Facing the Realities of Mental Illness

“Whoever suffers mental illness always bears God’s image and likeness, and has an inalienable right to be considered a person and treated as such.” - St. John Paul II Mental health is a critical component of wellbeing.  As a society, we don’t have to look far to encounter those who struggle with mental illness. Statistically, 1 out of every 4 people will experience mental illness in their lifetime.   The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes October 10th as World Mental Health Day. It is an annual event that provides an opportunity “for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide,” according to the Mental Health Foundation. This year, the theme for World Mental Health Day is focused on young people and mental health in a changing world. Young people are more anxious and depressed than ever.  According to the WHO, half of all diagnosed mental illnesses begin at the age of 14, and many of the illnesses we experience are either left undetected or untreated. In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause affecting their health, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among those ages between 15 and 29. As the rates for mental illness increase, we cannot neglect the grave problem that the stigma of mental illness presents, especially for young people.   So how can we even begin to take part in combating the stigma of mental illness?   Pope John Paul II gives us an important insight on how to take care of those suffering in a 2003 address on the theme of “depression”: “The role of those who care for depressed persons and who do not have a specifically therapeutic task consists above all in helping them to rediscover their self-esteem, confidence in their own abilities, interest in the future, the desire to live.  It is therefore important to stretch out a hand to the sick, to make them perceive the tenderness of God, to integrate them into a community of faith and life in which they can feel accepted, understood, supported, respected; in a word, in which they can love and be loved.”   Every human person has a need for family and relationships within society, and for many who struggle with mental illness, isolation and loneliness  are realities in their daily life. We are all asked to contribute our gifts and talents--through our own personal vocations--to reach those who are suffering in the ways which we are able, integrate them into a community and begin to combat the reality of mental illness. Find out how you can help combat mental illness by furthering your education with a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology or counseling. Request program information today!

John Paul II and the Therapeutic Alliance

M.S. in Counseling Student, Vincent T. reflects how his experience in Romania challenged his way of interacting with those around him. In St. John Paul’s writings, themes of personalism and integrity are intimately linked. For instance, Love and Responsibility provides us with a challenging definition of the human person: “the person is a good towards which the only proper and, adequate attitude is love.” If we consider the nature of love as essentially self-gift to our beloved (as the “object” of our love), then his definition provides us a lens by which all our actions may be filtered. When we internalize the notion that every human person, of whatever class or social status (rich/poor, able-bodied/disabled, this or that racial background, etc.) of whatever relationship (family, friend, “mere” acquaintance, business associate, exchanger-of-goods, passer-by, etc.), then we must approach that person with an attitude of love, an attitude of self-gift. In the counseling courses I am taking at Divine Mercy University, they emphasize that one of the most important factors in counseling another human person is, what the literature calls, the “therapeutic alliance.” The relationship between the therapist and client is more important than the techniques used by the therapist or the cognitive framework under which therapy is conducted. While recently in Romania, fellow classmates have articulated this notion of being with the client in this way: “I know that I cannot fix the client.” In the service economy in a world where we are habituated to view others as objects, we tend to see them as either recipients of goods or givers of goods. Entering a therapeutic relationship presents us with a challenge: If I’m not fixing my clients with my expertise, then what am I doing? The idea of the therapeutic relationship calls counselors to be aware of their feelings and thoughts while interacting with the persons who present themselves for therapy. While research literature does not establish the metaphysical causes for the effectiveness of therapeutic alliance, it seems that St. John Paul’s definition of the human person provides insight into why the therapeutic alliance is so essential: Our clients are the sort of thing that our only adequate response to them is love. In loving another, we exchange the most miraculous of goods, the most sublime thing that we have to share, that part of us that can neither be bought nor sold: ourselves. A day this week found two teams in Braca, a remote town in the mountains, where there is a population of male and female adults who have developments of MS that manifest as intellectual and physical disabilities. Born during the days of the infamous Romanian orphanages, these persons were cast away by their families first, then by society next. The location of the facility may be significant, as it is located about an hour away from the city of Oradea where the Smiles Foundation has several places of operation.  While Smiles has no formal relationship with this location, we visited the site to be present to the men and women there who are largely ignored by society and practice the therapeutic art of simply being with the other in a way that is meaningful to them. These human persons who suffer are still human persons, these goods towards which the only appropriate response is love greeted us with absolute joy. Even though they did not know or understand who we were, about 20 of them flocked around our bus with whoops and screams of pure delight. In some way, they knew we were coming to visit them, a rare event. But on the walk from where our bus stopped to the place where we would engage some of them in games and activities, a member of our team saw one of the men with a t-shirt that brought home the strange experience that we objectify even the most sacred of moments. In a country where the bulk of the population does not speak English at a location and  where none of the residents could read, an intellectually challenged human person strolled along with us bearing a t-shirt that read, “In Flames: Used and Abused.” In some ways, the slogan on the shirt was a proclamation much like the archetypal blind seer, Tiresias. The person who donated the shirt to the facility had no idea who would be wearing it at a later date. The child of Our Common Father had no idea what the shirt said, but the shirt spoke truth: From his earliest life in the harsh and abusive environment of being disposed in an orphanage to his removal to a remote part of the countryside, to be the recipient of a disposable t-shirt from a person who had not been used or abused - the witness of this man’s shirt spoke volumes. Rarely are we committed to making each act of ours towards another a true act of love whereby we honor and respect the other. Rarely do we seek encounters in which our actions are wholly ordered to giving of ourselves to recognize the dignity of their personhood and legitimate needs. As a counselor-in-training,  thinking about the dual process of what is happening is a needed skill. Introspectively, some of the questions that arose were: Are we demonstrating conscious love toward the men and women we encountered in Romania? Had we been objectifying anyone during the visits? How could we encounter differently so that the persons whom we met would not be objects upon which we practiced skills, but rather human persons who would be the recipients of self-gift freely given?

