Carson-Newman’s Blevins Institute Nurtures Spiritual and Mental Well-Being

Dr. Bill Blevins is congratulated by alumni and Honors Program Advisory Board members Al Lepper and his daughter Erin Sprinkle following a recent campus meeting. The Institute provides a valuable resource for counselors, mental health care providers and ministers.

Dr. Bill Blevins has sought to fulfill his call to serve God by helping people since his time as a Carson-Newman student more than 50 years ago. And he has done so as an integral part of C-N’s faculty for the last 46 years.

He joined the religion department in 1966 and was named department chair the following year. Over the course of the next 15 or so years, however, he pursued an interest in spiritual welfare and mental health. The interest was fostered even more as he developed close relationships with members of C-N’s psychology faculty.

“I have always been interested in the well-being of persons. And, although New Testament and Greek were my specialties in graduate work, I just couldn’t get the idea of helping people out of my mind, or out of my heart,” he says.

He broadened his understanding and credentials by earning a fourth degree, an EdS with emphasis in counseling from the University of Tennessee. As he neared the 30-year mark, Blevins agreed to an administration request in 1994 that he establish a graduate counseling program. The effort included the development of C-N’s Family Enrichment Institute, which, like Blevins, continues to change in an effort to serve people best. Though he finally retired from fulltime employment last year, he continues to teach part-time and will work with the new model.

Named to honor his service and support, the William Blevins Institute for Spirituality and Mental Health has been dedicated to exploring the relationship between mental well-being and soul care. The Institute serves students and a host of professionals, including teachers, ministers, counselors and many varied healthcare practitioners, according to Blevins.

By providing education, information, research, training, and services that can improve holistic health, the Institute can help nurture a better understanding between one’s heart and head.

Blevins says that it took ages for much of the healthcare industry to figure out what Judaism always knew and what Jesus always practiced – that a human is a whole entity, and not a collection of parts and functions. “Man doesn’t have a soul, he is a soul. People are holistic beings, and you cannot deal with just one aspect of their lives, be it mental, physical, emotional or spiritual. You cannot divide people up and act like our components are not all interconnected.”

“In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for soul is not a Greek-Western idea of soul,” he continues. “It’s nephesh, literally in Genesis nephesh hayah, a living being, an animated body. It is the fact that we are a whole being – God forms man out of the dust of the earth and breathes into his nostrils the breath of life and man actually becomes a living soul. The fact that we are a soul is reflected in a Greek word in one of Jesus’ statements when he referred to a man as a holon, a whole being. ”

Committed to improving the spiritual and mental health of all individuals, families, groups, and professionals, the Institute, said Blevins, “is committed to focusing on the spiritual, mental, emotional, social, and behavioral dimensions of personhood.”

Blevins works with colleagues Dr. Mel Hawkins and Edra Garrett to lead students in examining research on the dynamic interplay of religion, spirituality, and mental health, and then to utilize the information for clinical and practical applications. Interested parties can participate in educational seminars and online certificate programs, including continuing educational seminars (CEU's) for mental health professionals, as well as offerings to promote personal growth and spiritual development. CEU programs are designed to meet the education and training needs of mental health professionals, as well as others in allied health, service, and education fields.

“All of our programs are based upon the conviction that spirituality is an integral dimension of our mental health and quality of life,” said Blevins. “Each seminar focuses on particular spirituality skills that enhance an understanding of people’s problems, facilitate recovery and coping, and enable persons to become more resilient in handling life’s difficulties.

The Institute’s summer offerings are:

Introduction to Christian Meditation – Led by Dr. Mel Hawkins, the six-week, Sunday afternoon course is open to those interested in the idea of centering prayer as well as established meditators who wish to learn about the ancient practice of Christian contemplative silence. Rooted in the Gospel and writings of the Apostle Paul, the methods have been utilized by the faithful for some two millennia. By seeking God in silence and stillness beyond word and thought, practitioners often discover deeper faith and calmer selves. The seminar includes six 90-minute sessions that feature instruction, silent meditation and a discussion period. Registration is $10 per session or $50 for the six-week course, which will be offered on Sundays beginning June 17 from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

The Power of Spirituality: Nurturing Wholeness and Meaning When Life is Broken and Senseless – Led by Dr. Blevins, the three-hours seminar will delve into therapeutic techniques of everyday spirituality that nurture wholeness, health, and meaning in the presence of brokenness and suffering. Each person is susceptible life’s unforeseen crises, be it a loved one’s death, divorce, career change, financial reversal or the sense of an empty existence. Spiritual practices can foster healing, even when a cure is unobtainable. Registration for the 9 a.m. until noon session on Saturday, June 23, is $15.

The Biology of Belief: How Faith Influences Health and Wellbeing – Blevins will examine what impact faith can have on one’s mental, physical and spiritual health. Participants will consider Dr. Harold Koenig’s notion that faith has “healing power,” as well as Dr. Herbert Benson’s assertion that humans “are biologically wired for God.” A particular emphasis will be given to behavioral techniques that enable faith to improve one’s holistic health, enhance the ability to cope with adversity, and boost a sense of wellbeing. Slated for 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday, July 21, the session has a $15 registration fee.

Sessions will be held in Room 210 of C-N’s Baker Building, located on the corner of Russell Avenue and South College Street. For more information, or to register for sessions, contact Edra Garrett at 865-471-3311 or at egarrett@cn.edu.