Counseling Facilitators Experience Life-Changing Moments

Graduate studies aren’t easy. At Divine Mercy University, we see our counseling students hard at work in the virtual classroom as well as on campus during residencies for the Master’s in Counseling program. While on campus for their residencies, students get help from onsite clinical facilitators to develop their counseling skills. Back in the virtual classroom, though, non-clinical facilitators are on hand to facilitate the School of Counseling (SOC) students through course PHT 523: Moral Character and Spiritual Flourishing, which addresses the students' interpersonal flourishing in terms of vocations, virtues, and spiritual resources as they progress to becoming licensed professional counselors. The program has had consecrated women, priests, and spiritual directors serve as non-clinical facilitators. “The people who become facilitators for this are people who have a heart for ministry, and course PHT 523 is for the students to learn about themselves and how they’re growing,” said Laura Mayers, Academic Affairs Assistant for the School of Counseling and a non-clinical facilitator stationed on campus. Unlike their regular courses or the residencies, where both the students and clinical facilitators are on campus, the students are divided into groups of six in a workshop-style structure. They meet  through video conferencing every other week during the eight-week course. The purpose of PHT 523 is for the students to focus on their own journeys of growth, both spiritually and personally. The course assignments are personally intense but also, according to Mayers, forever life-changing.  One of those life-changing moments comes in the first assignment: the Spiritual Life Map. This assignment requires students to illustrate their whole personal, professional, and spiritual development from birth to the present day, highlighting major moral and spiritual events, experiences, and milestones throughout the course of their lives that have enabled their development in virtue.  For facilitator Victoria O’Donnell, who is also the Program Assistant for the Spiritual Direction Certificate program at the university, both the course and the stories that arise from the spiritual life map assignment are sacred.  “I think of Moses and the burning bush,” said O’Donnell, “where God tells Moses to remove his sandals because he was standing on sacred ground. That’s what this course feels like for me. There is a profound, sacred vulnerability in it that leaves me humbled and in awe, and it brings back an experiential awareness of our common humanity. Each of us has our cross, but then we come to the question: what do you do with it?  Will you let it isolate you, or will you allow it to bring you to a place where you can feel your own pain and, in doing so, are capable of feeling someone else’s pain?” As the students become more self aware of their own struggles and their own spiritual development, they gain a special insight that’s critical to their future careers as healers. According to O’Donnell, the program helps them bring their past into a cohesive whole. The course allows them to develop and work with the tools to heal themselves, and gives them a better understanding of how others can work with them, as well.  “When you’re working through and processing your own stuff,” said O’Donnell, “there’s an experiential empathy that’s simply invaluable and cannot be taught -- it has to be experienced. This empathy allows one to have a respect for the other in their own individuality. The students’ processing through their own issues produces an understanding and a valuable empathy for their future clients.”   “I think they develop a lot of self-knowledge, a lot of self-acceptance,” said Mayers. “They develop a greater understanding of how they can lead a group that’s cohesive and enlightening for all involved, but also well-contained. The t experience of a group that’s well-controlled will help them when they’re working as counselors themselves in the future.”    As she hears and learns from each of her group’s personal stories, Mayers believes the facilitators also gain tremendous insight, and come out of each session with tools that they can exercise in their own lives.    “We all make judgments about each other,” Mayers said. “Sometimes counseling students come in with the idea of knowing what types of people they are going to work with and what types of people they won’t work with. But then they sit down with someone they don’t believe they had anything in common with and, in a very short time, find themselves experiencing a love for that person in a very profound way. “Every time someone opens up their life to you, you’re standing on sacred ground,” Mayers continued, “and that person will be forever a part of your heart because they shared their story with you. I look back at some of the experiences I’ve had in the groups, and I have a special place in my heart for each one of those people. You’re forever changed because you got to know someone in a very profound way, and maybe you’re forever changed because you got to know yourself, as well.”     PHT 523: Moral Character and Spiritual Flourishing is course counseling students take within the first academic year of their enrollment. To view a sample video from course, click here. If you’re passionate about helping those who struggle with mental health issues or suffered serious trauma, consider building the skills to do so through the M.S. in Counseling at Divine Mercy University.

