DMU Residency Converges on Sterling Campus

Although it won’t officially open until next fall, Divine Mercy University’s new campus-in-progress in Sterling, Virginia, served as the host facility for this fall’s residency for the Master’s in Counseling program. This was the first residency hosted at DMU’s future home just off of Old Ox Road. It was also the largest cohort that DMU has ever hosted, with 38 students from all over the United States converging on Northern Virginia. The residency went from October 10th-14th and, for many of the students, this was the first opportunity to meet their DMU instructors and each other in person. “I met my professors online before I met them in person,” said Dawn Costanzo, a counseling student from Front Royal, VA. “We had already established a relationship by interacting through Zoom sessions, emails, and assignment feedback. When I did meet them in person, I felt that I already knew them.” “It was reassuring to see peers classmates, cohorts there,” said Travis Speier of Nashville, TN.  “It was a pretty unique way to get to know everyone. I felt like I was on retreat with the atmosphere endowed, anointed, and in a sacred space.” For Anthony Coppage of Dothan, Alabama, meeting his classmates and professors in person was a refreshing and defining moment in his online education journey. "Flying out to D.C.," he said, "waking up each morning in a dorm setting, and riding on a bus with classmates to participate in the application of my online education in a very hands-on way was extremely welcomed. The physical presence of both my cohorts and professors cannot be understated.  We were able to share experiences and connections that would not have been possible through modern technology. I believe many life-long connections were forged during those wonderful four days." The residency component of selected courses is required of students in the Master’s of Counseling program, and takes place on three extended weekends (Wednesday-Sunday) within the duration of the program. While at the new campus, the students, faculty and attending support staff engaged in a number of group discussions presentations, including a panel discussion made up of faculty members discussing professional ethics and hot topics in the world of Catholic counseling, allowing the students to learn how to navigate between the roles of faith and counseling. "I think the best part of the residency was meeting the faculty," said Edith Ray of Louisiana. "I was encouraged by their example of love for us as students and I felt like they truly are committed to supporting me in my future graduate studies. In addition, I was inspired by their obvious love for their vocations to counseling and teaching as well as to their clients." [caption id="attachment_520" align="aligncenter" width="633"] In October, 38 students in DMU's Master's in Counseling program met in person for the first time. It was also the first time the residency was hosted at the university's new campus.[/caption]   On Friday and Saturday, the students divided into groups of three and jumped right into skills development workgroups. “I was shocked that we would actually be practicing clinical techniques so soon in program,” said Speier. “We were given scenarios to act out and basic techniques to practice on one another. I was shocked considering how soon we were, but it really was a good experience. During the workshops, each group was visited by faculty, who would sit in and observe as the students played out their scenes and offer feedback, pointers and identifying weak spots for improvement as the sessions progressed. “For me,” said Speier, “it was an experience that was not easy: the idea of being a counselor and wanting to talk to people, hear their story, what they are dealing with. The experience of being the one counseling--asking open ended questions, keep the client discussing, summarizing what was said, demonstrating cohesion--was personally the hardest role to play.” Despite the challenges, each student was able to take the skills and techniques they were learning in class and actually apply them in a counseling session setting, receiving positive feedback and critiques from the other students. “I found it difficult to think about open ended questions,” Speier said, “finding myself thinking about what my next question would be while the person was talking, struggle to stay present. That was tough. The role of the supervisor was about trying to hone in on objective manifestations seen, where bodily, emotional, verbally or even spiritual signs were noticed while other two are counseling each other. It was very interesting to see body language from that perspective.” "The workshops and especially the roleplay were my favorite aspects," said Coppage. "I was able to absorb a lot more in person from interactive discussions. Roleplaying was a personal and profound experience where I acquired a real taste of things to come. I could really sit down and understand my strengths and weaknesses as a future counselor." On Sunday, the final day of the residency, each student received a one-on-one evaluation from one of the many faculty members on site--highlighting strengths to continue developing and weaknesses to address--leaving the students with the confidence of knowing where they stand and what they need to improve on as they continue their journey.   “The residency provided an opportunity for us to practice these skills in-person, to receive feedback from our peer clients and from the professors,” said Costanzo. “I left the residency more comfortable in my role as a future counselor and more confident in my abilities to help others. I'm grateful that this opportunity to practice helping skills comes early in our sequence of classes; it was an opportunity to confirm my commitment to becoming a counselor.” "There is nothing like the personal and physical application of intellectual knowledge," said Coppage, "and my first residency experience is one that I will always truly cherish and remember throughout my career." For Speier, even with the packed schedule throughout the extended weekend, the information and pointers discussed during the residency’s workshops--honed in on by the faculty addressing the global need for good, well formed clinicians--left him with a stronger understanding of the gravity of the counseling profession. “With Dr. Keyes’ trauma program,” he said, “the stories and experiences they shared over the years, I became more and more aware how much of a vocation this is. It's not just about my desire; there is a good possibility that God has something to do with this. These are lives-- people's lives--we have a chance to engage in a very unique way and enter into a sacred space. That relationship is profound, with a feeling of awe and being in presence of something awesome. That feeling was nurtured throughout residency and grew.” Learn more about our M.S. in Counseling by visiting  https://divinemercy.edu/.

