Psy.D. Student Recognizes Influence of Spirituality

First-year Psy.D. student, Anna-Marie Roland, knows Divine Mercy University’s program was the right choice for her. Though she applied for five other programs, she says that the ability for the professors to “acknowledge the humanity of students” was a big influence on her decision. We sat down with Anna to ask her about her experience so far. Q: What interested you in getting your Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology? A: Since my last year of high school, psychology was the one subject that I could apply to everything. I knew that I wanted to get my doctorate because psychology opens any kinds of doors. I can do anything with it! For instance, I knew that I could work in a hospital setting, a private practice, at a school or in a psychiatric clinic. A doctorate would allow me to work with any of those settings and with different populations of people as well. Q: How did you hear about Divine Mercy University and the Institute for the Psychological Sciences? A: I learned about the University’s program from my personal connections, both from one of my theology professors at Belmont Abbey and  I also met with an alumnus before I applied. Q: Why did you decide to pursue this particular program? A: I had applied to five other programs, so I had options to go to other schools. I knew that graduate school was going to be a big commitment, but the other programs didn’t seem to acknowledge the humanity of the students. I was told that school would be my life, which was discouraging. What I like about DMU is that our professors emphasize “flourishing.” The professors care about you succeeding in the program and in all areas of your life. I think that this school recognizes a more balanced lifestyle. [caption id="attachment_209" align="alignright" width="300"] Psy.D. student Anna-Marie Roland browsing a book in the library at Divine Mercy University.[/caption] Q: What has been the most interesting thing you’ve learned in the program? A: The thing that stuck out the most is the diverse client experiences shared by professors. It’s pretty practical to hear the professors give real-life experiences, such as types of behaviors of clients and how they have addressed them. Q: Based on your recent coursework, which resources would you recommend other people to check out? A: I would recommend two books: “The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society” by Henri Nouwen and “The Art of Existential Counseling” by Adrian van Kaam. Q: Do you know what you’d like the focus of your dissertation to be? If so, what? A: I currently do not have a topic yet. But I am interested in the topic of defense mechanisms, such as “splitting” (e.g. bipolar or schizophrenia), and seeing how they affect relationships. Q: What would you like to do with your degree? A: If I had to decide today I would work in a hospital setting, but I feel like eventually I would want to see patients on a long-term basis to provide more overall support. [caption id="attachment_210" align="alignleft" width="300"] Psy.D. student Anna-Marie Roland (holding banner, second from left) and fellow students and staff at March for Life in Washington, D.C.[/caption] Q: Do you think you would have chosen a different program if you weren’t awarded financial assistance? A: I may have waited to find more outside scholarships – through my parish or other scholarships, but I don’t think I would’ve gone to another school, especially knowing what I know now. I wanted to go to a secular school before because I thought that if my patients were going to be secular I thought that I wouldn’t need religious therapy. From other schools I learned that they take a very specific approach, but here, even in the orientations, they recognize the wholeness of influences. Even if the client isn’t “Catholic” this institution recognizes the importance of spirituality, as many other institutions do not recognize that. Would you like to pursue the Psy.D. program at Divine Mercy University? Sign up to get more information today!

