Live Blog: Trauma Training in Kenya

DAY 14 - LOCAL COMMUNITY / TWO LOCAL MEDICAL CLINICS / HOSPITAL
Our last day of the trip! We can hardly believe our time in Kenya is coming to an end. Today we went to three different locations and mostly to medical clinics. Between the teams, we were able to work with the local nurses, doctors and medical staff. As with most of the professionals that we have worked with, the demands on the medical profession is high as there are a lot of services needed with limited resources. One team spent half of the day working in a community near the Bamboo Medical Clinic. Going to the various houses, the team was able to learn more about how they live and have conversations with residents. There were so many stories of resilience about how they live and face daily challenges. One group was able to gather eight women to discuss how they handle stress and to teach them techniques of breathing and “tapping” to aide in their daily stress regulation. The second team visited the Lari Medical Clinic, a level four hospital. They presented to 23 health care workers from different counties who came to learn more about compassion fatigue and how to help their stress levels throughout their shifts. The third team went to the Giabe Hospital and Dr. Keyes presented to a group of nurses and administrators on compassion fatigue, grief and loss. The facilitation of groups was focused around those themes and some of the nurses were able to process the difficulties in handling situations in which babies die and they have to communicate the news to the family. We are grateful for another successful day and as we close our work, we are excited to relax and debrief for the next couple of days! DAY 13 - TRAINING LOCAL POLICE / LOCAL COMMUNITY WORK / TRAINING INTO ABBA’S ARMS STAFF Today we split into three teams to cover three distinct areas. One team traveled to the local Naivasha police station to train the local police on topics of hostage negotiation, communication skills and compassion fatigue. A team stayed at Into Abba’s Arms to continue the training of the staff that works to keep the facility and the care of the children going. The third team traveled back to the Kihoto community to work with the residents. At the police station, Dr. Keyes and George presented on Hostage Negotiation and facilitated a communication and strategy exercise to a group of about 20 various officers, detectives and administration. In the afternoon, they worked on communication skills and processing the various stressors of the job. One shared that they work 30 days in a row, with only a week off in between. Their job schedule and demands are significant and make it challenging to have any down time or leisure time. They shared that alcoholism, suicides and divorce rates are all problems that they experience. The team that worked with the Into Abba’s Arms staff continued their training with “Dealing with Disruptive Children” and additional information on compassion fatigue. The group noticed that the staff were able to utilize the various skills and the group discussions helped to process some of their experiences they have here at the children’s home.   Reflection by Jessica Torres-Pryor, PhD Our team was excited to go into the Kihoto community for the day. The focus of our group was to meet Kenyans in their neighborhood and learn about their culture. The bus dropped us off outside of the village. We were immediately greeted by curious children between the ages of two to thirteen. They all wanted to give us high fives and hold our hands. We brought out tennis balls, frisbees, and paper planes to share with the growing crowd. We went door to door with our interpreters, asking if we could speak to family members about Kenyan culture. Most of the people we spoke to were mothers. They spoke openly about the struggles to find work and food, education goals for their children, and daily life in Kihoto. The final stop of the day was a visit to a primary school. We taught the students popular American children’s songs and presented a motivational speech about self-esteem and confidence. The children were enthusiastic and eager to participate. We could see God’s love and joy in the children!
DAY 12 - WORKING WITH PRISON INMATES
Our entire team returned to the Naivasha prison to work with over 150 inmates in the men’s maximum security prison. The prison has about two thousand men that are serving sentences of 35 years to life, some with a death sentence. The prison system in Kenya is drastically different than that of the US, so we didn’t really know what to expect going in. Dr. Keyes presented to a group of about 150 inmates on Compassion Stress Management and we broke out in groups of about 20 to interact with them about the stressors of prison and how they coped (successfully or unsuccessfully) with stress in prison. Throughout the groups, you could see how challenging their daily life was and how they struggled to hold onto anything positive at times. Following the group work, we continued presenting on substance abuse and its role in inhibiting healthy coping skills and how it may interfere with re-entry back into society. It may even be a reason that they end up back in prison. We held a panel of a select group of our students and the inmates were given an opportunity to ask questions about the topic of substance abuse and the psychological and behavioral impacts of alcohol. We were also able to learn about some of the support system they have in prison, similar to that of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous in the US. In our regular evening group meeting, we spent a significant amount of time processing the stories, thoughts and feelings that we encountered throughout the day. As professionals, we shared our insights on how the community life in prison operates in both constructive and destructive ways. Processing feelings of despair, hope, grief and even desperation were really important for us as a group to understand. One of the team members shared how they were able to see the prison inmate as a brother and child of God, which helped them to converse with them throughout the group exercises. Another successful day as a team and we are grateful for all that we learned through the challenges today! DAY 11 - LOCAL COMMUNITY WORK / PRISON STAFF TRAININGS Our second full week began with our group going in a couple of directions.  One group went to work with the staff at the Naivasha Prison, one of the local county prisons that has both a maximum and minimum security prison within its grounds. The other group went to a local  community called ‘Kihoto’ to work door to door with the families there.   The team that worked with the prison staff presented on compassion stress management and spent time teaching them coping skills for stress.  The prison staff live very stressful lives, with demanding work and responsibility for many tasks and duties that cause an increase in stress.  They had commented how challenging it was to work almost every day and in difficult conditions. Dr. Keyes and counseling student (and professional Drug and Alcohol Counselor) George Forsythe presented on Hostage Negotiation and Substance Abuse to the group and the team continued to facilitate conversations about how the staff cope with the everyday stress.  The community experience was door to door in a local community.  The purpose of the community work is to start conversations with the locals to learn more about how they live, their culture and share the purpose of our work, if relevant.  We found that this often leads to a lot of fruitful conversations and meaningful interactions. We went in small groups and spent the morning being guests in their small 10x10 homes.  We learned that many of them came from far away in search of work. There was a local flower shop that was a source of employment for many, but many of the families struggled with maintaining a regular income. One young man in particular was finishing his schooling and was working toward becoming a teacher so that he can invest in the future generation of kids.  He expressed so much joy and hope in what his education could bring to those around him. It was truly inspiring to see how they could be resilient in a place that doesn’t lend itself to prosperity.     