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.

Unfolding the Person with Positive Psychology

This past September, the Abat Oliba CEU University in Barcelona, Spain, held the first European Congress of Christian Anthropology and Mental Health Sciences. The purpose of the congress assembly is to address the separation between mental health sciences and Christian anthropology, and to deepen the holistic vision of psychology and health sciences. Divine Mercy University’s senior scholar and professor, Dr. Paul Vitz, was in attendance to present the Catholic-Christian Meta-Model of the Person (CCMMP), and spoke with reporter Jordi Picazo from ZENIT. Below is the transcript of that interview:   Jordi Picazo: Dr. Vitz, you work intensely in the field of anthropology/psychology, and more specifically in the fields of philosophical and transcendental anthropology and the psychospiritual dimension of the human being, to recover knowledge about what makes us human. Is this an urgent task today?  Paul Vitz: We are immersed in a global cultural crisis when it comes to recognizing what is specific to the human person. And there are those who say that there is no nature and therefore we can manipulate the human person -- biologically, genetically, politically -- at our whim. And this is done using ideology or even science, as a "shotgun loaded" to change the concept of the person. So now we have animal and human hybrids, we have people who identify with animals, we have the same transsexual ambiguity and these are signs of the loss of understanding of what the person is. They are creating a huge identity crisis both on the right and on the political left.  Both sides of the political spectrum are responding to this. The left responds by saying that there is no identity, that there is no human nature, that we can manipulate the person and force them to our liking, sometimes with a cultural pressure that aims to define it superficially, other times even thinking about getting close to some scientific current and creating people -- biologically freaks, hybrids, essentially monsters.  [caption id="attachment_900" align="alignright" width="350"] Dr. Vitz, seated 2nd from the left, also took part in the round table discussion: "The spiritual dimensions as human dimensions in Psychology".[/caption] On the right side there is a return to identity based on race, ethnic identity, nationalisms. And this is the tradition in many cultures throughout history, that of the struggle of one tribe against another tribe. In this context you can refer to, for example, Anglos and Saxons against the Celts two thousand years ago in England. So we have always had group identities based on race or language, or geographical settlement. And if you reduce everything to that, you reduce everything to a crisis that has lasted since ancient times. And as a result you reduce the person to the culture you want and to any parameter you want, because by controlling biology and culture the person is reduced to an already archaic and certainly fascist crisis. You decide -- or a crisis of confusing and meaningless self-referentiality.  There has to be an intermediate position. Those two extremes are new forms of idolatry. People who identify with the extreme left or the extreme right are at the bottom worshiping a human solution of life that leads to no solution.  So in our meta-model, we define the person at a theological level, at a philosophical level and then at a psychological level. The three definitions are compatible with each other although they exist on three different conceptual levels, each with its own epistemology. We also explore that the understanding of a person is not only the understanding of their traumas and their past pathologies. Instead, we are very much in line with the positive psychology movement, which is not explicitly religious, and we are in line with the notion of "unfolding," in a sense of flourishing. Once we know what the human person is, we can know what it means to "unfold." To unfold is to move toward the objective of the person, that for which we are made. But we cannot unfold unless we know what we are and what we are made for. We present the idea that we have been made to display a vocation, a vocation for personal spiritual growth, to adopt a relationship of commitment to some state of life such as commitment in marriage, a celibate life or religious life. And we are thus committed to deploying ourselves through a form of work and creative leisure that helps society.  And this is what we offer in our meta-model: a profile of the nature of the person with whom I believe that the majority of reasonable people will be able to agree and which they may face formally and seriously, even if they are not Christian. With some modifications this model is also appropriate for Jews, and possibly for atheists. So we propose to define the nature of the person in dimensions that all thinkers must finally address: on the paths of theology, philosophy and psychology, since to "unfold" the person requires purpose, morality and levels of understanding above basic psychology. And this is what is new in our meta-model, the integration of these disciplines in a way that reinforces each other.  Jordi Picazo: "Deploy" and empower, don't you always use them as synonyms?  Paul Vitz: Empowering is about ourselves, it is still an art of self-worship, people who have a lot of power often compete and attack each other. So, what you get by giving people more power is creating more conflict. Because power is not what we are supposed to aspire to. We are supposed to work toward a love of donation toward the other, toward the "unfolding" of our abilities. In this way, empowerment is strictly a primarily secular term used to affirm that we will give women power so that it can be as powerful as men. And what this means is that men and women will fight harder.  