His out-of-the-box way of preaching and teaching has attracted as many supporters as it has detractors, but when it comes to his COVID-19 family coping video, noted psychologist Dr. Valerie Knowles says entertaining evangelical “Singing Bishop” Lawrence Rolle was almost pitch perfect – delivering his own brand of “empirically sound” counseling, which had the added benefit of de-stressing a nation with its down-home humor.
“It is easy to recognize traditional psychologists, licensed professionals with well-appointed offices supported by persons of some means and generous insurance schemes. But, as The Bahamas wages war on COVID-19, it is important for us to embrace citizen helpers – those untrained, plain-speaking advocates who dispense their own unique healthy brand of advice, as they aim to uplift their followers during this difficult time in our society,” says Knowles, a 20-year practitioner of multiple areas of psychology.
“For society’s most marginalized, the voice of someone who understood their life dynamic and who spoke their language with cultural authority was blatantly missing from the mainstream infographics of the pandemic. Bishop Lawrence Rolle stood in this gap.”
One can never predict what would emerge from the mouth of the dancing “prophet” – but his Facebook Family Coping video for the pandemic and its clarion call to “protocol your belly” struck a chord in society with its 11,000-plus views and counting.
“‘Protocol your belly’ had a clear and unique way of advocating that you cannot survive this crisis without paying attention to and curbing your personal appetites and desires. It was his way of saying that things had changed, and more self-control was now needed,” said Knowles, the 2018 recipient of the Tim McCartney Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to psychology in The Bahamas.
Likely, without even knowing it, the Bishop drew upon references reality therapy practitioners would find familiar.
He called upon persons to recognize and accept that they are in an intensely frustrating situation that would not shortly end and so, they were encouraged to “protocol ya’ self.”
“Pull yourself together and start strategizing for the win was my interpretation of his call. And, while a professional psychologist may have used different words to warn about the dangers of emotional overstimulation, unsupervised exposure to damaging e-content, and spontaneous outbursts of anger related to the sudden deprivation of privacy and space, the bishop’s advice was to watch out for the ‘spirits’.”
Speaking passionately about the need to defeat these “spirits,” he called on the family to practice what trained psychologists call “mindfulness,” without uttering that exact word.
The bishop vigorously advocated the need for families to continuously pay attention to their thoughts and feelings given that they were locked down, perhaps just lost jobs and had to deal with unfinished business from past relationships.
How would they know when they were stressed? According to the bishop, one would feel as if the “spirits” were winning, as evident in their feelings of frustration, being overwhelmed, and perhaps lashing out at each other.
For this, he advocated prevention – to be on guard and not succumb or as he puts it, “not follow the spirits up.”
“As for more direct stress management options, he encouraged persons to avoid what a mental health professional might have called ‘negative coping strategies.’ He did not use those words. Instead he said, ‘Don’t start smokin’ dope, drinkin’ rum, t’iefin’, and fightin’ because it would set the place on fire and make matters worse,” surmised Knowles, co-ordinator of the offender rehabilitation and reintegration initiative of the Ministry of National Security’s Citizen Security and Justice Programme.
To avoid child abuse, the bishop encouraged parents to not “put it on their children” when they asked for things parents could not afford.
“He prepared his followers to cope with their new reality,” said the doctor. “More importantly, he advocated praying as a stress-busting tool but not praying in defeat and powerlessness. He called for prayer warriors to take a pre-emptive strike against the spirits. Failure was not an option.”
In the shadows of the United Nations’ Psychology Day, observed on Thursday, May 28, Knowles believes communities should recognize unorthodox cultural influencers like the singing bishop.
“His approach was empirically sound,” said the psychologist.
“He analyzed the situation, presented preventative and curative suggestions and organized a call for community participation and collaboration in beating the impact of COVID-19. Let’s take advantage of Psychology Day to give recognition to those ordinary citizens whose authenticity strike a chord in the national psyche.”