DAY 10 - REST DAY
How happy we are to have a day of rest! After ten days of work, we enjoyed a well deserved day of full relaxation and fun activities. (Although with our team, we have always found fun around us.) We started the day off at the The Giraffe Centre, where we were able to get close and personal (and for some, a little too personal) while feeding the giraffes. We saw 12 giraffes wandering around the conservatory which are part of a breeding project. Our next stop was an elephant and rhino rescue foundation. We got an opportunity to watch 14 baby elephants, ranging from 14 months to a couple of years, play and feed while we learned how the program identified orphaned elephants and rescued them from certain death and starvation. Their work culminates in a 5-year reintroduction process that introduces the orphan elephant into a new herd. Some of us even got to touch and play with them! And as the saying goes, an elephant never forgets - so we left a bit of the DMU team here! After the elephants, we stopped at the local handmade bead shop, Kazuri. The shop provides and sustains employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan society, and makes beautiful ceramics and beads. We were able to see how the beads are made and formed into earrings, necklaces and bracelets. While we were driving along, we happened to see a man in the middle of the road lying there. We stopped since it was potentially dangerous and discovered that he was actually having a seizure. Our two nurses who were with us ended up helping him through and getting him help and transportation to the local hospital. The man told us that he has epilepsy and had run out of medication and thus was grateful for the assistance! Even on our day off, we are still at work - but happy serving when needed. We ended the day with wonderful food in a local upscale mall in Nairobi and an afternoon full of relaxation. Some of the team went and saw "The Lion King" - how appropriate for us in traversing Kenya! Others went shopping or found a local massage and we all appreciated the time off.
DAY 9 - SUNDAY WITH PASTOR MOSES
[caption id="attachment_824" align="alignright" width="236"] Pastor Moses and Dr. Keyes[/caption] Our Sunday celebration took place in a community a few hours north of where we are staying, the home of Pastor Moses who has been one of the fearless leaders and interpreters this week. The last time Dr. Keyes was in Kenya, he made a promise to Pastor Moses that when the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp was closed in the nearby forest he would visit the church of the community. We traveled over many bumpy roads, many without names, through a lot of extensive farm land (including coffee!). The church community was very warm and inviting and Pastor Moses led the three-hour service in praise of God’s goodness in bringing the visitors and those who regularly worship together. Pastor Moses asked Dr. Keyes to preach on a passage from Matthew, which was an honor! Following the service (which included a lot of singing and dancing!), we met survivors from the IDP camp. Dr. Keyes met a woman named Veronica, whom he had interacted with the many years prior when he was doing trauma work in the camps. What a joyful celebration and fulfilling promise. [caption id="attachment_826" align="alignleft" width="300"] Jessie Tappel, LPC (Trauma Team faculty leader) with children from the community church[/caption] [caption id="attachment_827" align="alignleft" width="300"] Community church members and trauma team[/caption] [caption id="attachment_825" align="alignleft" width="169"] A church community service held outside prior to there being a building.[/caption]  
DAY 8 - MEN’S CONFERENCE / PRIMARY SCHOOL / HIGH SCHOOL
Today our team split into two groups, one went to local community schools and the other stayed at Into Abba’s Arms to host the Men’s Conference. For the Men’s Conference we were looking forward to facilitating conversation with the men, since their role in the family system is significant. In the morning, Dr. Keyes presented on Domestic Violence and the various forms of abuse, including physical, psychological and emotional forms of abuse to a group of 30 men (and some women!). The afternoon the teams presented on Marital Conflict and Fatherhood and facilitated groups to discuss the themes of the afternoon. Reflection by Jessica Torres-Pryor, Ph.D., and Catherine Day, M.S. in Counseling student Our team enthusiastically made plans for our presentation on self-esteem and conflict resolution. We showed up at an all girls high school and were promptly rerouted to Good Shepherd primary school due to construction issues. This was our time to practice holy flexibility! We made the best of it as we waited along the highway, by the sheep on a rope, for our bus to arrive. It was an unexpected blessing. Upon our arrival at the Catholic primary school, the students were on their tea break. We were greeted with loud laughter and joyful dancing. The team then moved to the classroom to present. It was a tight fit with 50+ youth in a room only meant to hold 30 students.  The students’ eagerness was contagious as they learned the self-esteem concepts. They were quick to share examples that highlighted their strengths, personal goals in life, and values.  The adventure continued at a co-ed high school. We joined another team and presented to 300+ students. The power of God’s message of self-worth appeared to touch many hearts.  Our trauma team’s commitment to the mission was a joy to witness. The students were encouraged to embrace the concept of self-esteem with songs and chants. We believe the children left the seminar filled with God’s grace!      Reflection by Detti Bella, Community Professional  It was great to see our team's preparation and talents come together for our mission. We spent the morning presenting to teachers about “Education through the Lens of Trauma.” It was amazing to see their response to the information and how they will utilize it with the children. Next, we presented to 50 student on self esteem and “wowed” them with our great acting and singing skills. The kids learned to be proud of who they are. We introduced them to a new super hero “Captain Thought Changer” who reminded them "if you change the way you think you can change the way you feel." We experienced traditional Kenyan food, and enjoyed fellowship with the teachers after the presentations. After lunch we visited a local boarding high school, where we all joined together as a big team and presented to 300 students on self esteem. Once again Captain Thought Changer made an appearance in her new teenage form, during our skits and songs. The “juice” was sky high! We concluded with reminding the students of their identity in Christ by singing a song by a local artist together. We reminded them who they are and whose they are, and reminded them that “what is in their minds is what is in their hearts,” as one student said. Afterward we all enjoyed the company of the students, while Dr. Keyes presented to the teachers about how trauma affects education.     
