Online Therapist Shares DMU’s Influence

Annalicia DiLollo, a Master of Science in Counseling Alumna, shares how her studies at DMU helps her bring peace and light to the life of her patients.

How has our integration helped you best serve your community/clients? 

The integration of psychology with philosophy and theology captures the whole person: not a person presenting a set of symptoms to fit a diagnosis, but rather someone who is a participant in all of human history -- past, present, and looking forward to the future and eternity. When you perceive someone as part of a larger whole and have the perspective of eternity for them, you are not merely managing or mitigating symptoms, you are working as an instrument for God to heal them and lead them toward fullness of life. This is the flourishing IPS/DMU speaks to: moving patients away from dysfunction and toward peace, out of the darkness and into the light. 

What are your thoughts on the practicum experience? 

My practicum was at St. Luke's Fenton House, in Maryland, working with patients (adults: male and female) who required 24-hour care but were not at a level of danger to themselves or others to warrant hospitalization. I have never found anything like St. Luke's in any other state that I have lived/worked in since graduating; it was a truly unique and highly educational experience. I was able to witness severe symptoms across a range of diagnoses (schizophrenia, bipolar, OCD, antisocial personality disorder, borderline, and anorexia to name a few), spend focused individual time with patients, and work closely with the psychiatrists on staff to learn about different medications, side effects, and adverse interactions. It was a hugely beneficial experience for me and I am very grateful for the time I spent there.

Who was your favorite faculty member and why? 

Oh, that is such a hard question! Honestly, they were all really, truly amazing. I'll tell you my top three:

1) Dr. Hamel: We have an affinity both being from the Sovereign State. I found his expertise invaluable, his manner both calm and uncompromising, and his teaching methods clear and thorough. My biggest takeaway from him was to always check biology before leaping to psychology. I cannot tell you how many patients over the years have come to me with depression, anxiety, mood swings, etc. and it turns out they have an untreated thyroid disorder, have recently changed some other medication in their life, and so on. Working with them on symptom management and helping them to work with their doctor(s) to get their physical health on track, rather than immediately "labeling" them and missing the underlying cause of their distress has made so much difference in my work with them. 

2) Drs. Vitz and Dr.Scrofani are tied for me. Dr. Scrofani's Group Therapy stands out as one of the most intriguing classes I took while at IPS, but I have all of Vitz's books. I cannot appreciate both of them enough. Since I never lead groups, I'll briefly say something about Dr. Vitz. He gave a lecture on hatred and forgiveness that has not only been valuable in my work with moving patients away from woundedness, victimhood, anger, and hatred, and toward healing, ownership, compassion, and forgiveness; but it has also been something that I constantly refer back to for my own spiritual growth and wellbeing. He described forgiveness as "foregoing your justified right to vengeance" in favor of trusting in God to execute justice in perfect accord with mercy so that you can heal and move forward in your life. I found this to be incredibly powerful, and my patients have been empowered by it, too. 

3.) Dr. Robinson: May his soul rest in Eternal Peace. His classes were mind-boggling. They always felt like being immersed in more knowledge than I could possibly contain combined with storytime with grandpa. I wish all of his lectures had been recorded, that he had done a series reading and commentating on the Iliad and the Odyssey, and that all the stories he told us were written down. If they had been, I would have listened to his lectures and read the stories every year. He was a brilliant man, a kind and jovial professor, and I am grateful for his life.

What course/lesson did you find invaluable in the program?

All of them! Actually, though, if I just had to pick *one* it would be Fr. Bartunek's class (which might have been called Integration of Psychology and Spirituality?). As a Catholic counselor, you really have to understand and be attune to the nuances between psychological/emotional symptoms and disorder and spiritual disorder and attack. I can imagine the kind of damage a counselor could do by treating a spiritual issue as a purely psychological issue, or alternatively by spiritualizing psychological distress. As a Catholic who specifically chose IPS for its integrated Catholic curriculum, this class stands out to me as supremely invaluable. Theology of the Body was important too, but I had already gone through that extensively in undergrad, so for me personally Fr. Bartunek's class takes the cake!

Military Chaplain Shares Benefits of Psychology

This article was written and submitted by Fr. Longin Buhake, a graduate of the Master’s in Psychology program at Divine Mercy University.

