6 Tips for Handling Holiday Stress

We always look to the holidays as a time of celebration; a magical time of good cheer, warm traditions, and being with family and friends. We think of it as a time of rest and relaxation, filled with joy and gratitude for all that we have. Despite the surface magic and positivity, the holidays are often accompanied by even busier schedules and events that can seem daunting. For many people, the mere idea of attending large family gatherings, numerous holiday parties, and all the traveling can produce anxiety, stress, and depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), three out of four people surveyed reported feeling anxious and/or depressed during the holiday season. Holiday parties in particular are a common stressor, especially for those with a social anxiety disorder. For some, they’ll try anything to avoid activities that involve larger groups. For others, the problem lies in attempting to have the “best” Christmas ever, where the thought of something being out of place or decorations falling short can cause significant feelings of distress, as well as fears of disappointing others or feeling that everything they do is being scrutinized and judged.  “There’s just so much that goes into the holidays,” said Dr. Alexis Melville, co-director of the IPS Center for Psychological Services, an outpatient mental health facility located on the campus of Divine Mercy University. “We’re rushing all over the place just trying to tie up loose ends and get everything prepared for the celebrations, but we also tend to self-evaluate how we did throughout the year. There are perceived societal pressures throughout the holiday season that can amplify expectations for ourselves or others, and those expectations can induce a greater anxiety during these times.” You don’t have to succumb to the holiday stress. Here are some ways to help manage the stress this holiday season:
  1. Plan
The holidays may feel like one gigantic party, where everyone is invited and you’re the host. Like with all parties, planning for it is a key practice toward success. Plan your menus, make your shopping list early, and set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. This will help prevent last-minute scrambling for forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup so that you’re not doing EVERYTHING.
  1. Be realistic
We love our traditions, but the holidays don't have to be perfect. In fact, they’re never the same. Life changes. Families grow and traditions will change. You can try to hold onto some old traditions, but try starting new ones too.
  1. Set aside differences
It’s no secret that some family gatherings can be tense, but chances are that everyone is feeling the same holiday stress. Try to accept family members and friends as they are and set aside old grievances. Try to be understanding if others get upset or distressed.
  1. Set healthy boundaries
It is easy to feel pulled in many different directions over the holidays, but don't be afraid to make the choices that feel right for you; overindulgence, especially with alcohol, only adds to the stress. Try to get plenty of exercise and sleep during the holidays. Also try eating a healthy snack before the parties so that you don't go overboard on cheese, drinks, and candy canes.
  1. Take a breather
Make some time for yourself. Spending 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
  1. Just say no
It’s okay to turn down invitations. We may want to be involved or feel pressured to be involved. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time. Following these tips and strategies can help you reduce anxiety and take control of the holidays. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself still feeling persistently anxious, stressed, or sad. Perhaps there was a change in your life that altered how you approach holidays -- a good friend may have moved far away and can’t celebrate with you, or a loved one passed away. If you lost someone dear to you, it’s normal to feel their absence; it’s normal to feel grief in their absence.  If these feelings last for a while and manifest physically and if you’re feeling irritable, hopeless, unable to sleep or unable to perform routine chores, then you should seek out a mental health professional. The IPS Center at Divine Mercy University offers psychological services on a sliding scale basis. Services are offered by supervised doctoral students and are available to both adults and children. For more information, call (703) 418-2111 or email ipscenter@divinemercy.edu.