DAY 6 AND 7 - LOCAL PASTOR'S CONFERENCE
Thursday and Friday brought a two-day conference geared for the local pastors. Over the past couple of days, we have learned how important the role of the pastor is in the community and how much they serve the families in need. In their example as Christians and leaders, they provide counseling and guidance for the many difficult situations that affect their community. For example, Pastor Moses spent many years in the IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps bringing the hope of Christ to those who truly lived in difficult circumstances. In the morning, Dr. Keyes presented on Treating Traumatized Families by helping them identify family needs and what is working in their community and what is not working in the community. He emphasized helping to repair the damage in relationships, especially in the family system, since that healing can significantly help to bring change all around them. The DMU team helped to facilitate conversations, which were very powerful, in processing the effects of trauma on the family system and what the pastor’s were seeing in their communities.  The afternoon was focused on teaching basic counseling skills, something that our students are well versed in and were excited to demonstrate. The groups practiced active listening skills, attending behaviors and skills like summarizing and paraphrasing. One of the pastor's expressed gratitude for learning counseling skills, since the emphasis is mostly on education of theology.    Reflection by Colleen, M.S. in Counseling student We began the day tackling the pressing topic of Grief and Loss. Our team first met to process some of our own personal experiences, and discovered in the process that team building and cohesion are the natural fruits of openness, vulnerability, and sharing in a safe environment. This experience stayed with us as we joined about 30 pastors and youth leaders for Dr. Keyes' presentation.  We had pastors and youth leaders in our small group, eager to share their gratitude for what they had learned. Things quickly went deeper as our group processed their observations and experiences, including that "loss" can encompass so much, and that psychological and emotional losses are sometimes minimized. Rejection by family members can be a pain so great, and yet isolating, as one youth leader shared.    We found commonality between our cultures in that we acknowledge that we are born relational, and when our pain is dismissed it makes us feel unloved, regardless of the source of the pain. On the other hand, when there is openness, trust, and sharing, each person feels heard and understood. To feel heard and understood is to feel loved, which we accept as a universal human longing. Viewing a household or a marriage as a team, tied in well with this morning's lesson in team building through trust and vulnerability, and also segued well into the afternoon's topic on Marital Conflict. A group of students presented marital researcher John Gottman's four stages of marital conflict and adapted the stories and case studies to relevant cultural themes. The presentation included some role playing, which provided much-needed comic relief, and set the stage for the afternoon's small groups. Hearts and minds opened by God's grace were deeply convicted and ready to take the day's lessons home and into their communities.   Lord, You spoke of rich soil in today's Gospel. Bless the seeds we have sown, and the sincere desire for goodness that these people have for their homes and their country. By Your love and grace, bring a full harvest to these beautiful people.
DAY 5 - LOCAL CHILDREN’S HOME STAFF AND INTO ABBA’S ARMS STAFF
We welcomed over 50 staff members from Local Children’s Homes and Into Abba’s Arms to continue our presentations and training. In the introduction, one of the members shared their gratitude for the day saying that ‘knowledge is power’ and that what they were learning would help to assist in their needs in the work that they do. Compassion fatigue training and education was a large part of our day, starting with a group reflection on how we are recognizing our own fatigue and working on caring for our own selves before we are able to serve others throughout the day. This is often very challenging! Throughout the day, we worked with various techniques for compassion fatigue, including a visualization exercise, deep breathing and a stress-reducing tapping technique. It was encouraging to see what a difference learning these techniques had on the group as a whole, and for us personally as a team! A topic that was very helpful for those that are working directly with children was ‘Dealing with Disruptive Behavior.’ We explored the reasons why children behave in disruptive ways and the environmental factors that influence behavior, in order to help conceptualize the appropriate way to discipline. It was interesting to explore the differences between natural consequences of behavior with corporal punishment, along with the cultural differences and similarities between the United States and Kenya. Many of our team members were commenting on how universal many of the problems and conflicts that we’ve shared in both of our experiences. A hot topic seems to be the growing access to technology and the social influences on behavior! The day ended with a lot of group discussion and sharing on what was learned from the day’s presentations.  
DAY 4 - SOCIAL WORKERS CONFERENCE
[caption id="attachment_787" align="alignright" width="225"] The four faculty leaders of the DMU Trauma Team: Dr. Benjamin Keyes, Dr. Kathy Arveson, Jessie Tappel, LPC, and Dr. Kim Harris-Keyes.[/caption] Today we had the privilege of hosting a group of local social workers for a day of training. We spent a lot of time going through the impact of trauma on children and adolescents -- as many of these workers spend a lot of their time working with traumatized children on all levels. Many children have been afflicted by violence, and the unaddressed trauma can create very difficult situations for their safety and for those that work with them. Training is critical to be able to educate on the various factors of trauma and what can be done to work more effectively with the children. We taught the group a stone technique that helps to gather a lot of information in a short amount of time. After modeling the technique, our groups helped to facilitate with the participants, with many of them sharing their own family’s stories. One of the participants at the end of the conference shared that he felt more equipped to take the information back and place it into practice. As a team, we reflected on the power of telling your story and how the process of sharing can lead to something powerful.
DAY 3 - LOCAL WOMEN’S CONFERENCE
Our feet hit the ground on Monday as we hosted local community women for a day of training and group work, focusing on the effects of domestic violence, sexual trauma, natural consequences of parenting and marital conflict.  A lot to cover in a very short amount of time! Dr. Benjamin Keyes presented to the group on the topic of domestic violence, sharing the various forms that abuse takes and how to recognize and prevent instances of abuse from happening. Domestic violence is pervasive in the Kenyan culture and many of the attendees shared personal experiences as well as observations that they had regarding family dynamics and the tension at times between the cultural roles and differences between women and men. Following the presentation, the team led process group sessions to hear more of the stories and reactions to the topic presented. 