Only Half of Veterans with PTSD Are Treated

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

Saints who Struggled with Mental Illness

On All Saints' Day, we wanted to share with you the profiles of four saints who are patrons of those who struggle with mental illness as a source of hope and intercession. 

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre

St. Benedict Joseph Labre, “The Beggar of Rome”, was born in 1748 in Amettes, France.  As one of 18 children, he left home at a young age to study under his uncle to become a priest.  After several years of studying and not being accepted into an order, Labre left everything behind to devote himself to the Church, with special devotions to the Blessed Mother and the Blessed Sacrament.  Labre spent his life traveling from shrine to shrine through Europe relying only on the generosity of others. As a beggar he slept on the street and begged for sustenance. However, he was known to share what little he had with those around him.  In his 30’s Labre slept in the ruins of the Colosseum in Rome, until he died in 1783 at the young age of 35. St. Benedict Joseph Labre is the patron saint for those living with mental illness and the homeless.

Prayer to Saint Benedict Joseph Labre

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, you gave up honor, money, and home for love of Jesus. Help us to set our hearts on Jesus and not on the things of this world. You lived in obscurity among the poor in the streets. Enable us to see Jesus in our poor brothers and sisters and not judge by appearances. Make us realize that in helping them we are helping Jesus. Show us how to befriend them and not pass them by. Obtain for us the grace of persevering prayer, especially adoration of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, poor in the eyes of men but rich in the eyes of God, pray for us. Amen  

Saint Dymphna

Saint Dymphna was an Irish girl with lived in the 7th century.  She was the daughter of a pagan king, Damon, and a Christian mother.  At a young age Dymphna devoted herself to Christ and took a vow of chastity.  When her mother died, her father, who’s mental illness with progressively getting worse, looked for a new bride that looked like his late wife.  After not finding a woman who bore his late wife’s resemblance, Damon became infatuated with his daughter Dymphna because of her resemblance. At the age of 14, Dymphna fled Ireland to escape her father and settled in Geel, Belgium where she opened a hospice and for the poor and sick.  After her father searched for and found her, he was enraged that she would not return home with him and beheaded her. To this day the town of Geel, Belgium has become a hub for those who are suffering from mental illness to seek refuge and healing. Saint Dymphna is the patroness of those who suffer from mental and nervous disorders.

Prayer to Saint Dymphna

Good Saint Dymphna, great wonder-worker in every affliction of mind and body, I humbly implore your powerful intercession with Jesus through Mary, the Health of the Sick, in my present need.  [Mention it.] Saint Dymphna, martyr of purity, patroness of those who suffer with nervous and mental afflictions, beloved child of Jesus and Mary, pray to Them for me and obtain my request. [Pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be.] Saint Dymphna, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us.  

Saint Christina the Astonishing

Saint Christina the Astonishing was born in Brustem, Belgium in 1150.  In her early 20’s she suffered a seizure and was pronounced dead. During her funeral, she arouse from her coffin during the liturgy and was completely healed and full of vigor.  Saint Christina said that while she was dead she visited Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. She was given the option to stay in heaven or continue her life on earth as penance for the souls in Purgatory.  She spent the rest of her life performing acts of penance such as throwing herself into fire and rivers and living in poverty. She was imprisoned on two occasions for being a danger and being mentally ill.  She died of natural causes at the age of 74. She is a patron saint of those who live with mental illness.  

Prayer to Saint Christina the Astonishing

St. Christina, you lived a life of poverty and loneliness in the eyes of others.  But you knew that in the eyes of God, you were wealthy and has His love and the companionship of saints and angels.  Help us to see beyond the things of the world and to realize we are never alone. Pray that we remember to offer up our sufferings for those who do not see beyond the material and who are seeking love and fulfillment, that they may come to know God and realize that they are never alone. Saint Christina the Astonishing, pray for us.  