Jordi Picazo: You have commented that your team at the DMU (Divine Mercy University) is trying to do with psychology the same thing that Saint Thomas Aquinas did with theology. What are the risks and dangers of leaving this urgent task of shaping the foundations of human nature to reductionist disciplines?  Paul Vitz: That's right. This model, as we have made it known, is the response of Saint Thomas Aquinas to modern psychology. The danger of reductionism is that there is no understanding of what purpose is, or what it means to unfold. And that is how we end up reducing our condition to a material substance that can be manipulated at will according to the form of power at your disposal, whether it is social power or biological power. That is only the self-referential man, because at the end of the day it will be a game of power: in these cases there is no purpose in life, there is no meaning for the person, and at this moment the absence of purpose and sense of life is already wreaking havoc on both the extreme right and the extreme left.  That is what reductionism brings you, at the end of the day, without a more transcendental meaning. Now, certainly there may be other concepts of transcendental meaning, you may have a transcendental sense of being Jewish, which may be mostly compatible with ours from the Catholic-Christian point of view, but in any case we have the two great commandments - plus what we are individually called to be able to "unfold": we unfold loving God and others. And that cancels the extreme right and the extreme left.  Jordi Picazo: Regarding the double commandment of love that you mention in the New Testament in the Bible of "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the main and first commandment. The second is similar to this: “You will love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22,37-39)." It occurs to me that the second part is too important to forget and is often forgotten by many. But if you don't love yourself, how will one love one's neighbor? I believe that all this has a lot to do with personal healing and "unfolding" as a result of the therapy you propose.  Paul Vitz: That is the function of a good psychotherapy. The clinical psychotherapist or therapist is talking to someone; and almost always with a "someone" who in a way is locked in a "prison." Prison are the mental structures that that human person has created and that hurt him. And your job is to get him out of that prison. And in our meta-model there is much of the development of the last hundred years in these areas. After all, if God created you, then despite sin and abuse you are basically good. And this implies that it is a sin to hate yourself whom God has created.  As a patient, what you want to do with your pathologies is to understand them consciously in the first place, and then what you are going to do is to establish, in some way, a positive agenda to be able to get away from them and leave them behind toward a new flourishing or unfolding of the person: leave behind your traumas and sources of suffering. As a therapist this means that you have given patients more freedom. But simultaneously you must be able to provide them with the understanding of what freedom is for. It serves to "unfold," and we provide you with the description of what it means to deploy.  Jordi Picazo: It seems that there is a need to clearly articulate the language for this type of speech, since the language can also be manipulated.  Paul Vitz: Absolutely true. And that is the reason why our meta-model is the coordinated work of many people over 20 years of effort. And although the three editors have led this development for a long time, we must recognize so many others who have contributed. It is not only a personal achievement of any of us, but a group effort carried out systematically through intellectual debate and formal meetings over years of arguments about how we would present it to the general public. And it is thus important to insist that what we offer is a framework, and that is precisely why we describe it as a meta-model. It is a framework that consists of 11 basic premises: three theoretical, two teleological and six structural.  Our meta-model is not a particular theory of therapy, nor is it even about how to apply therapy to your patients. We say that we will introduce some new ideas with which we will work, or that we will discuss: aspects such as the call to virtue and the call to a vocation, or how we will "unfold" once the therapy is over. It is a "goal"-model, "above." It is not a theory about personality, it is not like Fourierism or Unionism or the line of work of Carl Rogers, as I explained before.  Jordi Picazo: Has the "theology of the body" of John Paul II influenced this study?  Paul Vitz: Yes, it has had a great influence. And, in fact, John Paul II had finished publishing that material, his anthropology, a year or so before we started working on these problems. Then, yes, in many ways this work has been our response to his concepts and also a response to Benedict XVl's vision that psychology and theology can rely on each other. This is one of the ways to extend reason beyond mere experiment, beyond reductionist thinking.  Read the full article The Catholic-Christian Metamodel of the Person is integrated into the coursework at Divine Mercy University. It is the lens through which students determine the best ways to diagnose and treat common psychological problems. Sign up to learn more.