DAY 2 - THE ARRIVAL: INTO ABBA’S ARMS
Reflection by Angie, M.S. in Counseling student After many long hours of travel, we finally arrived at Into Abba’s Arms (IAA). At this point, I expected myself to be overwhelmed with exhaustion, but the notion quickly went away at the sight of bright and welcoming children. As the bus began to pull into the orphanage compound, we were immediately greeted with smiling faces and excited waves. A few minutes were spent greeting the children before we switched gears into settling into our new temporary home.  As team members, we divided ourselves into different shared bedrooms (with the exception of our one male colleague who gets his own room- yes, we are all slightly jealous). Personally I get the opportunity to experience eight of my female colleagues as roommates in adult bunk beds. Though initially apprehensive about this set up, I have come to learn that our bedroom serves as a microcosm for the divinely inspired honesty, cohesiveness, and fluidity of our entire team.  Perhaps the most impactful experience of our second day was getting to meet the children, here at the orphanage. I can’t articulate just what I was expecting after all of our training in preparation for this trip, but the authentic warmth and eager sociability that I did encounter was not it. Knowing the statistics of violence and child abuse here in Africa, I was in awe and admiration of the children’s resiliency, deep understanding of the importance of taking care of one another, and radiant joy. The children took to us immediately and began playing with frisbees and toys that some team members gifted to them. It did not take very long for them to address us as “auntie” and “uncle.” They took myself and a few others on a brief tour around the compound, which included the chapel, dining hall, and guard dog pen -- they warned that the dogs would eat us if we weren’t careful! After dinner, we joined the children in Saturday night worship where they led us in singing and praises.  Throughout our second day, I found myself contemplating the old adage “Don’t waste food because there are starving children in Africa.” Yes, there is poverty here; I am not minimizing their experiences. The love at IAA, however, both for and from the children, is truly unmatched. After just one day with the children, I want to change the challenge. Instead, may we be motivated to remind ourselves “Don’t waste love because there are starving children. Everywhere.”   
DAY 1 - TRAINING AND TRAVEL
The Center for Trauma & Resiliency Studies’ second immersion experience, this year in Kenya, began at the Divine Mercy University (DMU) campus with 23 members of the team gathering for two days of training, education and team bonding. The team is made up of a diverse group of faculty, professionals, and current DMU M.S. in Counseling students from across the country -- all with an interest to work in trauma and gain field experience by working with various populations. During the time in Kenya, we will be hosted by the organization
Into Abba’s Arms, a charity foundation dedicated to helping orphans in Kenya. As their mission shares, they strive to provide their children with critical necessities including housing, food, and clothing – all in a loving home environment with a nurturing caretaker. They have been able, over the years, to establish an outreach center from which they coordinate spiritual and education seminars, medical clinics, and food and water distribution to the neighboring community. We are grateful for the opportunity to spend time with them and the children throughout the couple of weeks as we stay with them in our temporary ‘home.’      We will be conducting seminars and trainings for a variety of populations and groups throughout the two-week period while in Kenya. Local community men and women, church community leaders, social service workers, those in caregiving positions with various organizations and more will be receiving training on compassion fatigue, child and adolescent trauma, treating sexual trauma, grief and loss, human trafficking and more.

Teacher Fulfills Craving for Catholic Psychology

Oftentimes in life, people search endlessly for their purpose and how to excel in their career. These searches can be done through online research, by asking friends and family for guidance, or it can occur during unexpected moments of discovery. For Carol Cole, a Spring 2019 graduate of Divine Mercy University, a radio announcement exposed her to the online Master’s in Psychology degree that would change her life. In a brief phone interview, Carol shared what compelled her to further her education, which not only helped her gain a deeper affection for humanity, but also strengthened her teaching abilities to spread knowledge to others. How did you gain interest in the online Master’s in Psychology program?  I have a college degree from the University of Michigan in psychology, but I went into healthcare to become a respiratory therapist. Afterward, I taught a couple of general psychology classes for instructors who went on to sabbatical but I needed more knowledge.  Everything at Divine Mercy University (DMU) is structured in a way that you feel its teachings are very integrated with the faith. That was something I loved about the program, especially in terms of the Catholic-Christian Meta-Model. I feel so much more prepared to teach psychology. Even though all the classes were based in Christianity and Catholicism, I feel that the tool that DMU gave me was the ability to take what I learned in the classroom to become a better teacher. Since graduating in May, I now plan to teach developmental psychology to nursing, physical therapy and respiratory therapy students at Ohlone Community College in Northern California. I feel capable of doing a much better job and being able to apply our principles of the faith to weave them into the psychology curriculum that I will teach.  What was the biggest lesson you learned while studying at Divine Mercy University?  I learned how important my faith is to me and how the study of psychology, interwoven with faith, makes your experience as a Catholic so much more meaningful. I feel like I have a deeper caring for the human person since studying at DMU. I think the material and interaction with other students, through online postings, were beneficial. When you aren’t face to face [in a classroom setting], you are putting out thoughts that are your deepest thoughts because you feel like people won’t critique you automatically. I feel like that kind of communication was so valuable. It was so beautiful and then to meet everyone at the end was fabulous as well.  What was the topic of your capstone?  My capstone was on “Spiritual Intimacy in Marriage.” I really feel that some Catholic married couples don’t necessarily grow together in their faith all that well. I put together a program that can be presented to a local parish that includes seminars to help couples grow in spiritual intimacy.  What was the best resource at DMU that helped you succeed?  I think it was the caring and concerned attitude of the instructors; you could tell it was coming from deep personal beliefs in Christ Jesus. You could tell that they really want you to focus on your faith in the psychology classes and that doesn't exist when you attend a secular university. I felt like God was walking alongside them from the way that they would respond. I have a good basis because I can compare what I felt from the other programs and classes I’ve taken and how they relate to the instructors at Divine Mercy University.  Every day since graduation, I think about how I relate to people and how I’m excited to create lesson plans that incorporate the principles I learned into the classes that I teach. This degree has changed me as a person. I always thought it was a divine thought because I had never heard about this program until I heard it on the radio. I had a craving in my heart to study psychology from a Catholic vantage point, but I really didn’t know where to look. I really think there are a lot of people who can benefit from it as I have. It has been an amazing part of my life. My parents even said that they’ve never been to a more beautiful graduation. Sign up today to learn more about the online Master’s in Psychology degree.

