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.

Suicide Among Leading Causes of Death in U.S.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and you may have seen the videos on the news, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or other media platforms that are meant to raise awareness of suicide, especially that of suicide by veterans with the 22 Push-up Challenge. But suicide affects everyone and sparks many different emotions among the living. Whether that person was a veteran who saw combat, someone who made you laugh, someone with gifts and creativity that you admired, or someone who’d smile and nod at you while on a walk in a quiet neighborhood, the death of that person by their own hand is bound to leave you sorrowful, sympathetic toward the family and, overall, incredibly confused. In March of 2019, Dr. Melinda Moore Ph.D., presented a lecture at Divine Mercy University entitled "How to Understand Suicide and its Aftermath: From a Scientific & Faith Perspective."  She is a licensed clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of psychology at Eastern Kentucky University. She also sits on the board of the American Association of Suicidology. She shared her first-hand experience of suicide -- when her husband killed himself -- and how it affects the living. At the time, her husband was a chemist and grad student at Ohio State University. “This was, without a doubt,” she said, “the most emotionally and physically painful experience of my life, and it changed me in a very profound way. What I experienced was an incredible professional and personal rejection. I realized that, when I returned to work, that something different was going on. There was something about this experience I shared in the taint of what he had done.” During her presentation, Dr. Moore referenced the article “Struggling to Understand Suicide” by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, a priest in the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) and the president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. “All death unsettles us,” writes Fr. Rolheiser. “But suicide leaves us with a very particular series of emotional, moral, and religious scars. It brings with it an ache, a chaos, a darkness, and a stigma that has to be experienced to be believed. Sometimes we deny it, but it’s always there, irrespective of our religious and moral beliefs.” We all know the great actor and comedian Robin Williams, who brought so much laughter and joy to us from the stage and the silver screen, left the world shocked when he commited suicide. Chester Bennington -- the voice of Linkin Park, one of the most successful rock bands of the new millenium -- took his own life at his California home while his family was away on vacation nearly a year after his good friend Chris Cornell (Soundgarden and Audioslave vocalist) committed suicide, and fashion designer Kate Spade fashioned a suicide note before committing suicide at her apartment in Manhattan, New York. Even in a small town like Warrenton, Virginia, an elderly couple was discovered deceased in their home when their home healthcare provider discovered a note on their front door saying not to enter because of their suicide in the residence.  In each of the cases just mentioned -- like many others -- there were symptoms and warning signs that went unnoticed or neglected. Williams and Bennington had both battled addiction and depression throughout their lives. Williams was even being treated for depression and anxiety before his death, and had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease months before. Bennington’s widow admits today that she’s more educated about the warning signs leading to her husband's suicide: hopelessness, changes in behavior, and isolation. Neighbors and friends of the couple in Virginia, including Sadia LaRose who had lived across the street from them, compared them to Romeo and Juliet despite their health and financial burdens. But LaRose admitted that she would have intervened in some way had she been aware of their plan. “If any of us knew, we would have gone over there to try to stop it,” said LaRose, as reported by the Fauquier Times. And it’s not just adults, veterans and celebrities. Children also struggle with suicidal thoughts and impulses. In 2018, a new study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that more kids are either contemplating or attempting suicide. That study was followed by the August death of 9-year-old Jamel Myles of Colorado, who committed suicide after telling his fourth grade classmates that he was gay. In May of 2016, Billy Sechrist discovered his 15-year-old daughter, Shania, after she committed suicide in their Pennsylvania home. A freshman in high school, Shania had left a note explaining that, while she loved her family, she couldn't bear the pain of being bullied any more. The following winter, an 8-year-old boy, a third grader in Cincinnati named Gabriel Taye, was beaten by bullies at school and, two days later, young Gabriel ended his life in his own bedroom Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It is also the second leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-24 years and is often