An Interview with the Dean: School of Counseling

Dr. Harvey Payne humbly acknowledges the gift of counsel as God’s use of mankind to help other people heal, grow and develop. As Academic Dean for the School of Counseling at Divine Mercy University, he helps position students to become licensed counselors who later provide therapy for people across the world. “My biggest joy as a counselor is having people contact me after 10 or 12 years since I worked with them and them letting me know how they’re doing and how they’ve continued to grow and flourish” said Dr. Payne. He has practiced as a mental health professional for 30 years in the U.S., Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. He also has 11 years of academic experience, including years of service as the dean for a college of counseling. In the interview, Dr. Payne detailed his experience in the field and how it molded him into the academic dean for a Catholic-Christian graduate counseling program. Q: How did your experiences as a counselor differ from those as a psychologist? Dr. Payne: The thing that strikes me is how similar the two are. This is because both roles consisted of trying to understand the person that I was sitting with – their views, emotions, thoughts. This would allow me to help them dig deep into the good desires of their heart and figure out how to best flourish in the midst of whatever suffering or difficulty they were experiencing. The big difference for me is that my doctoral degree and training in clinical psychology had a specialization in working with children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental disorders and learning how to assess using psychological tests to better understand them and help parents and the school work with them. In 1984, I graduated with a master’s in counseling – similar to our degree at DMU – that really taught me the primary skills of how to sit with people, develop a working relationship, get a basic understanding of people, and use techniques to work with them. After getting my counseling degree, I developed a community counseling center and supervised other counselors. I then realized that I wanted more in-depth training and that moved me to getting my Psy.D. degree in 1990. I later completed my postdoctoral fellowship at a children’s hospital in 1991. Q: How is the curriculum of the Master of Science in Counseling program at Divine Mercy University tied to the Catholic-Christian faith? Dr. Payne: The way we understand people is from our Catholic-Christian Meta-Model of the person, so that’s the lens that we see everyone, which is foundational to all our courses. We emphasize that people are created for the good and that their desire and movement is towards the good – even with pain and disorder. A key  focus in our Catholic-Christian Meta-Model of the person is the deep need for relationships to grow. So when we look at someone who is struggling we don’t look at them as pathological, we try to look at the relationships that they need to heal and develop. Those aspects are woven through all of our courses. Q: Unlike other Master’s in Counseling programs, the one at Divine Mercy University places an emphasis on moral character and spiritual flourishing, crisis and trauma, a systemic model of the person, and addictions. What influenced you to include these counseling principles and why do you think it’s important for students to have this knowledge? Dr. Payne: There is a distinct reason we included each of these principles in our curriculum. Moral character and spiritual flourishing: We believe who the counselor is and how they relate to others is the most critical variable in helping people. So making sure that your own spiritual and moral life is flourishing is vital to help other people. The saying “Transformed people, transform people” is the way we like to think about this relationship dynamic. We also recognize that people, especially those in America, who are religious and spiritually minded is very high.  Researchers report that 96% of individuals living in the United States believe in God; more than 90% pray; 69% are church members; and 43% have attended church, synagogue, or temple within the past 7 days (Princeton Religion Research Center, 2000). With this knowledge, we are able to understand the perspective of people who seek counsel, effectively develop our program and properly train students. Crisis and trauma: We know that there’s a very high rate of trauma (e.g. sexual, physical abuse, natural disaster, domestic violence, etc.) that people go through on a daily basis. Without an understanding of crisis and trauma we would be missing a big component of understanding people. Systemic model of the person: This model is an understanding of people based on their relationships, such as family and friends, and their attachment to others. As social creatures, it is important to know the history of relationships and how they are attached to understand the behaviors of a person. Addictions: As a Catholic-Christian university, we understand that in our faith people work on developing habits of virtue. However some people adopt habits, or addictions, for coping that end up being more harmful than helpful.  