Teaching Beyond One Specialization

It’s not an exaggeration for Dr. Craig Steven Titus to claim that it’s a small world or that God is really present with people in their everyday lives. While pursuing his Doctorate of Sacred Theology at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), he encountered Dr. Gladys Sweeney, former dean of Divine Mercy University’s (DMU) Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS). She introduced him to the University and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. At DMU, Dr. Titus serves as professor and director for the Department of Integrative Studies. He has also written a book titled Resilience and the Virtue of Fortitude: Aquinas in Dialogue with the Psychosocial Sciences (CUA Press, 2006), edited 10 books, and published numerous articles. His commitment to research and teaching goes beyond one specialization; his expertise consists of an interdisciplinary understanding of theology, philosophy, and mental health practice. During a meeting with Dr. Titus, you will quickly learn that he’s prompt, action-oriented, and detailed, yet he’s still able to laugh. Interestingly enough, after nearly 16 years at DMU, he still considers his students as a prized asset and finds his multi-disciplinary work with colleagues to be “fascinating.” Here’s what he had to say about his work at Divine Mercy University. Q: How long have you been a faculty member at Divine Mercy University and how did you get involved? Dr. Titus: I’ve been involved in different ways since 2002, when I was first hired as assistant professor to teach the integration courses. It was the year prior to that that I came to know the university because of its first dean. Former IPS dean Gladys Sweeney came through Switzerland, in route to Rome for a conference, with some students. She had invited Fr. Servais Pinckaers to speak to the students on the theme of happiness. However, since he fell ill, he asked me to speak in his stead. At that time, I was finishing up my doctoral dissertation at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland). After giving the lecture, Dean Sweeney suggested that I present my candidacy for the position at IPS that was free because Fr. Benedict Ashley was retiring. Fr. Ashley was the theologian-philosopher who first designed and taught the philosophy and theology courses that prepared for the integration of Catholic thought and the psychological sciences. My experience in dialogue between theology, philosophy, and psychosocial research on resilience and the virtue of fortitude prepared me for work at Divine Mercy University. Q: Which courses do you teach and how do they add value to the university’s overall mission? Dr. Titus: I teach classes on: philosophical and theological anthropology; practical reason and moral character; and marriage and family. The courses are formative of the clinicians’ Christian identity and understanding of the person. They engage the student’s mind and heart in wisdom from theological, philosophical, and mental health sources. These courses train the students to see the whole person, family, and society, to enrich their vocation to heal. Of course they need further integration training in the University’s clinical classes to become competent in mental health practice as a whole. The integration thread throughout all the courses promotes an understanding of the person in terms of the origins, development, and flourishing of the person—in everyday and ultimate perspectives, which include issues of human nature, relationality, and God. The students come to the university because of its commitment to the Catholic-Christian understanding of the person, family, and society. Students appreciate being taught to see more of the person, including the person’s callings to commitments and truth, to interpersonal relationships, and to a future that gives meaning to the present.   Image Caption: Dr. Craig Steven Titus, director of the Newman Lecture Series, speaks with the late Dr. Michael Novak before the 2015 lecture begins. Dr. Novak was a Roman Catholic social philosopher and a professor at Catholic University of America . The Newman Lectures feature speakers who are widely recognized for their contributions to the fields of psychology, moral and political philosophy, theology, and law. This lecture series is held under the sponsorship of Divine Mercy University and seeks to promote an international conversation among various disciplines that treat the human person. Q: Are there any particular resources used in your courses that you feel are unique from other counseling or psychology programs? Dr. Titus: One of the major differences between courses at DMU and those at a secular counseling and psychology program are the sources that underlie one’s vision of the person. A Catholic-Christian vision of the person is rooted in the sources of reason and faith that protect the psychological sciences from reductionism, that is, seeing too little of the person, family, and society. This vision of faith and theological reflection is rooted in the experience of the Word of God found in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture (the Bible)—teaching that is passed down through the succession of the apostles. This Catholic-Christian perspective is found in: the patristic reflections of the early Church writers (such as St. Augustine); the Magisterium (such as St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis), including the Councils (e.g the Second Vatican Council). It draws upon the writings of men and women, who throughout the Church and the ages have carried the message of Christ forward. Other sources of wisdom are Christian and non-Christian philosophy from Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, and so on. And of course, there are the sources wisdom from current psychological sciences, evidence-based techniques, and best practices in the mental health field. In drawing from the psychological, philosophical, and theological wisdom traditions, we are convinced that, since truth is one, there is something very important to be learned by the psychological sciences and the practice of counseling. These new sciences offer further understandings of how people can experience suffering, anxiety, and depression, and how they can find ways to come out of those difficulties using the means that are necessary and helpful – including psychotherapy, group therapy, psychopharmacology, and everyday contact with people, which also can be therapeutic. Q: What has been the most rewarding part of teaching at Divine Mercy University? Dr. Titus: Perhaps it’s the classic response, but the most rewarding part of teaching at DMU is the contact with the students. Together with the students, the instructors engage wisdom, understanding, and knowledge vital for mental health professionals. I support very strongly the unity of the human person and the importance of their experience. Even in our diversity of cultural experience, there is wisdom, there is truth. When one seeks to teach and share experience, while recognizing the dignity of each person and God’s presence in it all, it’s really an experience of learning as well as teaching. Our students are highly motivated and committed to the program. Their active participation allows me also to have feedback from them about their experiences, the reality of being a community, and their search for the truth of the person, family, and relationships. The classroom becomes a type of community of inquiry seeking together to understand more about experiences of difficulty and failure as well as of life, love, and flourishing. Q: Who has inspired you throughout your career? Dr. Titus: I have two primary mentors in my life: - Fr. Servais-Théodore Pinckaers: it’s because of him that I went to Europe to study. He was a leader in the renewal in the Catholic Church that sees