122: Mental Health Professionals Discuss the New Missionary Questions

Image found on bing.com – free to share and use page.

Natasha Helfer Parker has a discussion with Dr. Randy Moss, who received his Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Brigham Young University, and Braxton Dutson, CSW, who received his Masters in Clinical Social Work from the University of Utah about the new guidelines and questions that were sent out to wards and stakes for parents and potential missionaries to read this past October. They share their concerns about some of the changes and how these standards will disqualify otherwise willing young adults who want to serve. Especially in a culture that still very much has missionary service as a marker delineating the type of “worth” an individual offers the overall community.

All panelists are members of the Mormon Mental Health Association.

Dr. Randy Moss

Braxton Dutson

Standard Interview Questions for Prospective Missionaries

Trauma Informed Care


Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She produces Sex Talk with Natasha, writes at The Mormon Therapist for Patheos: Hosting the Conversation of Faith, runs the Mormon Sex Info Podcast and is the current president for the Mormon Mental Health Association.

13 comments for “122: Mental Health Professionals Discuss the New Missionary Questions

  1. Greg Lewis
    January 24, 2018 at 12:51 pm

    I guess it’s just because I really don’t remember, or forgot about, going on a mission was required? I thought it was always a personal choice. I do agree there is social pressures, even that are extremely horrible and high pressures. I don’t really remember going on a mission is a must do this to stay a member of the Church? Could you clarify. Btw I really like you podcasts.

    • natashaparker
      January 25, 2018 at 10:18 am

      I think what we meant is that it’s “required” in the sense that the directives have very much about this is what worthy young men “should” do.. it’s not treated like a voluntary option that each person can decide whether or not it’s a good fit for them. There has been very strong language over the pulpit about the duty of young men in serving a mission. And if you decide not to go on one, it’s pretty dramatically frowned on in the community… But you’re correct… it’s absolutely not required to stay a member of the church.

  2. AG
    January 25, 2018 at 9:40 am

    I was looking forward to this one, but I had to pause it at 19:00. I might come back, we’ll see. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the church wants robots, Alpha, or drones out there. I have seen so many missionaries struggle with mental health, learning disabilities, unrepented sin (and no I’m not talking masturbation), and homesickness. Many of them are coming home early because of these issues and it’s setting up a whole new slew of problems and shame for them. I would much rather have the screening on the front end than have them get out there, see that they aren’t equipped, and come home in a sad state. This has happened to too many in my circle. I don’t have a major issue with any of the new questions except for bringing up already repented of sin. Once repentance has happened, it should be remembered no more. That’s not helpful or productive for anyone – it’s shaming. But screening for good mental health, learning disabilities, troublesome habits, testimony, etc. makes sense to me.

    I think we could definitely argue about mission age (I think it should be minimum 19 for everyone, male or female), mission length, how missionaries are assigned, or even what is done on a mission – and actually I would love to have that conversation in the church someday. But under the current setup, I think these questions are a net positive, save the let’s repent again for the sins we already repented for.

    I am a returned missionary (before the bar was raised) and I saw a lot of crazy crap. People who should not have been there because they weren’t in a healthy place. It wasn’t good for anybody. There is way too much pressure to go. That’s another conversation as well.

    Anyway, I hope the discussion gets better and I hope it helps someone.

    Sign me – RM, thoughtful LDS member, mental health professional, and missionary parent

    • natashaparker
      January 25, 2018 at 10:23 am

      Thank you for sharing your concerns. I hope you’ll continue to listen, especially as we discuss some of the ways that maybe the process could shift so that it could include all who want to serve regardless of the challenges they are facing. Although I agree that there are real problems individuals bring into a mission setting that affect everyone else (including companions etc.)… it’s still harmful whether on the way in or the way out for someone to be deemed “unworthy” for struggles that are fairly common for young adults to be dealing with and figuring out within a system that doesn’t have a lot of latitude or grace for those who haven’t served the way it’s been set up to be expected. Again… thanks for your comments.