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.

Only Half of Veterans with PTSD Are Treated

Some football programs at both collegiate and high school levels have a tradition: at the end of the national anthem, when the home team scores or wins the game, a small cannon is fired at a safe distance behind one of the end zones in celebration. One evening, a young man was catching up with old colleagues and mentors during a match between his alma mater and a local rival. This young veteran had just returned from a tour in Iraq. He stood at attention and saluted the flag as the national anthem played over the speakers. The anthem ended, the cannon was fired, the players took their positions on the field and the crowd took their seats on the bleachers. But the young man remained standing, hands at his sides, frozen still, his skin pale as the echo of the cannon reverberated throughout his body, causing him to relive memories and moments from which he just returned. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that can develop after experiencing shocking, scary, or dangerous events. U.S. veterans and active duty service members make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the nation, with absolutely no guarantee that they’ll return alive or unscathed. They leave their families and friends, miss the weddings of their siblings or the births of their own children in order to step up and stand against the forces that wish to do them and our way of life harm. But, in doing so, they put themselves at risk of developing this disorder. As we honor our veterans for their sacrifice and bravery, we may forget that -- even though they survived the trenches, jungles or deserts -- not everyone returns home whole. The reality is that, despite returning to civilian life, the trauma they witnessed is never far from their minds, making their transition a greater challenge and even putting their physical and mental health in greater jeopardy.   According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, up to 20 percent of veterans who saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan develop PTSD or major depression in a given year, as well as experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Additionally, 12 percent of men and women who fought in the Gulf War have developed PTSD, and an estimated 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. Among the number of veterans who return from war with mental health issues and PTSD, only about 50 percent will actually receive the mental health treatment they need. Both active duty service members and veterans face great barriers to mental health treatment issues that make them hesitant to pursue treatment, including wait times, demographics and logistics regarding traveling distances, age and gender. “[My therapist] kinda encouraged me to get enrolled in the VA, which I had not done for five years after retiring from the military,” said Christopher Provost of Colorado while speaking with StoryCorps. “I didn’t realize how angry I was when I got out of the military. That was a big thing... in dealing with the post-traumatic stress." Provost joined the National Guard to ski and compete in biathlons -- a sport that combines cross-country skiing and target shooting. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but he didn’t consider enrolling for VA benefits until about five years after retiring from the military. “I was hearing about the shortage and the backlog,” he said, “and, you know, all the amputees that weren’t getting their appointments, and, you know, people killing themselves in VA parking lots because they couldn’t get their therapy appointments. And I’m like, I’m fine. I’ve got a job, I’ve got a house over my head, I’ve got a car. I’m doing fine. They need help before me. And so I was kinda putting...I guess it was a displacement.”   According to Benjamin Keyes, Ph.D., Ed.D., Director for Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies at Divine Mercy University, there are five symptoms of PTSD. Unstable moods and reacting to certain triggers are the most easily recognizable. “I had a friend in college,” he said, “who had just gotten back from Vietnam. Whenever we heard a helicopter approach or fly over, he would hide under a desk or do whatever he could to take cover." Other symptoms include self-isolation, hyper arousal and intrusion of consciousness, in which they are stuck on a thought or memory from the battlefields that they can’t shake or push from their minds.   “Though some cases are similar in symptom and description, all cases are different for each individual,” Devon Alonge, a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts student at George Mason University. Devon served as an armourer specialist for the U.S. Army, and deployed to Iraq in 2011. “For myself,” Alonge continued, “having been in a combat zone for six months, I deal with some issues regarding anxiety and, in some cases, claustrophobia.”   