morals as being rooted in the virtue of Charity-love—God’s love, a friendship love—and in the movement of the Holy Spirit. Fr. Pinckaers’ approach to moral action and spiritual life is both normative and virtue-based. He affirms the importance of acts, agents, purposes, vocations, and being open to transcendence (that is, God, including the gifts of the Holy Spirit). - And the other primary mentor is Fr. Benedict Ashley: it’s because of him that I was hired at DMU. He set up the integration program at DMU. His study of Catholic anthropology, morals, and bioethics prepared him for dialogue with the psychological sciences. In parallel, my study of resilience (psychological sciences) and the virtue of fortitude (based on the thought of Thomas Aquinas) prepared me for dialogue with the psychological sciences, drawing on the model used by Fr. Ashley. Image Caption: Book cover for Servais Pinckaers' piece on "Renewing Thomistic Moral Theology, published by Catholic University of America and edited by Dr. John Berkman and Dr. Craig Steven Titus. Q: Are you involved in any research teams or professional associations or organizations that have helped you stay current in the field? Dr. Titus: I belong to seven professional associations – including The Society of Christian Ethics and American Catholic Philosophical Association, and the Catholic Psychotherapy Association (as an academic member). I think that the best way to stay current in the fields that I am concerned with is through engagement in research and dialogue. The co-editing of and the contributions to the Catholic-Christian Meta-Model*Volume has involved extensive scholarship – the bibliography is 60 pages long. If I had taught philosophy or theology at a different university, I would have been centered within one discipline or one specialization. But, by the nature of Divine Mercy University we take a multidisciplinary approach – where philosophy and theology are required to dialogue with psychological sciences. This interdisciplinary commitment complements specialized research and prepares for integrated clinical work. To be engaged as a philosopher and theologian with psychologists, I have had to be attentive to the meanings of terms, the methods of research, and the way that truths about the person and relationships are communicated.  For example, understanding human experiences of attachment, caring, and charity-love, can be integrated by a Catholic-Christian Meta-Model of the person, which includes psychological findings (e.g., through attachment theory on secure attachments), philosophical reflections (e.g., on virtues such as benevolence and friendship), and theological insights (e.g., on vocations and God’s love for every person). Such an interdisciplinary approach enriches our understanding of the person (e.g., because of the inclusion of vocations and virtues), thus benefiting the mental health field, in general, but also the client, in particular. There is great benefit when the three sources of wisdom work together for each person. *The Catholic-Christian Meta-Model of the Person – presented by university faculty and other collaborators – is a forthcoming volume of research that elaborates a basic training approach for integrating a Catholic-Christian understanding of the human person, psychology and mental health practice. Download a copy of the foundational document “Psychological, Theological, and Philosophical Premises for a Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person.”

Big Future for Catholic-Christian Psychology

Could you imagine the world without Christian psychology or counseling? A world where a secular approach to mental health would ignore the spiritual importance of their clients? Or a world that would be uncomfortable about the mere presence of a crucifix hanging on a counselor’s wall? Before the integration of faith and psychology was largely favored by social scientists in the 1960s and ‘70s, Dr. Paul C. Vitz, a then-atheist, was working as a cognitive/experimental psychologist at New York University. It wouldn’t be until after reading literature by two British writers/lay theologians that he would explore the validity of fusing Christian principles with psychology. [caption id="attachment_661" align="alignleft" width="159"] Dr. Vitz during his early years in the field.[/caption] Nearly 45 years later, Dr. Vitz serves as a senior scholar for the Institute for the Psychological Sciences at Divine Mercy University, where his teachings and research focus on the integration of Christian theology and Catholic anthropology with psychology. His conversion to Catholicism in 1979 changed the trajectory of his career -- consisting of seven book publications, a shared stage with the late psychologist Albert Ellis and innumerable lectures filled with hearty laughter, unforgettable charm and the ability to recall historic psychology-related events at the drop of a dime. In an attempt to document his more recent ventures, he was interviewed in the comfort of his office at Divine Mercy University, located in northern Virginia. Here’s what he had to say: [caption id="attachment_662" align="alignright" width="298"] Dr. Paul Vitz, Sr. Mary Patrice Ahearn, R.S.M., M.S., and Dr. Gladys Sweeney celebrate Sr.'s successful defense of her dissertation "To Attach or Detach."[/caption] Q: How long have you been a faculty member at Divine Mercy University and how did you get involved? Dr. Vitz: “I’ve been here since the very beginning in 1999. I met Gladys Sweeney [former dean] and Bill Nordling [former dean and current professor] during a visit to Washington, D.C., to teach psychology at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, located on the Catholic University of America campus. We all wanted to give continuing education (CE) seminars to provide a Catholic-Christian perspective on psychology. This led us to establishing the Catholic Institute for the Psychological Sciences (CIPS) program*, which consisted of seminars and lectures that provided CE credit.” *CIPS is now known as Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS) at Divine Mercy University, which offers two accredited graduate degree programs: a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology and an Master’s in Psychology (online). Q: What has been your most impactful contributions to the field of psychology? Dr. Vitz: “I’ve written a number of books that have had some impact on the field. The first one I wrote was “Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship,” published by Eerdmans in 1977. That was the first kind of Christian critique of humanistic psychology. It made the most impact because, immediately, people outside of New York University (NYU) knew about my work. So all of a sudden, I ran into a lot of Christian intellectuals and academics (mostly Evangelicals and a few Catholic priests) who got in touch with me. The priests understood what I was doing, but they were more focused on theology and spirituality than psychology. [caption id="attachment_663" align="alignnone" width="961"] Book covers of Dr. Vitz’s three three most impactful books on psychology.[/caption] “For psychology, my next impact was a book ‘Sigmund Freud’s Christian Unconscious.’ It put Freud in a very different perspective than that described by his secular biographers. It just got translated into Italian and published. My most recent impact is from ‘Faith of the Fatherless: The psychology of Atheism,’ revised edition published in 2013. There have been a string of articles also, on various other psychological topics.” Q: Who were the most influential “thinkers” of your life and why? [caption id="attachment_668" align="alignright" width="300"] Dr. Paul Vitz speaking with Archbishop William E. Lori (of Baltimore).