Miscarriage Trauma Involves Mental Health Need

Step into an examination room at an OB-GYN, and you may find a young couple staring up at a monitor. Little by little, their pure love, joy and anticipation illuminates the room, burying any sense of worry or cautiousness they may have.  But as they both stare up at the monitor--anxious to see and hear the long-awaited music of the beating heart of their first child--they are met with silence. Their radiant eyes become like icicles melting in the sun as they realize that their child is gone forever.  Miscarriages are more common than one would think. Approximately one in four women will lose their baby to miscarriage. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it’s the most common cause of pregnancy loss, with 80 percent of all miscarriages happening within the first trimester.  Sadly, that one-in-four statistic drives a stigma of commonhood that overshadows the true devastation of miscarriage, allowing friends and family on the outside looking in to feel compelled to offer words of encouragement rather than words of compassion: It’s God’s will; There was probably something wrong; You’ll be pregnant again before you know it This stigma makes it incredibly difficult for parents, especially those who miscarry within the first trimester, as their grief may be less socially acceptable or acknowledged than the anguish of someone who miscarried beyond twelve weeks gestation, leaving the grieving mother feeling that her loss is not valid. “I think it tends to be more of an afterthought,” said Dr. Benjamin Keyes, professor and director of training and internship at Divine Mercy University. He is also the director of the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies, which offers training towards certification as Mental Health First Responders in times of disaster and traumatic situations.  “I think parents losing a child is the most devastating of losses,” he said. “I don’t think it ever fully heals. For some parents--depending on how strong their mood towards parenting is--it may actually stop them from the process out of fear of experiencing it again. I don’t think people realize just how bonded parents become to the fetus, nor the emotional changes that happen, certainly within the mother. When there’s a miscarriage, we think ‘well, it almost was.’ We move on and that’s the end of it. But that’s not the case for the person who has gone through the hormonal changes, those shifts in the body. That’s not the case for the people who were in preparation to becoming parents only to find themselves not being parents.”  As miscarriage carries a physical toll on the mother, it also takes a toll mentally, and can be a trigger for mental health issues including depression, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety. The grief is comparable in nature, intensity, and duration to that in people who suffer other types of major loss, and a 2016 study showed that four in ten women who experience miscarriage experience symptoms of PTSD Julia Bueno,a psychotherapist in London, England, has experienced miscarriages herself and  specializes in working with women who have experienced pregnancy loss. She is also the author of The Brink of Being: Talking About Miscarriage, where she explains that, despite how common miscarriages are, most are never mentally or physically prepared for the firsthand experience. “Many women,” she writes, “don’t expect it to happen and are not prepared for what it may involve: neither the potential physical--and possible medical--endurance nor the roller coaster of competing and complex feelings that the grief for a lost pregnancy can involve. The sadness, guilt, self-blame, sense of failure and worthlessness, anger, and uncomfortable envy can surprise or even shock the bereaved, who bear all this with no sure sense of how or how long to grieve, nor confidence to talk about an experience that has been relentlessly silenced.”   In addition to the unexpected mental and physical toll, most mothers find themselves at a loss in finding the strength to overcome such a tragic and traumatic experience that’s seen more as an afterthought. But according to Divine Mercy University professor and senior scholar, Dr. Paul Vitz, the struggle is not due to a lack of strength. As part of the module for Dr. Keyes’ course, COUN 640: Crisis and Trauma: Prevention and Treatment, Dr. Paul Vitz explains why some people who have experienced traumatic obstacles may struggle to overcome them. “I think in many cases,” he said, “the person who has failed to overcome those obstacles is not without many strengths and could really overcome them. But they haven’t been given any guidance. They haven’t been given any help. They haven’t been shown any strategies that might work.” Fathers are also affected by the same grief and, for them, the grief is twofold. First, there is grief for the mother, but also feeling an overwhelming sense of needing to set all grief and emotions aside in order to be strong for her. But then there is the individual grief for the loss of their baby with whom they had already forged a bond. This twofold grief can develop into what psychologist Dan Singley sees as the most common reaction for dads who experience a miscarriage: a profound sense of guilt.   “The guilt is very often the result of the fact that he himself is struggling,” said Singley, who is also the media chair for Postpartum Support International. “He’s got a lot of anxiety and depression but doesn’t feel entitled to it — kind of like, ‘Hey, I’m not the one who lost the baby, so what right do I have to be taking up her emotional bandwidth with my issues?’”    As our knowledge of the mental health risks and consequences that arise with miscarriages and infant/pregnancy loss grows, so does the need for mental health professionals to intervene with those parents in their time of need. The students at Divine Mercy University are being trained to address these parents’ needs as they cope with their grief. And the faculty work on both training the students and developing coursework that helps them be prepared to reverse the stigma around some of the less visible sources of grief, like miscarriage. “We do a lot in terms of parents,” said Dr. Keyes. “That is certainly a focus of the Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person (CCMMP): parenting and thriving within families. I think it does a good job in addressing family issues. I also think the focus in our courses does the same as we discuss family processes and family struggles across the lifespan of a person.” The Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person is unifying framework that integrates philosophy and theology with the psychological sciences. As one of the nation’s leading graduate institutions, Divine Mercy University is training students to identify, address, refer and treat both individuals and families who are suffering from depression, PTSD and other trauma-related disorders, with the specific mission to help patients flourish through the lens of the CCMMP. One excerpt from the document shows this focus on the family: Interpersonal relationality is first developed in the family, which is the basic unit of society. Humans have both a natural need for family and natural inclinations to establish families, that is, inclinations toward the goods of marriage and the procreation and education of children. All families, regardless of structure, deserve support, including assistance for the difficulties they face (Chapter 2). “That’s one of the functions of the helping professions,” said Dr. Vitz, “to give opportunities for new growth--for new flourishing--as a way of overcoming things that, in the past, the person was really depressed by or felt controlled by and felt, if you will, victimized in a way that made them passive, sad, withdrawn and without hope. That’s one of the things our programs focus on: How to provide strategies and ways of overcoming the past so that you can move hopefully and positively into a more flourishing life.”  Access to psychological services through the IPS Center at Divine Mercy University are available on a sliding scale basis. Services are offered by supervised doctoral students and are available to both adults and children. For more information, call (703) 418-2111) or email ipscenter@divinemercy.edu.

DMU’s New Campus Officially Opens

Twenty years ago, a handful of students, instructors, and psychology professionals met in a small space in Arlington, VA, and began the very first semester of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS). This resulted in the launch of a new vision and mission to integrate traditional psychology into harmonized mental health science and therapy practices with a Catholic-Christian understanding and a focus on the dignity of the human person.  [caption id="attachment_868" align="alignleft" width="250"] Bishop Michael Burbidge cuts the ceremonial ribbons with Divine Mercy University President Fr. Charles Sikorsky, marking the official opening of university's new home campus in Sterling, VA.[/caption] On September 8, the IPS, now known as Divine Mercy University, marked the opening of its new campus in Sterling, VA. Mass was celebrated in the university’s temporary chapel by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, and was followed by the annual President’s Picnic for guests and the school’s faculty, staff, supporters, and a student body that has grown significantly in its 20-year existence.  “Our university’s ability to launch a new academic program, gain and maintain accreditation status, and transform from a dozen students to nearly 400 is a reflection of (God’s) unfailing guidance along the way,” said Fr. Charles Sikorsky, President of Divine Mercy University, in a press release. The dedication drew a crowd of over 200 attendees, including Loudoun County's Bo Machayo. Loudoun County has worked diligently with the university in the renovation and construction of the new campus building. [caption id="attachment_856" align="alignright" width="274"] Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, were in attendance for Divine Mercy University's ribbon-cutting ceremony in Sterling. Two are students in the university's doctoral program in clinical psychology.