So we work to help them flourish with better ways of resolving of handling their struggles. Q: Aside from academics, which qualities make someone a strong candidate for the M.S. in Counseling program at DMU? Dr. Payne: We’re looking for people who have basic interpersonal skills. Also, people who have a heart and passion for other people and feel comfortable working with them. But if the individual doesn’t come in with those skills it is very difficult to develop them. Another thing we look for is grit: the ability to keep plugging even when the going gets tough. This quality is important because the coursework, training and ongoing work will be challenging. So people need to have a sense of perseverance. We also want them to understand that they’re not out there drowning on their own; we’re in the water with them to guide and support them. We also look at a sense of compassion for people, regardless of their situation or state. We’re really looking for students who want to help a wide variety of people. Q: Any advice you’d give to a newly licensed counselor that you wish you knew when you started? Dr. Payne: I’d tell them that it might feel like you have finally arrived and now you don’t legally need supervision, but my advice would be to find a group of like-minded counselors and mental health professionals for clinical, professional and personal support. Counseling is not something that you want to do on your own – especially when you have a challenging case. There will be times when you need to get information and help from other people. Q: How are students able to gain clinical experience from an online program? In other words, how do the online learning platform and three on-site residencies adequately prepare students to become licensed professionals? Dr. Payne: At Divine Mercy University, we use innovative technology and break students up into a triad (counselor, client and observer) in a virtual classroom. We are able to view and videotape students as they participate in “role plays.” While they’re practicing the skills, their instructor virtually enters into the room to observe, give feedback and even provide additional feedback after watching recordings. We also have three on-site residencies where students come to the campus in person. That’s a time of intense hands-on training and meeting students to see how they’re doing. All students also have a year-long practicum and internship in their local area before they can graduate. Q: Lastly, what has been your most fond experience as a counselor or as the dean for the School of Counseling? Dr. Payne: My most fond experience as dean is watching the profound growth and change of students throughout the program – from interviewing them as applicants, seeing them at the residencies and seeing them flourish in this vocation of counseling. I enjoy following the personal, professional and clinical development of our students.   Learn more about the Master of Science in Counseling program at Divine Mercy University.

Investing in Your Education is Possible with Financial Assistance

At Divine Mercy University, we understand that making graduate school affordable is a priority for every student. We are constantly working to keep your tuition costs affordable and competitive with other institutions. You will find that investing in your education is possible with the help of scholarships and other forms of financial aid. The Financial Aid department works with each student on an individual basis to determine eligibility and need. Below is a list of financial options students can consider:
  • Scholarships (view our complete list)
  • Federal Aid (for those who qualify) - William D. Ford Federal Direct Student Loan Program (including unsubsidized Stafford Loans and Graduate PLUS Loans)
  • Alternative Financing
    • Cash Plans (set up internally, interest free)
    • Private Funds
    • Employer Tuition Reimbursement
    • Agencies/Organization (Matching Funds, possible grant programs)
    • Approved for Veterans funding
    • Assistantships and Federal Work Study Programs (on-site programs only)
    • Other (familial assistance, savings)
If you have more questions or concerns about financial assistance at Divine Mercy University, please contact our Financial Aid Office at financialaid@divinemercy.edu.
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.