[/caption] Dr. Vitz: “The most influential persons in my life were those who affected by conversion from atheism to Christianity -- C.S. Lewis (Protestant) and G.K. Chesterton (Catholic). They were both very intelligent and knowledgeable and very able writers, but particularly C.S. Lewis made it clear to me that being intelligent, educated and Christian were completely compatible. In fact I saw that Christianity was far more meaningful and powerful than any political philosophy I had ever come across.” Q: Have you faced any obstacles in your career or research? How did you overcome them? Dr. Vitz: “I had just become a tenured psychology professor at NYU and was working as a cognitive experimental psychologist. And then I became a Christian psychologist, which resulted in me stopping cognitive experiments and research for 45 years, until recently. [At this point in the interview, Dr. Vitz gently tossed a document on the desk. The title on the cover reads “A hierarchical model of binary pattern learning,” published in the Journal of Learning and Motivation (February 2019)]  “This [cognitive psychology] was the sort of research I was doing 45 years ago.” “I had obstacles at NYU. I had no colleagues in my department or in the university because there were no other supportive Christian professors. So it was a lonely, isolating environment, which was difficult. But that’s why contact from Evangelicals at other universities was so important to me. Of course the department didn’t like what I was doing so my raises dropped off. But I was hired as a cognitive/experimental psychologist and so I no longer met the Psychology Department needs, except for what I could contribute with teaching and administration. Anyway, God provided outside financial help which made up for low raises.” Q: Are you a member of any associations or organizations that help enrich your knowledge? Dr. Vitz: I’m a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. [caption id="attachment_666" align="alignright" width="300"] Dr. Paul Vitz talking with a student while seated with his wife Evelyn (right) at the opening ceremony for Divine Mercy University.[/caption] Q: What has been the most rewarding part of teaching for you? Dr. Vitz: The most rewarding part is to teach intelligent, young Christians and Catholics the way in which psychology, and all of its scientific validity, can, in fact, be combined with the faith; and to see them understand it and then to develop it in new ways. It has also been exciting to be in contact with Christian psychologists, now, all over the world. Q: What do you predict will change in the field of psychology? Dr. Vitz: “A couple of things: 1) The hostility between most psychology and religion will decrease. 2) Religious integration with psychology will increase because there will be more evidence that religion can be a major help to people struggling with mental health problems. 3) And I believe this will lead to the development of more professional organizations with a pro-religious commitment, and these new organizations are likely to gain appropriate social and political influence. “Overall, I think there’s a big future for Christian psychologists and psychotherapists because the Catholic population has been the most neglected. In the United States, there are some disciplines that have too many professionals, in relation to the demand, but there are not too many Christian or Catholic psychologists.” Watch Dr. Vitz’s video presentation “Uniting Faith & Psychology” to learn the significance of the approach on psychology by the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. You can read Dr. Vitz’s full biography on Wikipedia or our university’s website. Sign up to learn more about the psychology programs offered at Divine Mercy University.

Fostering Inclusivity in Eating Disorder Awareness

Did you know that an eating disorder is a physical AND mental illness that affects people of ALL backgrounds? Instead of pigeonholing this condition to one particular category of people, National Eating Disorders Association's Awareness Week (February 25-March 3) is fostering inclusivity this year to show how this disease impacts "individuals at all stages of body acceptance and [to emphasize that all] eating disorders recovery .... stories are valid." This message matches the association's 2019 theme: Come As You Are. To gain more insight on eating disorders for this week of awareness, we reached out to clinical psychologist Laura Cusumano, Psy.D., who specializes in eating disorder treatment. She is also an alumna of Divine Mercy University and currently provides treatment through Potomac Behavioral Solutions in Arlington, VA. Dr. Cusumano has extensive experience working with people suffering from eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). In her 2017 dissertation for the Psy.D. program, she integrated the virtues of humility and temperance into Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT) to develop a Catholic adaptation of RO DBT for those with anorexia nervosa. "I found the RO DBT material to be well suited for this adaptation," she said "and I would like to expand upon it in the future." In an email response, she shared detailed answers to questions about eating disorders, their causes/effects, stigmas still associated with them and more! Read on to gain a deeper understanding of the disease that's estimated to impact 20 million women and 10 million men in America at some point in their lives. Q - How can someone detect if their friend or loved one has an eating disorder, and how do you safely address it? Dr. Cusumano - There are several subtle signs that may indicate that a person is struggling with an eating disorder. You may notice that your friend or loved one has started to talk about eating "clean" or going on a diet. The person may make negative comments about his or her body, express a desire to lose weight, and/or compare his or her body to other people's bodies. You may observe your friend or loved one making changes to his or her exercise routine, and the person may become anxious or upset if he or she misses a workout. Your friend or loved one may decline invitations to go out to dinner or prepare a separate meal when eating with others. During a meal, your friend or loved one may engage in unusual eating behaviors, such as cutting food into very small pieces. The person may also stop sharing meals with others altogether. You may also notice a change in your friend or loved one's mood and energy level. If you are concerned that your friend or loved one may have an eating disorder, I encourage you to share your concerns privately with that person. Spend some time doing research on eating disorders so that you have information to share. Use "I" statements to express that you feel worried and to share things that you have observed about the person's behavior (e.g., "I'm worried about how frequently you're going to the gym."). Your friend or loved one is more likely to be receptive to what you have to say when you phrase things in this way. Having this discussion may feel awkward and uncomfortable for both of you, and that person may have a negative reaction or deny that something is wrong. Let your friend or loved one know that you are here to talk whenever he or she is ready and offer to provide the person with resources. Encourage your friend or loved one to seek professional help. Q - What are common resources that you are confident in providing to men and women with an eating disorder? Are any resources gender specific? If so, why? Dr. Cusumano - I really like the National Eating Disorder Association's (NEDA) website: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org. It has a wide breadth of information about the spectrum of eating disorders and how they typically manifest. The information on the website ranges from general (e.g., "What are Eating Disorders?") to specific (e.g., the "Identity & Eating Disorders" section). It is important to note that eating disorders can