Shame is an incredibly critical factor in treating veteran PTSD. Some may feel embarrassed over their service-related mental disabilities, whereas others experience shame over needing to seek mental health treatment and are afraid of being seen as weak, or that they should still be fighting with their comrades-in-arms, but have gone home instead. When the shame is not addressed, it leaves our veterans in danger of falling into alcoholism and substance abuse, and even lead them to commit suicide. According to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, veterans with PTSD have higher rates in suicide and suicidal behavior. Approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day. “When soldiers return home from war, there is a sense of relief,” said Dr. Keyes, “But then they feel a sense of guilt about being home while others are still in the fields fighting. As they adjust to civilian life, they’ll feel that they should still be fighting in the war with the people they left behind.”   Dr. Norman Hooten has experienced this first hand. A full-time health care provider who helps veterans fight substance addiction, non-cancer related chronic pain and PTSD, Hooten served for over 20 years in the U.S. Army and special forces before retiring as Master Sgt. Norman “Hoot” Hooten, and fought in the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, which was later chronicled in the book and film, Black Hawk Down (Sgt. Hooten was played by actor Eric Bana in the film).   He experienced losing someone struggling with a mental health disorder when a platoon sergeant he knew early in his career committed suicide after struggling with PTSD and substance abuse. “In the military, we never want to lose people, but it becomes understandable when we lose people on the battlefield," Hooten said to the Military Times. "A generation of veterans have survived the horrors of war to come home and commit suicide. I do not want to accept this. I want to do everything I can to make a dent in this problem. Even if this is about saving one person.” It’s highly important -- and the very least we can do -- for us to ensure that necessary mental health treatments, both clinical and spiritual, are available to our vets and service members when they return home, and that starts with the relationships they build both in service and in life. Research has shown that kindling and rekindling relationships are critical to promoting change in those who are suffering and need help. These are the first stepping stones toward building hope -- especially amongst veterans who served together -- and are the first line of defense in identifying the signs of mental illness or PTSD. “Sometimes we get too comfortable not communicating with one another for a year or more because we tend to always think we are all close and fine," said Dr./Sgt. Hooten. "But that one phone call every now and then, or that meet-up for a fishing trip might make the difference in saving a life.” Divine Mercy University’s co-director for the Online Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Dr. John West, has had the privilege of working with many veterans and soldiers returning from war who had survived traumatic events in battle, including one man whose vehicle was blown up during a firefight, breaking his back. “When I first started seeing him,” he explained, “he was completely hunched over, walking with a cane. His back was broken. His life was broken. He was just filled with despair and hopelessness.” At one of their sessions, the man brought a baseball because he loved baseball so much, and asked Dr. West to hold onto it for him. From then on, during each session of working through the trauma and adjustments, Dr. West handed him that baseball as a source of comfort while they spoke. After a few months, he began to heal, both physically and emotionally. “His whole life started to be reconstructed,” Dr. West said. “By the time we were finished -- when he had been able to move past the trauma, adjust to this new phase of his life and regain his dignity -- he was ready to move on. As he was walking out the door after our last session, he had that baseball in his hand. But he stopped at the door, looked back and tossed it to me saying ‘someone else needs this more than I do now.’”   Divine Mercy University is one of the nation’s leading graduate institutes that trains students in addressing and treating PTSD and other trauma-related disorders, with the specific mission to help patients flourish. “You can recover,” said Dr. Keyes. “Our students are trained to think about how people can flourish in their lives, and how they can help our veterans deal with emotions they suppressed while in combat zones. Having that as an overlay is a quality difference in treating PTSD.” Learn more about what you can do to help those around you suffering from PTSD or other trauma. (The Effects of Trauma)
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.