Using the Teachings of Jesus to Treat Mental Health: DBU Professor of Psychology Dr. Jennifer Burgess

DBU Professor of Psychology Dr. Jennifer Burgess on the DBU campus

"I've lived through painful experiences in my life, but God uses this as a way for me to understand my client's pain. God has taken me through hard times and forced me to depend on him more each day. He has allowed me to be broken in seasons, so I will trust that only He can bring healing. Through all these things, I pray I can bring knowledge, encouragement, and challenge to the lives of DBU students to work for the glory of the Lord, not for the praises of men."

Dr. Jennifer Burgess was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, and she lived in several towns in Louisiana during her childhood. Jennifer's father was a pastor, so she grew up in the church, watching her dad serve a congregation in several small churches. When Jennifer's family lived near New Orleans, her father pursued a Master of Divinity at New Orleans Theological Seminary while serving as the Assistant Minister for Vieux Carre Baptist Church in the heart of the French Quarter. During this season of life, Jennifer watched her father be the hands and feet of Christ towards the broken community in New Orleans that was suffering from substance abuse, homelessness, and worldly living. "This deeply impacted me," remarked Dr. Burgess. "I came to realize that none of us is righteous, and even though I was a child, I was no better than the people we were serving in that community." Jennifer accepted Christ as her Savior one Sunday afternoon after a conversation with her mother after she understood the significance of embracing the church as a place of healing for broken, damaged people.

As a pastor's child, Jennifer was exposed to all aspects of the church, good and bad. The churches her father served were often dysfunctional and did not support her family well. When Jennifer was 15, her father left full-time ministry due to the damage done by various small churches he served at, and they moved to Houston, Texas, for a fresh start. Jennifer struggled to make sense of why the church could be full of so many judgmental and unaccepting people. However, she ultimately came to embrace Hebrews 12:1-3, "… fix my eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the same, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." This verse renewed her mindset and allowed Jennifer to realize that all people are broken, especially members of the church.

When Jennifer was a teenager, her best friend attempted suicide. This deeply affected Jennifer, as she could not comprehend why a Christian, who seemed so happy, would want to die. "I've always been academically driven, so I started reading about the psychology of why people do what they do. Through this reading, I discovered that God was calling me to pursue a degree in psychology." Jennifer returned to Louisiana after high school to attend Louisiana Tech University, where she earned a B.A. in Psychology. She also earned an M.S. in Psychology from the University of Louisiana Monroe. Later in her life, Jennifer earned a Psy.D. from the University of Denver.

Throughout her professional career, Dr. Burgess has served in several positions specializing in adolescent and family therapy. She served as the clinical director for a juvenile detention facility for a season, treating inner-city youth. She worked to help them find a way out of the legacy of crime that many were engrossed in and viewed crime as something to strive for. Dr. Burgess quickly learned that many institutions she found herself at only permitted integration of faith and mental health work if the client specifically requested it, which was a frustrating roadblock for her. Dr. Burgess then spent 18 years working in private practices, providing direct therapy care and supervising several post-doctoral residents in earning their licensure hours. She continues to serve as a Licensed Psychologist in the state of Texas. Still, they continue to place restrictions on how Christian professionals work and integrate faith into mental health practice.

"About five years ago, I believed God was calling me to a career of teaching, to use my years of experience to teach students who are passionate about pursuing a career in psychology." Dr. Burgess joined the faculty at Criswell College and worked there for four years before joining the DBU Family in 2023 as an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Dr. Burgess teaches Theories and Techniques of Psychotherapy, Human Growth and Development, Psychology Assessment I, and Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves being a part of an institution where she can unapologetically integrate faith into her classroom. "Never have we had a stronger need for quality mental health professionals, and yet never has it been more intimidating to be a person of faith in that professional community."

At an early age, Dr. Burgess recognized that the Bible contains countless stories of broken people in need of the Savior. Realizing this has allowed her to understand the needs of people struggling with their mental health. "In the classroom, I strive to integrate an understanding of our brokenness and how God can uniquely equip mental health professionals to meet people amid that brokenness and seek help to be whole again."

Dr. Burgess has been married to her husband, Bill, an engineer, for 28 years. They have three teenagers and attend First Baptist Church in Keller, Texas. Dr. Burgess currently serves in an adult small group class focused on learning how to balance full-time work with family needs. Beyond her work at DBU, Dr. Burgess is involved with the National Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS), and she has presented three times at the national level on various topics surrounding mental health.

"I've often said that we live life forward but understand it backward. Looking back over my life, I can see the hand of God at work in each relocation he has led me and my husband to. I am excited about this new chapter of my life here at DBU, where I can freely preach the Gospel of Christ in my classroom, which is the best way to convey the need for healing in our broken world."

Written by Cameron Billings

Cameron Billings is the Assistant Director of Written Content in University Communications at Dallas Baptist University.