My Missionary Journey Led Me to Counseling

This blog post was written by Abby Kowitz, a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling student at Divine Mercy University. She is also a regular contributor for Mind & Spirit. “What they need is Jesus.” I will never forget those words that I first heard during my orientation as a Christ in the City missionary. I had just committed myself to a year of living in community with 14 other Catholic young adults to go out into the streets of downtown Denver and help the homeless. I was scared out of my mind and clung to those words as my support and encouragement while I continually put myself in uncomfortable situations in an attempt to spread the gospel and share Jesus with those I met on the streets. The year and the experience was, in a word, beautiful. It brought about an inner-transformation and growth that has changed the trajectory of my life and I am forever grateful for it. I don’t doubt that the work we did was beneficial for others, but throughout the year I couldn’t shake the gnawing feeling that perpetuated my thoughts – “Am I actually helping those I’m encountering?” In terms of the mission, I think the answer is a hard yes. As missionaries, we embarked to witness Christ in the poor and be Christ to them in return. Did I do it perfectly? By no means! But I gave it my best shot, and to that degree, I did fulfill the mission I set out to do. What I realize in hindsight however, is that I mistook that statement, “What they need is Jesus,” as sufficient in and of itself, and to be quite honest, and at the risk of sounding like a heretic, it’s not. Though God is the creator and holds everything in his hands, as human beings he created our mind, body and soul. At different times certain components may be more prominent than others, but in order to flourish each part is integrated holistically. [caption id="attachment_190" align="alignright" width="300"] Christ in the City missionaries who volunteered in Denver to help the homeless.[/caption] Was the work I did with Christ in the City wrong? No, but it emphasized the spiritual and physical components – did the homeless know the love of Christ and did they have a place to stay that night? Yet the people I was meeting on the streets day after day not only had spiritual and practical brokenness, but mental brokenness as well. That was the tool that was missing from my belt. I continually witnessed addictions, depression, PTSD, and every other mental illness you could name, and I had no idea what to do with it. What’s more, I began to become aware of my own mental health and that of my fellow missionaries. Yes, we were cultivating deep prayer lives, yet I could see intense anxiety, insomnia, the aftermath of childhood trauma, and even depression amongst us. How was I to respond? It was through this experience with both the homeless and my fellow missionaries that I truly felt the desire and call to pursue a career in mental health. Everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum of mental health. No one is exempt from it and seeking to improve your mental health is not something reserved for the “crazy”. Our lives as Christians are marked by suffering – we imitate Christ on the cross and the question of hard experiences and tragedies is not so much a matter of if as much as when. Each and every one of us will face difficulties whether they’re obvious to others or not, and we need to be able to cope with them and grow into better human beings because of them. The ability to do that is not the result of prayer alone, but a thorough awareness of the psychology of the human person and the need to integrate it into our lives. We may not fully understand it (not everyone can nor is called to pursue a career in counseling), but by realizing that our mental health is an essential component to our flourishing and giving it the time and attention it deserves, our lives can truly give glory to God. [caption id="attachment_194" align="alignleft" width="504"] Fellow Master's in Counseling students during one of our residencies in Arlington, VA,.[/caption] Through my education at Divine Mercy University, I am slowly gaining the tools I realized I lacked and yearned for during my time as a missionary, and my vision of the human person is continually sharpening. These tools are a gift and I cannot wait to share them with others, whether they be my clients, peers, family members and, even, myself.     Interested in pursuing a career in counseling? Request information about the online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Divine Mercy University.

Working for Healing in Puerto Rico

For nine days in January, a team was deployed from the Green Cross Academy of Traumatology, with members from the Center for Trauma & Resiliency Studies (CTRS), to San Juan, Puerto Rico and surrounding areas to provide relief services following the devastation of Hurricane Maria.  Working with Dr. Carlos Velasquez-Garcia, who founded the Puerto Rico Center of Traumatology, the team worked on structuring an assistance program with the ongoing relief efforts. Following Hurricane Maria, many of the medical practitioners and health care providers had been working around to clock to serve those without many basic necessities; however, they were in need of care themselves. Compassion fatigue can occur in first responders, mental health professionals, doctors, nurses, social workers and others who work closely with trauma survivors. Currently, the social service system is stretched thin and San Juan's largest hospital, Centro Medico, has staff who are still overworking and recovering from the exhausting hours and exposure to trauma they experienced during Hurricane Maria. Anthony Flores, a M.S. in Counseling student, helped with the compassion fatigue training, critical to the efforts of those serving.  “We did a lot good work on the gorgeous island, with a people just as beautiful,” said Flores. “We did a number of trainings addressing compassion fatigue and some individual work. The people's reactions differed. Some were angry that it took so long for us to show up, some were a little wary about our presence, but the majority were grateful and happy we were there to help them. Flores spent time at the central makeshift clinic they had put up at the local Catholic parish. While at the clinic, he was given a translator to assist in doing counseling and debriefs with some of their patients. To end the training sessions, he helped to lead the group through a spiritual visualization he learned from a past CTRS training.  Dr. Benjamin Keyes, the Director of the CTRS, reported that about a quarter of the population they served had signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, which included flashbacks, agitation and depressive symptoms.  While the team was working with them, Dr. Keyes noticed the symptoms decreased during the short period they were there. “There is still much need there, and I can confidently say that we did a lot in a short time,” concluded Flores. “The Puerto Ricans are a resilient people, and in the end we laughed with them, we celebrated with them, we cried with them, and we loved them.” The CTRS Team hopes to return to complete additional trainings and provide support to the field workers.   [caption id="attachment_164" align="alignleft" width="300"] Anthony Flores, M.S. in Counseling student, at the Centro Medico[/caption] [caption id="attachment_156" align="alignright" width="300"] Dr. Benjamin Keyes works with the local associations to assist in support planning.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158" align="alignleft" width="300"] Various supplies for those in need.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_163" align="alignright" width="300"] Compassion fatigue training[/caption]