[/caption] “I would like to welcome you to Loudoun County — the greatest county in the entire country,” he said. “We have Divine Mercy University here now, and you can’t get much better than that.” Machayo is the Chief of Staff to Phyllis Randall, a mental health therapist and the Chair at Large for the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. For Machayo, whose mother is also a mental health therapist, the addition of Divine Mercy University to Loudoun County not only represents a great service coming to the area, but also confirms a testament that he has learned throughout his life. [caption id="attachment_858" align="alignleft" width="156"] "Thank you for making Loudoun County your home." Bo Machayo spoke for Loudoun County at the dedication ceremony.[/caption] “One thing that they both have taught me,” he said, “is that mental health is health, especially in today’s day and age. Loudoun County is the fastest growing county in Virginia and sixth in the country. There are a lot of services that the county is going to need as it continues to grow. Having Divine Mercy University here is especially important because it allows people to be trained here, but also provides a service here that are going to be necessary for Loudoun County and the region in general. We consider it a great blessing to have Divine Mercy University here.”  You can find coverage of the ceremony from The Arlington Catholic Herald here

12 Grads On a Mission to Counsel the World

During this time of year--where young men and women across the nation donned their gowns and tassels with big smiles and walk before their friends and families to receive the degrees they worked so hard for over the last four years--many of those undergraduates will find themselves at a loss, unsure of what their next move is, doing things they never expected themselves to do, until they find the light that shines on the journey they’re meant to take. Abby Kowitz, from St. Paul, Minnesota, was one such undergrad. After graduation, Abby headed to Denver, Colorado, to serve as a missionary with Christ in the City, which seeks to encounter Christ in the poor and show Christ to them in return. “While the purpose was beautiful,” she said, “I couldn't help but think that something was missing. What I grew to realize was that, while the poor needed to encounter Christ as well as learn how to sustain their physical needs, mental health issues such as addictions, trauma, depression and anxiety often got in the way. I didn't know how to address those elements. My desire to serve the holistic person in mind, body and spirit is what led me to pursue a degree in counseling.” She searched for two years for graduate-level counseling programs that addressed the human person from a Catholic perspective, until her mother saw a promotion on EWTN announcing the new Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Divine Mercy University (DMU). The rest, as Kowitz put it, is history. This past weekend--Mother’s Day weekend--she made her mother proud again, donning her own gown and tassel as one of twelve students in the very first graduating cohort from DMU’s School of Counseling. “We are grateful for being at this point of the journey with our first students graduating,” said Dr. Harvey Payne, Academic Dean for the School of Counseling, “that we completed every course, and how well the students have done in their practicum and internships, which is really the proof in the pudding. Without our founding faculty--Dr. Steve Sharp, Dr. Benjamin Keyes , Dr. Matthew McWhorter, and the program development team lead by Dr. Stephen Grundman--there would be no program. They all have gone above and beyond for our program to create and deliver a high quality program for our students.” For many of the students who enroll, including Marion Moreland of West Virginia, the M.S. in Counseling program is a means of adding and improving upon the gifts and services they provide in helping others. Moreland feels that providence helped in leading her to the counseling program at DMU. “Four years prior,” she said, “I was at a parish doing pastoral counseling and grief counseling. I think I had a misguided view of what counseling was versus pastoral counseling-type work, and how that involved integration of faith. When I learned about the Master’s in Counseling, I saw that it was more of what I was looking for.” Another student, Anthony Flores, was formally employed at an inpatient psych unit for about three years, working one on one with different patients. Though he found the experience rewarding, he always felt a sense that he could do more. The potential to be able to walk alongside other people in the darkness and brokenness that they’re experiencing drew him to his degree in counseling and, ultimately, Divine Mercy University. [caption id="attachment_716" align="aligncenter" width="633"] Anthony Flores of Michigan receives his M.S. Degree in Counseling while shaking the hand of DMU's School of Counseling Academic Dean, Dr. Harvey Payne.