    • Randy Moss
      January 25, 2018 at 12:28 pm

      Thanks for your comments. I think the allusion to Alphas and drones (consistent, and thoses passing fine-toothed inspections) is about social and unconscious sorting. I too, saw Elders and Sisters on my missions do all kinds of crazies. My point is that some if not most of those missionaries who would make the cut now are highly active, in leadership roles and probably can attribute partial gospel grounding to their missions. Further, my perspective as a professional is that this sorting, those above the bar, those below the bar receive different messages within the church and LDS dense communities. We’ve all heard, especially us older members, the exhortations to marry a RM, seen mission service placed on resumes and heard opinion justification rising from RM status.
      Lastly, and I appreciate your listening even to minute 19, I want to share that every member a missionary and every young man SHOULD prepare for a mission (I get the prepare) carries tremendous power of expectation. Such definitive emphasis creates a less than voluntary choice- we call it social desirability. Family, friends, leaders you look up to, and deeply ingrained life trajectories weigh heavily. Now at 18, the sorting is external, these questions HAVE potential to do more damage, especially as executed by well-meaning but woefully under trained men. The year, the threshold of 19, really does allow natural selection and experimentation with life out from under parental shadow. Therefore, my allusion to Alphas- a category ahead and lucky but those left behind, found wanting -even when no fault of their own- in my opinion, get ripped off of the honing, struggling and shaping that can be a mission.

      Thanks for responding. Thoughtful dialogue is what we hope for not consensus or agreement. We are all focused on the wellbeing, during formative stages, of the youth. Scarring and serious internalized judgments carey on- sadly in many

      Randy Moss PhD

    • AG
      January 25, 2018 at 8:40 pm

      Okay, I gave it another chance and finished. I’m glad I did, there was some good discussion – not that I agree with all that was said, but overall it was helpful.

      So here is where we probably differ: I look at these questions more as clarifiers than disqualifiers. Having dyslexia, a criminal record, a mental illness, or past transgression does not prohibit service (I would say in the most serious of cases only). It can, however, make sure the missionary has the supports in place and gets the right assignment for their needs. For instance, you probably wouldn’t want someone with a serious speech impediment or learning disability to be assigned to a mission with a difficult language. You wouldn’t want someone with MDD just starting a new med to go out until they are stable. There should be no surprises – the document says that these questions should be shared well in advance of the interview (I know in my ward they’ve already been gone over in detail with all youth at a BYD) and parents are to have the questions as well. Additionally, it does say that bishops can suggest a service mission if they feel that is a better fit. Full disclosure – my husband is a bishop and also a mental health professional. He knows from both ends of it what happens when a missionary discloses to him any of these issues. If it’s medical (say, a weight issue) they will have further medical advice given. If there is a mental health issue, there is screening done by a professional (my husband is one who performs these) to determine if it is good for their mental health to go or if they need further interventions before they can go. In some cases, a different option such as a service mission might be suggested. Bishops do not need to be mental health pros or criminal investigators to determine that further investigation needs to be done. The bishop does not do the further investigation, he just recognizes it may need to happen. Again, there shouldn’t be any great surprises with this process on the missionary end. I COMPLETELY agree that better training needs to happen for bishops and stake president so that there is consistency in how this goes.

      I do have some big problems with the incessant worthiness questions. Mostly because this can be very shaming. If it’s done in a spirit of “there are some habits that we need to make sure we are managing before you go” I think it’s helpful. Nothing like being on a mission and obsessing about having sex with your girlfriend or getting drunk every weekend. There is some wisdom in making sure all of this is cleared up. However, if it has been cleared up and the missionary isn’t struggling with it – then leave them alone. We are beating our kids to death with all this shaming! PS I didn’t see masturbation mentioned as a question, and my husband doesn’t ask about it – only if a missionary brings it up because they want help.

      I don’t like the idea of “messianic mormon narcissists” – while I do think some will lie and some will obsess, most will continue to just be normal kids who are pretty good kids but make mistakes. The great majority of missionaries I know who are serving or preparing are this way and I am grateful for their willingness. It’s not an easy process or experience for sure. I had companions with anorexia, anxiety, and even psychosis. In today’s world they would hopefully have these things under control before they leave, or maybe they would do service missions instead. But 25 years ago when I went, it caused a lot of problem. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to do thorough screening -again not as a disqualifier necessarily, but a clarifier so we all can have the best experiences possible.