considered a public health emergency. In the aftermath of suicide, we are often left with the hopelessness of hindsight, telling ourselves, “if we had only known, we would have done something to stop it.” According to a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate in the United States has jumped 33 percent since 1999, with over 47,000 Americans ending their own lives in 2017. The report also showed that public funding to research, prevent, and combat suicide is far below that of research of other leading causes of death and conditions with lower mortality rates. The National Institute of Health spent about $68 million on suicide last year. The NIH spent nearly twice as much researching indoor pollution, over three times as much on dietary supplements, five times as much studying sleep, and ten times more on breast cancer.    "What I’m just painfully aware of is that all of the areas where the top 10 causes of death in the United States have gone down have received significantly more attention," said John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, in an interview with USA Today. "There’s been so much more put into every one of those causes of death than suicide ... If you didn’t do anything for heart disease and you didn’t do anything for cancer, then you'd see those rates rise, too." Dr. Moore experienced a similar disconnect from suicide by the people around her. At the time of her husband’s death, she was a policy analyst and a speechwriter for the director of public health in Ohio. People were normally happy to see her, but she noticed a real change when she returned to work after burying her husband in his home nation of Ireland. “When I would see people after I came back,” she said, “they were clearly not interested in me coming to their office, and they were certainly not coming to mine. When I would see people in the hallway, they would turn and walk away in the opposite direction. There was an enormous professional isolation and rejection. Also my family and friends had no interest in talking about this, so there was enormous personal rejection and isolation.” But just as it was the worst experience of her life, Dr. Moore also looked at her experience with suicide as the best experience of her life. “That may seem absurd,” she explained, “but it really took the blinders off and changed me on a profound level. It made me more compassionate, it certainly changed my vocational interests. I was the first researcher to look at post-traumatic growth among suicide bereaved parents and, when considering my dissertation at CUA [Catholic University of America], I understood that nobody knows more about the inside out than me. Now my primary research is in primarily post-traumatic growth, and I embed it in everything I do.”   Watch the entire recording of the suicide lecture to learn how a faith-based approach to mental disorders can help save lives.  If you or someone you know may need help, here are two suicide prevention resources:
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
You can also equip yourself with the skills to recognize and help those on the dark, slippery slope toward suicide.  In DMU’s psychology and counseling programs, we teach students how to act effectively in situations where de-escalation, negotiation, and crisis intervention are needed, such as suicide attempts. The courses also train students on the best ways to diagnose and treat common psychological problems to prevent severe disorders from developing. Sign up to learn more.  

Regressive Disease Attacks the Mind, Body & Soul

In the spring and summer of 2014, another viral social media trend was born. People around the world began recording or streaming themselves dumping buckets of ice and cold water over their head, and then challenging others to do the same. The trend has been performed each summer ever since, with participants ranging from community gatherings and individuals in their backyards to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Lebron James and Cristiano Ronaldo. The trend also had a purpose: to raise awareness and encourage donations toward fighting and finding a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. But for Therese Kambach, a 57 year-old woman of Warrenton, Virginia, that awareness came too late. It was a dark and stormy evening in 2010--your typical setting to proceed something bad--when a large storm with the risk of tornadoes came through the area. When it had passed, Therese heard the voice of her best friend, Cheryl, who was the same age and lived in Greenbelt, Maryland. The two had been best friends since they were kids and, after the storm had past, Cheryl was calling to make sure everything was okay. Therese immediately knew that something was terribly wrong. “Cheryl developed a very noticeable slur in her speech,” she said. “At first, the doctors thought she had a stroke, but she had no other stroke symptoms. I often had to ask her to repeat herself. But when she learned the doctors wanted to test her for ALS, she learned all she could about it, and prayed with all her heart that the test would show she did not have ALS.” [caption id="attachment_732" align="alignleft" width="316"] Therese Kambach, right, with Cheryl on her wedding day. The two had been best friends since childhood.  [/caption] Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder where the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscles gradually die, resulting in the muscles weakening throughout the body. This leads to paralysis and seriously inhibits the patient’s ability to communicate.    ALS, which is rare and affects approximately 30,000 people in the United States with no known cause, is the traumatic change in life that no one either expects or wishes to face. When her diagnosis was confirmed, Cheryl--who had also battled and defeated breast cancer not long before--was terrified for herself, worried about her ailing husband Frank and who would take care of him and, like her best friend, was angry that the future she had hoped for would never happen. Patients who receive the ALS diagnosis are initially given an estimated 2-5 years before the disease kills them, and are advised to get their affairs in order. “Everything about ALS is bad,” said Therese. “It's hard to determine what is the worst experience. Early on, it’s probably the loss of independence. One needs help walking, using the bathroom, bathing. Later on, the inability to communicate is probably the hardest part. The patient becomes trapped in a body that refuses to do what the brain tells it to do, but doesn’t lose touch with reality. The disease robs a person of independence, comfort, means of communication, ability to eat and ultimately the ability to breathe. During the journey, the victim of ALS tires easily (due to less oxygen taken in with each breath) and experiences stabbing pains throughout the body. They come and go at random times with no warning, and there’s little anyone can do to relieve them.”   The disease can also have different, heavy affects on the mind. Patients can experience frontotemporal dementia, which can change how the victim thinks, communicates, behaves or makes decisions, and can even lead to aggression. Another condition they may experience is called pseudobulbar affect, which causes them to display outward expressions of emotions that they are not really feeling. Patients can burst into sudden episodes of laughing or crying without warning. The diagnosis of ALS is also emotionally devastating for both the patient and their loved ones. All must adjust to a new way of life with the disease. Without a job to go to every day, shopping, outings, and housework, one's days and nights become one. There were the doctors appointments and places one can go in a wheelchair if one has a vehicle to transport the patient in the wheelchair. Eventually, and all too soon, moving from the wheelchair to car and back becomes an exhausting adventure for both the ALS patient and the person helping. These traumatic changes and the symptoms of the disease can cause patients to fall into isolation, withdrawing from social interactions and situations, which can lead to anxiety and depression. Symptoms of depression in ALS patients is even more difficult to identify due to the disease's effect on the mind and the patient's ability to express emotions. According to Therese, the worst thing a friend or family member can do is avoid the ALS patient because he or she is afraid or feels inadequate to handle what is happening. This causes an ALS patient incredible grief even if the patient says he or she understands. Usually, ALS patients do understand, but time is short for them so words that need to be said and feelings that need to be expressed may go unsaid or unexpressed. Cheryl's own brother went with her to the first couple of doctors appointments, but then avoided her as the disease progressed until Therese called him to say that if he wanted to see her alive, he'd better get over to the apartment. Her sister didn't show up until a couple of hours before she passed. This caused Cheryl great and unnecessary pain during a time when every day was filled with suffering. “I was heart-broken,” Therese said. “We had always hoped to grow old together. Then I researched ways to help.” According to Therese, the best thing to do to help alleviate some of the trauma all around is to be present for your friend or family member, and listen to them. Do research and offer to help in any way. This may involve help with bathing, personal hygiene, household chores, yard work, transportation, shopping, etc. In addition, encourage the patient to take advantage of any support, programs, or ALS-specific devices as soon as the patient becomes eligible. In the beginning, Cheryl was loaned a text-to-speech machine so that she could type what she wanted to say. When she lost the use of her hands and couldn’t type, Therese made a speech board so that all Cheryl had to do was point to words, but she would tire easily and become frustrated. As the disease progressed and she couldn’t move her arms, they resorted to yes and no questions where she could give a thumbs up or down to answer, or blink yes or no.      