[/caption] “I’ve always been a devout Catholic,” he said. “It’s such a central core of who I am. So, in terms of moving forward in my life and my career, I wanted to be really intentional about incorporating my faith into my work. DMU made that easy by introducing the Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person (CCMMP), a faculty publication explaining the relationship of the Catholic-Christian Meta-Model of the Person with the integrations of Psychology and Counseling. That really became our lens by which we view our clients through. I think that gives us a huge advantage over other institutions or universities that strictly take a secular view and don’t look at the spiritual aspect of people.” One of the requirements of the program that every student must do is be supervised at an approved practicum-internship site for a minimum of 750 hours. After completing their practicum-internships, each student from this year’s graduating cohort received something that many graduates may find hard to come by so close to graduation: job offers. “All of the offers have come through their internships,” said Dr. Payne. “What that means is that the individuals supervising them and the individuals directing the sites have recognized the high quality of their character and their work that they have done as practicum-internship students.” “In the human service world,” he continued, “and true across different occupations, how one fits into the culture of the workplace is a critical determining factor as to whether people want you to stay, and I can’t help but think that that is part of what has gone on. Our students have been able to fit in to a wide variety of settings from hospitals, to private practices, to Catholic Charities, to a wide range of different environments and most not having a specific Catholic-Christian worldview.” Moreland’s internship was with Highland-Clarksburg Hospital--a psychiatric hospital--in her home state. While gaining critical experience through her internship, Marion saw how DMU’s training differed from other graduate programs for mental health professions. “I think what stands out the most is the way we look at people,” she said. “In some ways, it’s employing [a] Catholic [Christian vision of respecting how people flourish], but in a practical sense. Even if you take the faith aspect out of it, our training is more person centered as opposed to technique and diagnosis centered. It’s about ‘who is this individual in front of me’ as opposed to ‘there’s a border line; there’s a schizophrenic.’ It’s more focused on the human side of who we are.” In addition to their internships, both Moreland and Flores attended and assisted with workshops offered through DMU’s Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies (CTRS), becoming certified facilitators. For Flores, that meant a long drive each month from his home in Saginaw, Michigan, to the Virginia campus. But it wasn’t until Flores joined Dr. Keyes and a group from CTRS to Beirut that he understood the true weight and significance of the work of CTRS. He understood why he was pursuing such a career while having breakfast with a Syrian woman he met during that deployment. Flores listened as a woman told him the story of her birthday. She was studying at the university in Aleppo when, all of a sudden, she heard a whistle outside, and then a huge explosion. The large window in front of her shattered and sent her flying back a few meters. As she laid there on the floor, stunned, another classmate came up to her and asked about a question on the upcoming exam, as if nothing had happened, almost completely oblivious and disassociated from the event. Afterwards, they went to a local cafe to call their families and made it home a few hours later, and learned on the television that night that over 100 students had been killed in a missile attack. “As she’s telling me all this,” Flores said, “she’s smiling and laughing about it, as a way for her to deal with what happened and to tell that story. That struck me in such a way that I felt compelled to learn more about that--about trauma--about how, maybe, I can do something for these people that are suffering.” For these students, the M.S. in Counseling at Divine Mercy University has been one of their greatest and most difficult challenges they have ever endured--a real journey full of great challenges, obstacles and setbacks. But, in the end--having overcome those challenges both individually and as a group--this journey towards the first School of Counseling graduation in DMU history has proven to be a rewarding experience that will remain with them for the rest of their days. “Receiving my Master's in Counseling from DMU has been one of the most influential experiences of my life,” Kowitz exclaimed. “DMU has challenged, strengthened, and fine-tuned beliefs I already held as a practicing Catholic while teaching me how to implement them in a very practical and necessary way. DMU has provided me with a tangible set of tools and path to walk in the pursuit of my call to holiness. Through deepening my understanding and knowledge of the human person I am equipped to respond in a truly helpful way to whoever it may be that I encounter through both my clients but also in my personal life and relationships.” “We are all created good and that goodness is indelible,” Dr. Payne said. “Our students are really people that are seeking to grow and be good for the service of others, a number [of people] having some real struggles and difficulties in life that we all have, and keeping their goal in mind and persevering, having grit to persevere to reach their goals. It has been great seeing how each one of the students in their own uniqueness have found their niches, if you will, for how God will be using them in the field of professional counseling.” If you’re passionate about helping those who have witnessed or suffered serious trauma, or help those with serious mental illness, consider the M.S. in Counseling at Divine Mercy University.

