How COVID-19 is impacting mental health

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it is likely that someone you know has been silently dealing with anxiety or has experienced a panic attack. However, do they feel comfortable enough to share this information with you? Do they feel that you are educated enough about mental health? If you didn’t answer “yes” to these questions, get the tools you need. Just like a life-or-death emergency that can be immediately saved through the touch of a life alert button, a mental ailment can be rescued through the listening ear and intellectual guidance of a psychology expert. Why wait until COVID-19 clears the air and you’re back into your regular, busy routine? Start your Master’s in Psychology this summer cohort (beginning on May 20th) to serve as a resource to your local community and the world at-large. You may be wondering if an entire master’s degree is essential for just a few people you may know that needs healing, but the data shows otherwise. According to Mental Health America, a U.S. community-based non-profit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness, there was “a 19 percent increase in screening for clinical anxiety in the first weeks of February, and a 12 percent increase in the first two weeks of March.” Similarly, an article published on Bloomberg.com reports that Talkspace, a chat and video therapy service, has seen a 65% increase in customers since mid-February. Wondering how you can help the world right now during such uncertain times? Change can be accomplished through the power of your mind. Start your application today to gain a new set of tools for yourself and help others heal from their suffering. Visit the Master's in Psychology program page to learn more about the curriculum, application requirements and more.

Alumna Helps Athletes Overcome Brokenness

When we watch our college athletes perform, there are several recognizable traits on display that they all have in common: drive, competitiveness, self-confidence, focus, preparedness, discipline, a positive commitment to the team and a maturing commitment to maintaining their top form. But for Divine Mercy University (DMU) alumna Samantha Kelley, it isn’t just the traits shown on the outside that affects athletes.  As a finance and political science double major at the University of Connecticut, Kelley thought that she would find herself either working within finance or pursuing law school after undergrad. But her own experience as a Division 1 soccer player, as well as those athletes she played with in college and with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), she noticed a pattern of hidden struggles that female athletes endure as they progress in sports. “I was a college athlete myself,” she said, “and then I worked with college athletes through FOCUS for a number of years. I was managing 35 missionaries at that time who all had a bunch of students under them. I kept coming across a lot of brokenness. I kept finding that our female athletes were really struggling with a lot of confusion and misinterpretation about identity, femininity and sexuality.” Kelley was a member of FOCUS when the organization entered a tuition reduction partnership with DMU. Having always had an interest in psychology, she saw the university as a great opportunity for her to build a greater understanding of the human person so she could better serve missionaries and their students. She enrolled in the university’s M.S. in Psychology program and, even as she transitioned from FOCUS to the Theology of the Body Institute during her studies, she kept finding the lessons she was learning online integrating with the work she was doing. “The M.S. in Psychology is very enriching,” she said. “It really put words to a lot of what I was experiencing in terms of the very holistic approach to the human person and the dignity of the human person. That’s the very foundation of what DMU teaches. It felt like I was encountering those teachings in my work with FOCUS and the Theology of the Body Institute. It really provided a greater sense of integration within both my personal worldview and my career. It also helps you recognize when individuals are struggling and how to properly refer them to the right professional. The awareness of what’s out there and what goes on in psychology is huge, and knowing the limitations of my own capacity to help and what to do when I’ve reached that limit is super helpful.” The program also allowed Kelley to conceive her future vocation. As she transitioned from FOCUS to Theology of the Body while continuing her education, she felt called to start a nonprofit that promoted true identity and femininity in female athletics through this holistic view of the person, the human body, human sexuality, and understanding the values of the body. This nonprofit’s mission would also address the issues in body image, identity and mental health that she saw women struggle with in athletics. It was also a unique mission in that no other nonprofit was speaking directly to female athletes. Through her studies, Kelley founded Fierce Athlete “It’s actually really interesting,” she said. “I did my capstone project surrounding female athletics and the issues that can appear. With the program’s capstone project, I was able to tailor it to my own interests and the career path I was finding myself journeying towards. So I developed a small group program study for female athletes. As I was actively pursuing this new nonprofit, I chose to actively pursue that through my education as well. Within my capstone, I was able to use positive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy to help women transition their mindsets around whatever it was surrounding femininity or athletics in their own views. The program really helped form what I’m doing now, but it also taught me a lot about how to approach people, especially with some of the women I work with at Fierce Athlete. There’s a high percentage of these issues in female athletics, but they are also very well hidden, especially in high school and college level athletics, and our goal is to address and help heal from those issues.”  In 2019, Kelley called other top athletes to join the mission by starting a podcast featuring female athletes from across the nation, including runner Kerri Gallagher, former pro basketball player Jennifer Finnegan and Sr. M. Xavier, who was a star basketball at Ohio State University before joining the the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George in Steubenville, Ohio. Today, Fierce Athlete continues to help rising female athletes across the country. Kelley also brings the message and the mission past down to her through her education from DMU by  speaking nationally on topics of sports, femininity, Theology of the Body, prayer, and any other topics that fit within the mission of Fierce Athlete.  “The integration that DMU has between science, psychology and religion is unique, but just fits perfectly with what I’m doing today,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea for anyone who works with people. Human behavior wounds are complex, and the more that we can prepare ourselves to be able to care for people who are wounded and help them heal, the better. With the integration of faith and virtue, it becomes this very holistic approach that shows that everything is connected. I don’t have to make the connections myself.”  To learn more about Samantha Kelley and the mission of Fierce Athlete, click here. If you’re looking for the best way to create change and help people, consider the M.S. in Psychology 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.”   

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.

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
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.