My name is Father Longin Buhake, one of the 2020 DMU graduates’ students. I am a Catholic Priest Civilian Military Chaplain at Tyndall Air Force, Florida. I was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Mweka in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa. The following is my experience of what I have gained after graduating from Divine Mercy University and how I intend to put my degree to use in my current position.

People around the world face spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional problems that lead to psychological disorders. Substance abuse, life stress, biological and hereditary factors contribute a lot to these problems. The problems continue to rise with the changing environment of the world, thus calling for solutions. Psychology is an important skill for professionals who play a role in assisting people suffering from these issues. This profession requires school training and a certification after gaining the knowledge and skills required to handle the problems. Divine Mercy University taught me new skills and helped me improve the relationship between me and my clients and lead to problem-solving.

My Journey at DMU

Being a parish priest, I had always been attentive to people who face spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental challenges. I have helped many people, mostly in spiritual guidance. The need to become more helpful grew when my priestly ministry was extended to the military field. This inspired me to pursue a degree in psychology. It was not easy because I had to decide what school to go to and what would be the best orientation in psychology. As I was consulting, I ended up having a good conversation with a representative from Divine Mercy University who advised me to take the Master’s in Psychology (MSP) program since it aligned with my interests. At DMU, I was able to learn key skills that assist in providing excellent counseling services to people in distress. Some of these skills include communication, ethics, interpersonal skills, trustworthiness, problem solving, resilience, and confidentiality. Such skills were important in building strong relationships with clients.

As I was pursuing my degree, I also attended organized seminars and workshops where I interacted with professionals who offered more guidance and directions on the best ways to handle clients with psychological problems. Besides, I also identified several great professors in my school who provided me with frequent guidance on the best counseling practices and the best way to handle clients. Furthermore, I also took my time to practice my counseling of clients under my mentor's supervision in writing a project capstone. The paper helped me take the knowledge and the skills I learned and implement them in the real world.

The Skills I Developed

  • Communication skills

 One of the important tools I developed in my MSP is communication skills, which are essential in my day-to-day interactions with people suffering from mental, emotional, and physical illnesses. My MSP helped me develop excellent verbal communication skills that help me talk effectively with different clients. Counseling involves asking clients questions and conducting interviews. Such exercises require one to have excellent communication skills to help a counselor make clients feel relieved other than upsetting them. This has been fundamental to me in sharing and exchanging information with people who require psychological counseling.    

  • Interpersonal skills

Another important tool that I learned in the MSP program is interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills helped me work effectively with different clients, people, and colleagues. It is an important tool that guides me in developing strong relationships with clients. Besides, it is also fundamental to understand a clients' reactions and gather more information regarding the reasons they are triggered.

  • Listening with empathy

The first step to successful treatment is admitting that there is a problem (Kring et al., 2016). After listening empathetically to the person and explaining that I am here for emotional support. I will try to find the cause of their disorder. Some of these disorders are inherited and others are acquired.

  • Ethical competence and confidentiality

Ethical competence is another important tool that I learned in my MSP that has played a role in guiding me to help others. I learned the importance of observing ethics in counseling and psychology. I learned that it is important to always be trustworthy by the clients. Trustworthiness arises when one keeps the information of clients confidential. According to Md. & Saba, (2018), the trustworthiness of a counselor is contained in the fidelity ethical principle that places trust in a counselor. Being a priest, I have always promoted trustworthiness among people by remaining confidential in whatever information I discuss with them. Additionally, I also promote fidelity through listening and respecting the information provided by the clients. Above all, I am always attentive to the client's needs, as highlighted by Shantz (1981).

My Capstone: An Example of Applying What I Have Learned

My capstone project was to plan and implement a program using the knowledge and skills learned during the program. The project was a preparation for a week-end workshop on how to help members of the military who struggle with substance abuse and domestic violence.

Abusing a substance can lead to domestic violence; it is why addressing addiction is a normal part of treatment for domestic violence. The psychological literature review considers some peer-reviewed sources to find out decisions and ideas on why substance abuse and domestic violence occur in the military, how to prevent and avoid them. The source describes that mental and psychological problems, finances and the economy can increase the risk of violent behavior. On the other hand, religion and family environment, friendly relationships, and taking care of children prevent substance abuse and domestic violence in the military. The goal of this literature review is an attempt to provide suggestions and decisions to the existing problems and see how Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Virtue theory are capable of analyzing the roots of the problems and providing treatment and required approaches to them.