With advancements in technology and the help of their caregivers and loved ones, many ALS patients are able to manage the symptoms and to live fulfilling lives. Some have even gone on to do great things in arts and sciences. Jason Becker was a rising guitarist when he was diagnosed in 1990. Tony “Temp One” Quan, an iconic graffiti artist out of Los Angeles, was diagnosed in 2003. Both are completely paralyzed and require 24-hour care, but that hasn’t stopped them from their work. They use eye-tracking technology that allows them to draw, type and speak simply by moving their eyes. Becker released a seventh solo album this past December. And, of course, there’s the acclaimed physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking.      Though she had no aspirations of releasing a metal album or study the stars, ALS didn’t not stop Cheryl from living the rest of her days as best as she could. Experiencing and sharing love became her primary work, and she did everything she could to make her ALS journey as easy as possible for both her and her husband. She set all her affairs in order while she was still able to sign her own name. She learned about all the resources available to those with ALS and, with Therese’s help, moved to an apartment in Stafford, Virginia, where it was easy for both her and Frank to move around. When the funds from her retirement plan became available, she even planned and paid for her funeral, her husband Frank's funeral and Jerry's (Frank's brother) funeral so all Frank had to do when she died, was call the funeral home. On Christmas Eve, 2012--after she had passed--her husband Frank returned home to find a Christmas ham that had been ordered and delivered to his front door...from his late wife. “Cheryl was a very faith-filled person,” said Therese, “and she lived for visits from family and friends. She, more than almost anyone I know, radiated love. She prayed a lot, but she was a doer. Not actively being involved in people's lives was very hard for her. She accepted that there was no cure, but she fought hard to live every moment she could. I would say visits and prayer helped her, but she really had no choice but to go through it.” “Prayer and the courage Cheryl demonstrated also helped me,” Therese continued. “Watching her suffer certainly made it easier to accept her passing, and knowing she was free also helped.” [caption id="attachment_733" align="aligncenter" width="350"] Cheryl Parkes-Ray
April 25th, 1961-December 10th, 2012[/caption] If you have a friend or loved one who is struggling through this horrible disease, you can find information and resources through the ALS Association and Team Gleason. Consider the Online M.S. in Psychology, M.S. in Counseling or the Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology if you want to build the skill set to help ALS patients and their families through their difficult journeys.  

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.

Acts of Kindness is a Two-Way Street

Homeless. Unemployed. Hungry. Single parent, homeless. Veteran unemployed. Will work for food. Please help me. We see these words written on pieces of ripped up cardboard boxes, held in the hands or lying by the tired bodies of the most destitute of our fellow man. They're in the largest and busiest of cities, between the never-ending congestion of cars in the streets and pedestrians along the sidewalks: men, women or children sitting at the base of tall buildings or lying on the sidewalks next to lamp posts, covered in whatever they can find to protect against the weather. We see them sleeping on park benches or walking along the country road of small rural communities, carrying their life’s belongings in sacks over their shoulder or in shopping carts. Whether it’s complete strangers living on the streets to survive, people struggling within our own community, our inner circle or our own families, our world is never in short supply of people in dire situations. But many of us today feel overly stressed or too busy to worry about helping others, as we try to maintain focus of taking care of ourselves and our own families, or we say we’ll dedicate some of our spare time to good deeds and helping others. Other times, when we come across these unfortunate souls while living our own lives, we may feel fear, suspicion, sorrow, empathy or contempt as we pass by, turning our eyes away to snuff out or avoid those feelings. But when we do the exact opposite by turning to those who need help, it comes with tremendously positive returns for your own personal health. Whether it’s being there for someone when they need someone to talk to, bringing gifts to children in the hospital, dropping cash in a homeless person’s cup or joining the Peace Corps, performing acts of kindness has proven to be a two way street. According to the Mental Health Foundation in the U.K., doing good does you good. We know the good feeling we experience when we extend a helping hand or do some form of charitable act. But research shows that helping others is actually beneficial for your own mental and physical health, aiding in reducing stress and depressive symptoms while improving your morale, self-esteem, happiness and overall emotional wellbeing. In the Mental Health Foundation’s 2012 report, “Doing Good: Altruism and well being in an age of austerity,” functional MRI scans showed that altruistic behaviors--acting in the interest of someone else--activated the brain’s mesolimbic