Remembering the Virginia Tech Shooting

The small town of Blacksburg in Southern Virginia was, at one point, only that: a small town, nestled along the New River Valley. The trip from the cities of the north will lead you witnessing the significant change of scenery as you cruise down I-81, from cityscapes to treelines, from city streets to nature trails, from Smithsonian Museums to the Blue Ridge Mountains, from the boisterous white noise of a congested population to the melodies of the rural countryside. And, of course, it will lead you to the spirited Hokie Nation. But this little Virginia gem was not brought under the eyes of the new millennium by its quaint charm. It wasn’t Blacksburg’s or Virginia Tech’s spirited community or the university’s technological innovations or successes in science and agriculture, nor was it Beamer Ball that brought it under the spotlight of the world. It was a 23-year-old English major from northern Virginia, and the 32 people he murdered on campus that brought the spotlight to Virginia Tech and an issue that continues to be debated to this day. The beautiful campus and its community was eternally scarred by the violence of that April day of darkness fourteen years ago. Today, there is still a certain, strange air carried on the winds throughout campus that leaves one keeping an eye open and scanning their surroundings, and there’s rarely a day where students do not pass or visit the memorial at the top of the drillfield in front of Burruss Hall: 32 stones for the 32 taken from us too soon. April 16th always brings back the pictures of that tragic day: students evacuated from campus, huddled together in a circle at a local church; sheriff officers carrying survivors from the scene by their arms and legs; tearful mothers holding tight the child who just left their nest for the first time; other mothers searching frantically among the large crowds of bloodied faces for their children, praying that they are not one of the many carried away in body bags; President Bush, a father himself, addressing the university, seeking to comfort a confused, sorrowful student body of 25,000; Resident Poet Nikki Giovanni absorbing all that sorrow into her pen and converting it into prose of flourishing inspiration as she cries out, “We Are Virginia Tech!” The date also brings back to remember the student and shooter Seung Hui Cho, who was described as an isolated individual preferring to be by himself. He hardly spoke in class and, when he was called to do so, he spoke barely above a whisper. The content of his written assignments and projects at Virginia Tech caught the concerning attention of his professors, and the videos and manifesto he sent to NBC left people anxiously asking questions about his mental stability. What could have led him to commit such a seemingly random act of carnage? What could have been done to stop it? School shootings have been well covered and documented over the last several years. As a result, studies have shown that there are a number of common risk factors that can indicate if someone is at risk of harming themselves and/or others. Risk factors commonly associated with school shooters include creating or engaging in content--writings, drawings, etc.--depicting violence or violent fantasies, difficulty controlling anger, suicidal and homicidal ideations, social isolation and social deficits, victim/martyr self-concept, paranoia and interest in other shooting situations. “I think those are very good starting points,” said Dr. Suzanne Hollman, Academic Dean and Director of Divine Mercy University’s Psy.D. Program, in an interview on EWTN after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “The research right now is all over the place. But what we do know is that all of these things are risk factors. All of these things can predispose someone to making a decision or planning something that dramatic. A lot of it stems from social isolation--not being seen in the world--and then trying to find these mechanisms to ensure that they are noticed.” After the attack, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine assigned an independent panel to review the events leading up to the tragedy and how they were handled. The panel was also charged with developing a profile and investigating the life of Cho leading up to April 16th, including his mental health records, which showed that Cho displayed all these red flags during his last two years at the university. But the panel didn’t just shed light on the indicators that developed during his final two years. The panel discovered other details in Cho’s life that could also have been contributing factors.    According to their review, Cho was a shy boy who rarely spoke and, when he moved with his family from South Korea to the United States, he became more withdrawn. He allegedly resented the pressure of speaking in public, and would avoid speaking both at home and at school. When called to speak--particularly if his family had a visitor--Cho would freeze on the spot and grow incredibly anxious. He would become pale, develop sweaty palms, and in some cases, begin to cry and resort to nodding yes or shaking his head no.     Cho’s parents tried to urge him to become more involved in different activities and local sports because they worried he was becoming more isolated and lonely. On the other hand, transportation to any event in general was a challenge in itself, as Cho’s parents worked long hours during the week and were not able to take him or his sister to any extracurricular activities. His father was stern on matters of respect, which is something the two would argue about. According to one of the records reviewed by the independent panel, Cho’s father would not praise his son, and one of his writings later included a father-son relationship where the father was always negative. Eventually, Cho’s parents decided to “let him be the way he is” and not force him to interact and talk with others. Doing so may not have been in their son’s best interest. Extreme social deficits is not just a key indicator of a serious mental health issue. According to 2018 Divine Mercy University Psy.D. graduate Amanda Aulbaugh Faria’s