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.

Former Chaplain Returns as Faculty, Sees Growth

In September of 2018, Fr. Steven Costello ended his term as Divine Mercy University’s chaplain in order to focus on completing his studies at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C. His absence was noticeable but short-lived, as he returned to DMU the following summer. But, in addition to returning to his role as university chaplain, Fr. Steven has taken on a new role: serving as a member of the faculty.   “I had asked for some time off to finish my doctoral dissertation at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family,” he said. “Around January/February of 2019, as I was completing that, a position opened up here at the university. I interviewed in May and officially started as a professor in the Department of Integrative Studies in July.” As he nears the halfway point to his first year as a professor, we sat down with Fr. Steven to talk about his return and his new role at the university.   What influenced you to become involved at Divine Mercy University (DMU)? “Psychology has always been an area of interest for me, and I truly appreciate the mission of the university and how we see faith as something that’s more integral to being a human person, instead of just something you add on top of it. That initial point of the university was very attractive and something I had considered myself during my own studies. Now that I’m in it and more immersed in it as chaplain and professor, I’m beginning to see and feel how I can really contribute to that conversation. I love the general sense of how we want to see the human person while also bringing that message of mercy -- through counseling, psychology and therapy -- to those who are normally in pain or confusion and are seeking help.”    Is the experience at DMU different from other psychology/education institutions? “At DMU, I don’t see any division between departments or between the faculty and students that would hinder them working together. There really is this desire within the faculty for all departments to come together, have conversations and build off one another, instead of everyone just staying together within their own department. There’s a real openness to try and learn from one another that other schools don’t have.  We had professors from elsewhere join us for the School of Counseling residency this past fall. When it was all done, Dr. Harvey Payne (dean of the School of Counseling) sent out an email thanking everyone for being a part of the residency, praising how great it was to be able to work with such an excellent group, and many chimed in on the email thread.  Those outside professors -- whether it was their first residency with us, or their second or third -- they went home knowing that there is something special going on at DMU. They noticed that there isn’t the usual divide between professor and student. Obviously we’re teaching them, but the students sense that we’re all professionals in training and are treated as such. So we feel there is a connection; there’s an availability and an approachability among the students, staff and faculty. We’re trying to live out the integral model we have in our training. I think that comes through the teaching and just the environment in general.” Has there been any significant moment that has stood out in your collective time here at DMU? “Both during my initial time as chaplain before and my time now as a professor, I was really impacted by graduation, especially this last year. The fact that it was in the upper church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception didn’t just add to the ceremony. You could really see the sense of accomplishment. It was definitely a highlight that we had really grown from the lower church. And then just to see the joy in the people’s faces---and seeing the students I knew as chaplain. I had actually assisted with some of the residencies for the School of Counseling as chaplain, and I knew a lot of the students in that first cohort that graduated last year. To see the students graduating with their masters and doctorates was really special.” Are you excited about the future, both for the university and for yourself as a faculty member? “Absolutely! We’re in a new building now, and I’m really looking forward to help develop that culture here. Just among the faculty, we’re seeing how we’re really at a new stage; we’re beginning chapter 2, so to speak. I’m just looking forward to continue gaining more and more expertise even in my own field so I can be more heartful in how I communicate it with students.”   