Florida Shooting Calls for Mental Health Experts

In the wake of the Florida high school shooting, where 17 students were killed and 15 injured, there has been an increase in the need for mental health treatment for children and adolescents. According to Newsweek, the February 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has made children feel unsafe and has lead to “an increase in the number of children being admitted to Florida mental health treatment facilities.” The Miami Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital, which “usually operates with two-thirds of the 40 beds unoccupied,” has been at or near capacity since the shooting. Fort Lauderdale Hospital has been at capacity and has even had to turn patients away or refer them to other facilities. In response to the tragic event, the American Psychological Association released a statement that recognized the need for youth counseling and support:
Excerpt - “Tragically, our nation is once again confronted with a school shooting, which has cut short all too many lives and forever affected so many others. We must take concerted action as a nation to ensure that our schools are once again safe havens for our children and youth. In this time of shock and grief, psychology and psychologists can offer those in distress the comfort, guidance and counseling they need to maintain resilience in the midst of such profound sorrow.”
Similarly, Divine Mercy University’s President Fr. Charles Sikorsky and Academic Dean Suzanne Hollman, Psy.D., spoke on the appropriate actions to take during such tragedies during their appearance on “The World Over” on Eternal Word Television Network. They also shared tips on how to recognize signs of someone who has a common psychological problem, including social isolation and significant change in behavior. At this point, the Parkland shooting is now among the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history, according to a recent CNN report. Though American security forces may not be able to predict such catastrophes and legislators may not institute flawless laws to diminish the number of mass shootings, the power to heal the wounds of the mentally disturbed is in the hands of therapists, counselors and psychologists.   Learn more about the psychology and counseling programs offered at Divine Mercy University to find out how you can counsel people who have mental health challenges.

Kiwi priest completes U.S. degree by studying online

This is a summary of an article that was originally published in the NZ Catholic. The 2017 Commencement Exercises at Divine Mercy University was a historic occasion for Kiwi priest Fr. Vaughan Leslie. He was the first New Zealander to earn a degree from the university – with a Master of Science in Psychology. Fr. Leslie tips his hat to the cost effectiveness of the program and the ability to learn 100% online while maintaining full-time pastoral work in his parish. “My friends and family would tell you, over the two years of study, I was constantly reading, writing discussion posts, assignments and a thesis,” he said, according to the NZ Catholic. “When I look back, it was so much work, but all necessary and most enjoyable, as is anything that is worthwhile.” His attendance at the ceremony in Washington, D.C., also allowed him to receive a student leadership award that he was nominated for by staff, faculty and student peers. The main reason Fr. Leslie decided to pursue a master’s in psychology was because it would make an impact on the people he worked with. “I had been a prison chaplain for five years, working with serious violent and sexual offenders and many men suffering mental illness. In light of this, I very much felt the need to learn more about human behavior and how positive change can occur for all people in their personal struggles,” he said in his interview with NZ Catholic. He now uses the skills and knowledge gained in the M.S. in Psychology program on a daily basis. Read his full feature story in the NZ Catholic.
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.