      Also just a note – Natasha I think it was mentioned that we need to have mental health and medical people in place. I completely agree and am happy to say that we do! Every mission that I know of has a mission doctor and/or nurse and access to mental health services, both while preparing and while serving, and also following a mission if they end up needing to go home early. There are some good supports there. I 100% agree with you Natasha that we should investigate other mission options more. We have had a few young men who were unable to serve full-time who have worked in the bishop’s storehouse, both learning job skills and helping serve those who need it. I think we should definitely look into many more service options and also the length of missions and the disconnect from families while on a mission. It’s definitely not perfect, but I think sometimes when we have issues with the church (and I have PLENTY of them, believe me!) we take the most negative view. I do know there are real problems, abuses, and bishops who are clueless (again, the absolutely need better training) – but for the great majority of our youth this system works.

      This time I will sign – getting ready to send my daughter out, married to a bishop mental health professional, and a mental health professional myself, sort of (MSW in a few months). I’m active in the church, but with lots of questions and concerns. Lots. Including about this, but not nearly to the extent that the 3 of you do. 🙂

      Have a nice day, thanks for the discussion.

      • natashaparker
        January 25, 2018 at 10:46 pm

        Thank you so much for all of your thoughtful responses. This is definitely not a black and white issue and I really appreciate the many points you bring up. Love the dialogue.

    • malorielaukat
      February 22, 2018 at 7:24 pm

      I agree that the conversation should veer toward adjusting the nature of a proselyting mission. Rather than keeping people who want to go from going because of these questions, how can we shift the stringent and inflexible nature of the lds mission experience to allow more willing missionaries to succeed?

    • Justin
      February 28, 2018 at 1:56 am

      The robot comment really turned me off too.
      I was just introduced to these podcasts by wife and I was looking forward to discussion. After listening to a few, it seems the agenda is quite subversive.
      I hope this will change as I would like to participate in a more constructive discussion.

  3. David Wilson
    January 25, 2018 at 11:12 pm

    Great podcast guys. Thank you for all you do. I signed up as a monthly donner today. I want you to keep up the good work.

    • natashaparker
      January 26, 2018 at 3:31 pm

      Thank you so much David! I so appreciate your feedback and donation. I really want to keep the work up!

  4. Justin
    February 28, 2018 at 2:03 am

    Mormon mental health is not a very accurate description of these podcasts. Apart from being inaccurate, the discussion is littered with “they should do this” and “they should do that” comments. Maybe “1001 criticisms of LDS church policy” would give people a better idea of what they are donating to.

  5. JK
    March 3, 2018 at 8:14 am

    Wow, sorry I’m late for this one but I just found it.

    To me, this points to the need for a change of the church culture as well as the mental health struggles of young men/women.

    I have OCD – had it when I went out on my mission but was undiagnosed. Most bishops don’t even know what it is because they completely lack any pastoral counseling training.

    The questions, to a person with severe anxiety (especially OCD) can cause tremendous fear. If one has ‘sexual OCD’ this can trigger fears of ‘what if I” type thoughts – which is a common OCD search for certainty. Perfectionism is another problem for people like me – I’d never see myself as ‘worthy’ to pass those questions; people with OCD can be extremely hard on themselves; they can take a minor offense and turn it into an ‘unpardonable sin’. I’m speaking as someone with a lot of knowledge in the field of counseling and organizational leadership – and I’ve also suffered from OCD for many years.

    I leave this feeling horrible – never enough to measure up to a culture of perfection. Can never repent enough, never confess enough, can never do enough ‘works’ – in fact compulsions are invoked by these questions: Self-doubt, mental ‘checking’ for ‘unrepented’ sins or fogotten transgressions – I’ve found the church impossible to live with because of the lack of understanding, on the part of the ‘lay ministry’ for those of us who suffer – if they want to be an inclusive organization, they need the resources and competencies to customize solutions for individuals – the ‘one size fits all’ approach to membership doesn’t work – and way too much emphasis (and power) is placed with local church leaders, especially for repentance – for a person with OCD, the mental compulsion of internally searching one’s memories in order to confess (to repent) and be forgiven can actually create ‘false memories’ – there is too much emphasis on confession in this culture and it’s a compulsion for many with OCD – the leaders need to know the psychological and emotional damage it can do.

    Thank you for your podcast and work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *