150 per session.

Gary Johnson, director of missions for the Miami Baptist Association, encourages pastors to take advantage of the counseling center services.

“[The counseling center] is right in our backyard; it is right in our area,” he said, adding that the association is willing to help find ways to cover the cost of counseling. “Pastors don’t want to let their guard down, and sometimes it’s hard for them to admit they need help.”

For more information about Baptist Health Care and Counseling Services, call 786-596-2273 or visit

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