Venerable Matt Talbot

Matt Talbot was a man who lived in Ireland from 1856-1924.  He came from a family of heavy drinkers and at the young age of 13 was considered a hopeless alcoholic.  When Matt turned 28 he decided to take the pledge and commit to a life of sobriety. For the last forty years of his life Matt remained sober, finding strength in prayer, daily mass, and religious studies.  Matt was a hard worker working in the timber yard and choosing the most difficult jobs. After his death Matt was regarded for his piety and a bridge was named after him in Dublin. Although not yet canonized, he may be considered a patron for those suffering from alcoholism and addictions.  

Prayer to Venerable Matt Talbot

Lord, in your servant, Matt, Talbot, you have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty, and of lifelong reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament.  May his life of prayer and penance give us the courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Father, if it be your will that your beloved servant should be glorified by your Church, make known by your heavenly favors that power he enjoys in your sight. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen. ---- Divine Mercy University offers psychology and counseling graduate-level degrees that help train students to become mental health professionals.
Request degree information today to help those who suffer from mental illness.

Facing the Realities of Mental Illness

“Whoever suffers mental illness always bears God’s image and likeness, and has an inalienable right to be considered a person and treated as such.” - St. John Paul II Mental health is a critical component of wellbeing.  As a society, we don’t have to look far to encounter those who struggle with mental illness. Statistically, 1 out of every 4 people will experience mental illness in their lifetime.   The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes October 10th as World Mental Health Day. It is an annual event that provides an opportunity “for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide,” according to the Mental Health Foundation. This year, the theme for World Mental Health Day is focused on young people and mental health in a changing world. Young people are more anxious and depressed than ever.  According to the WHO, half of all diagnosed mental illnesses begin at the age of 14, and many of the illnesses we experience are either left undetected or untreated. In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause affecting their health, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among those ages between 15 and 29. As the rates for mental illness increase, we cannot neglect the grave problem that the stigma of mental illness presents, especially for young people.   So how can we even begin to take part in combating the stigma of mental illness?   Pope John Paul II gives us an important insight on how to take care of those suffering in a 2003 address on the theme of “depression”: “The role of those who care for depressed persons and who do not have a specifically therapeutic task consists above all in helping them to rediscover their self-esteem, confidence in their own abilities, interest in the future, the desire to live.  It is therefore important to stretch out a hand to the sick, to make them perceive the tenderness of God, to integrate them into a community of faith and life in which they can feel accepted, understood, supported, respected; in a word, in which they can love and be loved.”   Every human person has a need for family and relationships within society, and for many who struggle with mental illness, isolation and loneliness  are realities in their daily life. We are all asked to contribute our gifts and talents--through our own personal vocations--to reach those who are suffering in the ways which we are able, integrate them into a community and begin to combat the reality of mental illness. Find out how you can help combat mental illness by furthering your education with a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology or counseling. Request program information today!

Studies Find Postpartum Depression in New Dads

Preparing for the arrival of a child is an exciting time, and when that time finally comes and a baby arrives, the mother and father’s world simply stops to embrace this pure moment of joy. But despite the happy juncture, there’s still a plethora of new challenges that the new mommy will have to face, no matter how prepared she is: new and changing routines to adapt to, new responsibilities to take on, copious amounts of sleep to lose. Her life will never be the same, and that realization will challenge her mentally and can result in postpartum depression, a serious mood disorder that can affect new mothers. Some mothers experience this after giving birth, but it can also appear days or even months after delivering a baby, and can last for a very long time  if left untreated. But she’s not the only one. Experts say depression can also hit the new daddy just as hard. A study published in the American Medical Association journal found that 10 percent of new fathers can experience paternal postpartum depression--or PPPD--en route to becoming a father. That number jumped to 26 percent between the 3-6 month period after the baby’s born, especially if their partner is experiencing postpartum depression. Additionally, up to 18 percent can even develop a clinically significant anxiety disorder, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Paternal postpartum depression in fathers is not as widely discussed or screened for as maternal postpartum depression, and identifying its early symptoms, such as sleeplessness and lack of interest in the mother and baby, can be difficult. While some men can experience the classical symptom of sadness, most men will appear angry, anxious, fearful or irritated, and may even show signs of aggression through their thoughts, words and actions. "The fact that so many new and expecting dads go through it makes it a significant public-health concern—one that physicians and mental-health providers have largely overlooked," said James F. Paulson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Old Dominion University. Paternal postpartum depression is very serious and, if left unaddressed and untreated, can result in damaging, long-term consequences for the entire family. Spouses and close family members are the first line of defense in recognizing postpartum depression in new mothers and fathers. Being observant is incredibly essential while watching both mom and dad transition into their new roles. Research also shows immediate father-baby bonding offers several benefits, including a lower risk for postpartum depression. Click here to read the full study. Find out how you can help and counsel new moms and dads suffering postpartum depression and other mental health challenges. Learn more at Divine Mercy University.  
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.