reward system, an area that is activated when we are rewarded, implying that such behavior may give us a euphoric physical sensation, or a ‘helper’s high,’ which can improve emotional well being and reduce stress in the long term. A poll conducted by the foundation also showed that, of 2,037 people, 80% agreed that being kind has a positive influence on their own health, and 87% percentage said that they felt good after being kind, adopting a positive self-identity as a ‘good’ person. Reasons for this include increased social support and encouragement to lead physically active lifestyles. Doing so also distracts from one’s own problems and engages them in meaningful activity. Volunteering can also be a great health benefit. As our world is never in short supply of people down on their luck who need help, there is no shortage of opportunities to bring love and comfort to their lives. Volunteerism can be your means of helping them improve their well being and longevity as well as yours. Volunteering as an adult is more common in people who either work part-time or who are retired. Socially isolated older adults gain most from volunteering as it helps improve mood and confidence, reduces isolation and helps give them a sense of purpose. Younger people, such as students, also benefit greatly from volunteerism, as the experience helps them develop higher future aspirations, self-esteem and motivation toward school work than non-volunteers. The Knights of Columbus (KOC) is one of the top organizations that generate and provide assistance and opportunities who struggle for or are without the means to do so themselves. You’ve probably seen them during their Intellectual Disability Drive, where they meet and greet people outside different restaurants, stores and churches wearing their yellow vests and holding large coffee cans collecting donations for The Arc and the Special Olympics. Many KOC councils throughout the United States organize and provide other services to their community’s poor and impoverished. Council 5561 in Warrenton, Virginia, hosts a variety of events throughout the year to help fund their charitable efforts, which include helping families enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas by providing food baskets. They have even hosted a Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day.   “The thanks we receive are nice,” said Seth McQuillan of New Jersey. “During these types of activities we receive a lot of ‘attaboys’ and ‘thanks for what you do.’" McQuillan is a Past Grand Knight (PGK) who has been with the Knights of Columbus Council 5730 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, for about six years. In addition to the Intellectual Disabilities Drive, his council also hosts a rose sale that funds Several Sources Shelters, a home for unwed mothers in New Jersey that was featured in the film, Gimme Shelter. The council also presents the Shield Award to first responders and members of the local police, fire and rescue departments every year, and coordinates with St. Bartholomew Academy students in writing letters of encouragement to seminarians from their archdiocese.    Their most significant event is “Coats for Kids.”  The parishioners from both St. Bartholomew and Immaculate Heart of Mary churches in Scotch Plains dig deep to generate more than $11,000 towards purchasing $20 coats for kids. “The thanks that we receive are nice,” said McQuillan.  “When those thanks are from the ultimate recipient, it is even more special. Most of the kids that receive the coats have never had a new garment. The coats are all brand new and have tags. The smiles on their faces are brilliant. One smile makes it all worthwhile.” As we focus on providing and caring for ourselves and our own families, taking time out of our already busy lives to volunteer and help complete strangers may seem like less of a priority with little to no return. But when someone comes to you pleading for your guidance, or you pass by an old lady struggling with handling groceries or you see someone lying by the lamp post, try to take that time to the walk that two-way street of caring for yourself by caring for another.     Work Cited: Robotham, Dan and Isabella Goldie, Lauren Chakkalackal, Chris White, Kirsten Morgan and Dr Eva Cyhlarova. “Doing Good? Altruism and well being in an age of austerity”. London, England: Mental Health Foundation, 2012. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/doing-good-altruism-and-wellbeing-age-austerity Nordstrom, Todd. “Science Says Kindness Can Make You a Better Leader. Here Are 3 Reasons”. Inc.com, June 4th, 2018. https://www.inc.com/todd-nordstrom/research-says-kindness-can-make-you-a-better-leader-here-are-3-reasons-why.html “Does Charitable Activity Help Improve Mental Health?”. Vantagepointrecovery.com. Date accessed, May 3rd 2019. https://vantagepointrecovery.com/giving-back-improves-mental-health/ Stossel, John. “Real Charity”. Creators.com, December 4th, 2013. https://www.creators.com/read/john-stossel/12/13/real-charity Macmillan, Amanda“Being Generous Really Does Make You Happier”. Time.com. July 14th 2017.  http://time.com/4857777/generosity-happiness-brain/
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.