DMU’s New Campus Officially Opens

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

Life-long Learning is the Key to Excellence

“You’re never going to be worse off for having endeavored to learn,” said Dr. Kathleen Dudemaine, director of the M.S. in Psychology program and adjunct faculty member at Divine Mercy University. This is a belief she clings to, which is exemplified in her self-proclaimed “devotion to education.” She has taught at the university level for over 35 years and still finds joy in designing courses for students.  In a recent interview, she shared what inspired her to study psychology, how Catholic-Christian teachings have changed the field and the lasting impact she wants to make on students. Q: How long have you been a faculty member at Divine Mercy University and how did you get involved? Dr. Dudemaine: In 2014, I was invited to participate in the early development of the Master of Science in Psychology program. My research is in the area of course development and I was really thrilled to participate. Before this, I have never had the opportunity to combine the Catholic-Christian understanding of the human person with psychology -- except in my head.  [caption id="attachment_802" align="alignright" width="300"] Dr. Dudemaine in her graduation regalia from Boston University.[/caption] Q: What influenced you to go into the academic world of psychology? Dr. Dudemaine: I started life as an English major but I wanted to promote human flourishing to whatever extent I could. I initially had been attracted to clinical psychology and I was also attracted to school psychology. In fact, in graduate school, I completed all the requirements for a master’s in school psychology.  Q: Which professional accomplishment are you most proud of? Dr. Dudemaine: My work is behind the scenes through curriculum and program development for the Master’s in Psychology degree. The things I am most proud of are the fact the program and courses that I have written are still up and running and successful –both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Hopefully, they will continue long after I’m gone.  Q: What has been your most fond moment in the field?  Dr. Dudemaine: In the past year, I received an email from a student who saw my name and wondered if I was the same person who had taught them 30 years ago and as it turned out it was from when I taught at Rhode Island College. This person said that he had been in my course and he was going to leave college and I had convinced him to remain in the course. He wanted to say thank you to me. When you have touched somebody’s life, even though you had no idea at the time that you were doing it, it could have profound effects.  Q: What’s your favorite course concept to teach? Dr. Dudemaine: I find that students would prefer to interact with their phone so I make them interact with each other and that is something that the Catholic-Christian Meta-Model (CCMMP) of the Person* would predict that they would like, especially since we are interpersonally related. Even if students might be terrified of reaching out, it’s something they need, want and like. I don’t believe that a student learns in a vacuum. Students are required to think about the topic, submit an initial post, and respond to at least two of their classmates. This practice is based on the CCMMP and it’s in every single course. *The Catholic-Christian Meta-Model of the Person is a basic training approach for integrating a Catholic understanding of the human person, psychology, and mental health practice. This Meta-Model is the fruit of a longstanding and concerted effort of the university’s faculty, with input from its student body and outside collaborators as well. Q: What would you recommend to new students before starting the online Master’s in Psychology program? Dr. Dudemaine: I recommend students to stay committed. It might not be perfect, your best work or exactly what you wanted, but while I was in graduate school the best advice I was given was that a good dissertation is a finished dissertation.  Q: How is the curriculum and experience at Divine Mercy University different from other higher education institutions? Dr. Dudemaine: I think that our identity as a Catholic university is really important. All of our programs are tied, inextricably, to the CCMMP. Our university is very active in promoting and participating in the culture of life, whether it’s in the workplace, the family or among people with clinical issues. We are always trying to promote flourishing and the culture of life. Because we include God in everything that we do, it’s not just about the humans, ever. Let’s say you have some problems and you go to someone trained in our program, they will think about what God would want to see shift in the situation.  Q: What is your favorite work of literature to teach to new students? Dr. Dudemaine: My favorite all time book is “Fear and Trembling” by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. It covers Abraham and how he walked and talked with God, and how he was willing to offer up his son to God. It’s so full of insight and I share it with students all the time. Watch Dr. Dudemaine’s webinar on "How to Become a Transformational Leader Who Can Effectively Recognize Problems, Manage Teams, and Intervene During Crises." Sign up to learn more about the online Master’s in Psychology degree.

Teacher Fulfills Craving for Catholic Psychology

Oftentimes in life, people search endlessly for their purpose and how to excel in their career. These searches can be done through online research, by asking friends and family for guidance, or it can occur during unexpected moments of discovery. For Carol Cole, a Spring 2019 graduate of Divine Mercy University, a radio announcement exposed her to the online Master’s in Psychology degree that would change her life. In a brief phone interview, Carol shared what compelled her to further her education, which not only helped her gain a deeper affection for humanity, but also strengthened her teaching abilities to spread knowledge to others. How did you gain interest in the online Master’s in Psychology program?  I have a college degree from the University of Michigan in psychology, but I went into healthcare to become a respiratory therapist. Afterward, I taught a couple of general psychology classes for instructors who went on to sabbatical but I needed more knowledge.  Everything at Divine Mercy University (DMU) is structured in a way that you feel its teachings are very integrated with the faith. That was something I loved about the program, especially in terms of the Catholic-Christian Meta-Model. I feel so much more prepared to teach psychology. Even though all the classes were based in Christianity and Catholicism, I feel that the tool that DMU gave me was the ability to take what I learned in the classroom to become a better teacher. Since graduating in May, I now plan to teach developmental psychology to nursing, physical therapy and respiratory therapy students at Ohlone Community College in Northern California. I feel capable of doing a much better job and being able to apply our principles of the faith to weave them into the psychology curriculum that I will teach.  What was the biggest lesson you learned while studying at Divine Mercy University?  I learned how important my faith is to me and how the study of psychology, interwoven with faith, makes your experience as a Catholic so much more meaningful. I feel like I have a deeper caring for the human person since studying at DMU. I think the material and interaction with other students, through online postings, were beneficial. When you aren’t face to face [in a classroom setting], you are putting out thoughts that are your deepest thoughts because you feel like people won’t critique you automatically. I feel like that kind of communication was so valuable. It was so beautiful and then to meet everyone at the end was fabulous as well.  What was the topic of your capstone?  My capstone was on “Spiritual Intimacy in Marriage.” I really feel that some Catholic married couples don’t necessarily grow together in their faith all that well. I put together a program that can be presented to a local parish that includes seminars to help couples grow in spiritual intimacy.  What was the best resource at DMU that helped you succeed?  I think it was the caring and concerned attitude of the instructors; you could tell it was coming from deep personal beliefs in Christ Jesus. You could tell that they really want you to focus on your faith in the psychology classes and that doesn't exist when you attend a secular university. I felt like God was walking alongside them from the way that they would respond. I have a good basis because I can compare what I felt from the other programs and classes I’ve taken and how they relate to the instructors at Divine Mercy University.  Every day since graduation, I think about how I relate to people and how I’m excited to create lesson plans that incorporate the principles I learned into the classes that I teach. This degree has changed me as a person. I always thought it was a divine thought because I had never heard about this program until I heard it on the radio. I had a craving in my heart to study psychology from a Catholic vantage point, but I really didn’t know where to look. I really think there are a lot of people who can benefit from it as I have. It has been an amazing part of my life. My parents even said that they’ve never been to a more beautiful graduation. Sign up today to learn more about the online Master’s in Psychology degree.
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.