affect people of any race, ethnicity, sexual identity, or gender. There is gender-specific information on the NEDA website. This is because eating disorders manifest differently across different populations. For example, most women with eating disorders desire to have bodies that fit our culture's thin ideal. In contrast, many men with eating disorders have a drive for increased muscularity. Body image distress varies between men and women, and this should be taken into consideration during treatment planning. The Academy of Eating Disorders, a professional association dedicated to eating disorder research, education, treatment, and prevention, also has a variety of useful resources available on its website: www.aedweb.org. Q - How are therapists currently working with physicians to diagnose and prevent eating disorders? Dr. Cusumano - When a patient starts therapy with me, I refer him or her to a dietitian for nutrition counseling and a physician for medical monitoring. Eating disorders can be life-threatening, so it is extremely important for the patient to work with a treatment team. Medical complications can include dizziness, fainting, dental problems, electrolyte imbalances, arrhythmia and other heart problems, muscle weakness, organ failure, and menstrual irregularities in women. It is essential for therapists to consult regularly with physicians about their mutual patients to ensure that patients are being treated at the correct level of care. A patient may underreport symptoms, and if medical stability is not assessed, he or she may not receive the proper intensity of treatment. With regard to prevention, therapists encourage physicians to promote positive body image when talking to their patients and to educate them about nutrition and healthy amounts of physical activity. I have worked with patients who have reported that the only strategy their physicians recommended to address their health problems is to lose weight. Even though physicians may have good intentions when they make this recommendation to patients, the recommendation could backfire and trigger body image distress and an eating disorder in people who are predisposed to develop them. Therapists work to educate the physicians with whom they share patients in order to craft an approach that is both empathetic and direct about the dangers of eating disorders in an effort to prevent them. Q - How can someone with an eating disorder reframe their thinking patterns so they do not consider themselves overweight or undesirable?  Dr. Cusumano - Enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders (CBT-E) is an evidence-based treatment that has demonstrated to be effective in treating a transdiagnostic range of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Treatment consists of helping a patient establish a regular pattern of eating and challenging the factors that maintain the person’s eating disorder, such as dietary restraint and overevaluation of shape and weight (i.e., body image distress). Through the use of cognitive reframing, patients learn how to challenge their unhelpful thinking patterns in an effort to develop a more balanced way of thinking about themselves. The process of challenging one’s cognitive distortions about body image is often difficult, and it can take a while for patients to recognize that their worth is not dependent on their appearance. It is often helpful for patients to participate in group therapy that focuses on body image so that they can support one another through this process. Q - What is a misconception about eating disorders you'd like to be dispelled? Dr. Cusumano - Most of the time, when people think of anorexia nervosa, they imagine that all those who suffer from anorexia are underweight. Anorexia nervosa is diagnosed when a person restricts his or her energy intake to less than what his or her body needs to function (based on factors including age, height, and gender), resulting in low body weight. Anorexia is also characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, and body image disturbances are also present. Despite the diagnostic criterion regarding low body weight, anorexia can affect people of all shapes and sizes. The intense fear of being fat and body image distress can occur in people who restrict their energy intake and remain in a normal weight range or above average weight range. This is known as atypical anorexia nervosa. Many of my patients who struggle with restriction have a formal diagnosis of atypical anorexia. It is a myth that a person must be underweight to suffer from anorexia. Q - After getting your Psy.D. degree, what other training did you seek to specifically treat clients with eating disorders? Dr. Cusumano - My primary training in treating people with eating disorders actually took place while I was still enrolled in the Psy.D. program in the Institute for the Psychological Sciences at Divine Mercy University. I completed my internship at The Emily Program in Minnesota. The Emily Program is dedicated to providing treatment to those suffering from eating disorders. During my internship, I worked at the outpatient, intensive outpatient, and partial hospitalization levels of care. I had wonderful supervisors who guided me through learning evidence-based methodologies for treating eating disorders. I learned how to support patients during therapeutic meals and to challenge them to use skills effectively so that they could work toward recovery. My time at The Emily Program was extremely valuable to my development as a therapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders. Currently, I work as a postdoctoral fellow at an outpatient practice that specializes in providing evidence-based treatment of eating disorders. I have gained training in family-based treatment (FBT) for anorexia nervosa, which is the primary evidence-based treatment for adolescents. I hope to continue my training and may pursue certification as an eating disorder specialist later in my career. Q - What advice would you give to parents who think their child or teenager has an eating disorder? Dr. Cusumano - As a parent, recognizing that your child is exhibiting signs and symptoms of an eating disorder can be frightening and leave you feeling helpless. If you suspect that your child has an eating disorder, it is important to discuss your concerns with your child in a compassionate, not critical, manner. Remember, your child is suffering from an illness, and he or she is not completely in control of his or her behaviors. When you talk to your child, focus on the behaviors you have observed, rather than your child’s appearance. Use “I” statements when sharing your concerns. Gather information from resources such as the NEDA and AED websites, and seek professional support. Many parents will find FBT to be the best treatment option for their child. From an FBT perspective, parents are the best equipped at providing the care that their child needs to recover from an eating disorder. An FBT therapist will guide and empower parents to take control back from their child’s eating disorder so that their child can recover. If your child is struggling with an eating disorder, know that recovery is possible! Treatment outcomes are generally positive when eating disorders are detected early. Learn more about the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology program offered at Divine Mercy University to gain skills to treat those who suffer from eating disorders.
About DMU
Divine Mercy University (DMU) is a Catholic graduate university of psychology and counseling programs. It was founded in 1999 as the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. The university offers a Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology, Master of Science (M.S.) in Counseling, Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology, and Certificate Programs.