dissertation entitled “Mass School Shooters: Psychosocial Characteristics in the Lives of the Perpetrators,” it’s also a common characteristic among school shooters. Nine out of the nineteen school shooters that Faria studied had significant social deficits. One shooter was quiet, was disliked by her peers, walked around by herself and did not participate in class at school. Another shooter suffered significant social anxiety and was seen as “odd, goofy or weird.” Twelve of the nineteen studied also displayed antisocial characteristics. “The negatives have already been identified,” said Dr. Paul Vitz, Divine Mercy University Senior Scholar and Professor, who has recently begun researching school shootings and their perpetrators, from elementary school to high school. “They were depressed, or they came from dysfunctional families, or they were all obsessed with violence. They had a variety of negative characteristics.” In his own research of school shooters, Dr. Vitz found that one thing common among the shooters is not merely a variety of negative risk factors, but also a lack of positive things in their lives. “None of them seemed to have a goal in life,” he said. “None of them wanted to be a star musician, no one wanted to be an athlete, none of them talked about being businessmen or have success at college. Second, none were involved in any pro-social organizations. None were in scouts or 4-H. None were in a civic society or were helping the poor, none were involved with any of the virtues or active in any faith.” In Faria’s study, many of the shooters were involved with different activities as younger children, but as they grew older into middle school and high school, they began to withdraw from social activities. Others, including Sandy Hook shooter Bill Lanza, had no social interests or did not engage in any social activities from the beginning. “It isn’t just the overwhelming presence of many negatives,” continued Vitz. “It’s the absence of the positives too.” A second factor discovered was that Cho, who had been receiving psychiatric treatment prior to attending Virginia Tech, stopped his treatment before moving to Blacksburg, and the university had no knowledge of his mental health history. According to the panel report, Cho’s middle school teachers noticed suicidal and homicidal ideations in his writings after the 1999 Columbine shootings. On their recommendation, Cho received psychiatric counseling and medication for a short time, and special accommodations were made to help Cho achieve top scores and honors in his coursework all through high school. “Cho exhibited signs of mental health problems during his childhood,” the report reads. “His middle and high schools responded well to these signs and, with his parents' involvement, provided services to address his issues. He also received private psychiatric treatment and counseling for selective mutism and depression.” By the time Cho was preparing to leave home for college for the first time--entering as a business major before making the switch to English--neither he nor his high school revealed that he had been receiving special education services as an emotionally disabled student. As a result, no one at Virginia Tech ever became aware of his pre-existing conditions until it was too late, leaving him to carry on without the critical helped that assisted him to cope and flourish. Since that tragic day in 2007, colleges and universities across the country have taken steps to both help those individuals with anxiety and mental issues. Many have added mental health professionals and university police officers to their campuses; faculty and staff members are being trained on how to spot worrisome behavior and reach out to those students in a preventative manner. Virginia Tech even became the first campus in the nation to be certified by an independent non-profit organization that established rigorous national standards for emergency planning.   A question still lingers: is it enough? That question may never have an answer. But it’s the reverberation of gunshots that still faintly linger in the winds of Blacksburg, and in the tears that stain the 32 stones in front of Burruss Hall that pushes us to keep trying and keep innovating ways to help our mentally ill and, in doing so, trying our hardest to prevent another April 16th. If you’re passionate about helping those who have witnessed or suffered serious trauma, or if you want to help those with serious mental illness, consider the M.S. in Psychology, M.S. in Counseling or Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology at Divine Mercy University.   Work Cited: “Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007, Report of the Review Panel”. Presented to Governor Tim Kaine, Commonwealth of Virginia, August 2007. https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/prevail/docs/VTReviewPanelReport.pdf Faria, A. A. Mass school shootings: Psychosocial characteristics in the lives of perpetrators (Doctoral Dissertation). Divine Mercy University, 2018. Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2100701144). Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/2100701144?accountid=27532 Friedman, Emily.  “Va. Tech Shooter Seung-Hui Cho's Mental Health Records Released.” ABC News, 19 Aug. 2009, https://abcnews.go.com/US/seung-hui-chos-mental-health-records-released/story?id=8278195 Hausman, Sandy.  “Lessons Learned at Virginia Tech: What Went Wrong?.” WVTF, 13 Apr. 2015, https://www.wvtf.org/post/lessons-learned-virginia-tech-what-went-wrong#stream/0 Langman, Peter. School Shooters: Understanding High School, College and Adult Perpetrators. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2015. O'Meara, Eamon. “Virginia Tech shooting may have changed how mental health was treated.” ABC WDBJ7, 14 Apr. 2017, https://www.wdbj7.com/content/news/Virginia-Tech-shooting-may-have-changed-how-mental-health-was-treated-419513643.html Potter, Ned and David Schoetz, Richard Esposito, Pierre Thomas. “Killer's Note: 'You Caused Me to Do This'.” ABC News, 7 Apr. 2007, https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3048108&page=1
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.