The main idea is to use all the mentioned sources (see references below) to indicate the reasons why substance abuse and domestic violence occur in the military, identify associated risk and protective factors, and research theories that explain how to prevent and avoid violent actions. I hypothesize that mental and psychological problems aggravated by alcohol consumption and lack of money lead to substance abuse and domestic violence in the military, whereas a positive environment, religion, and friendly support assist people in normalizing their lives. The Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person has been essential in developing an integrated understanding of the person created in God’s image. As a result, this has given me insight into the best solutions to provide clients to improve their mental health, as highlighted by Vitz et al. (2020).

References

Kring, A. M., Johnson, S. L., Davison, G. C., & Neale, J. M. (2016). Abnormal psychology (13th ed.) Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Md., A., & Saba, F. (2018). Counselling Psychology: Concept, trend and medical setting. International Journal 0f Psychology And Counselling, 10(3), 22-28. https://doi.org/10.5897/ijpc2017.0501

Shantz, H. (1981). Counselling and questions of morality: Confidentiality. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 4(3), 179-186. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf00115351

Vitz, P., Nordling, W., & Titus, C. (2020). A Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person: Integration with Psychology and Mental Health Practice. Divine Mercy University.

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.

Postgrad, IPS Center Excited to Serve Loudoun

Over the summer of 2019, Divine Mercy University (DMU) made its highly anticipated move from Crystal City, just outside of Washington D.C., to its new campus in Sterling, Virginia. In addition to the big move, DMU also brought in some new faces, including Psy.D. graduate Dr. Kristi Stefani. Originally from Montana, Dr. Stefani joined the IPS Center for Psychological Services staff in August as a postdoctoral fellow and resident for the new training year. We caught up with Dr. Stefani to learn more about her experience with DMU, and what we can look forward to for the IPS Center. How did you learn about Divine Mercy University/IPS? Someone from my parish back in Montana recommended and researched the program. So I got connected and spent six years as a doctoral student in the program. As I was discerning future career paths, I knew I wanted a postdoc experience in an academic setting. I wanted one where I was deeply passionate about the mission and benefited from my own formation, but I also wanted to be a part of forming new clinicians and being involved in their training experience.  What has your experience with Divine Mercy University been like so far? I would say that it’s been largely a growing process, both as a student and now as a staff member. We recognize there is an evolution; we’re growing as an institution, and that’s really coincided with both our relocation and my coming on as a staff person. There’s a lot of dialogue about how we can do this successfully. What I’ve appreciated is that the response of the faculty, staff and students here is very generous and they’ve taken a collaborative approach to working through challenges as they arise. For me, no institution is perfect. But I decided to stay with DMU for a postdoc because there is a sense of purpose that goes beyond my occupation or how I make a living. There’s something greater here. And that’s what I enjoy most, this sense of purpose shared amongst the people who work here and come here as students. As a former student, I can share with the students currently in the programs that there’s a lot of emphasis on being formed both personally and professionally; there’s a lot of emphasis on who you are as a person for your professional role to matter. The investment of the faculty and school goes beyond academics to your personal formation, as well. What moment from your time with DMU stands out the most to you? Just pointing at a single moment is hard, because there are so many to choose from! When I was doing my internship--and even at other sites where I’ve worked--I trained alongside people who were in different programs and had a different experience. While working alongside these people, I recognized the perspective I was being offered at Divine Mercy University was very unique, and it comes from incorporating multiple disciplines. It’s not one-way psychology being taught, but a greater vision of the person. I’m very reflective and existential myself, and having those aspects attended to and having people who were actively trying to consider this robust understanding of the human experience--that it wasn’t just limited to psychological research--really impacted me on a personal level. I was learning how to understand myself and the people I work with. I experienced that as a student, too, with faculty who were really invested in me as a person, and wanted to help me grow both personally and professionally. Not all programs are structured in that way.    From your observation, how has the IPS Center impacted the communities in the D.C. area, and now in Loudoun County? The IPS Center is unique in that it meets needs that a lot of other clinics can’t. One is financial access for people. I know that fees present a real challenge for many people and can be a real barrier to receiving therapy.  Another significant component is a willingness to honor and respect a client’s faith, and a willingness to discuss and explore that faith in therapy. We’re very open to everyone who comes in. We don’t place an expectation that faith must be discussed. We have an openness to all aspects of what is important to the client. That openness is part of our professional ethics: that we’re attentive to all facets of somebody’s experience, and we know that in this area in particular, there are a number of different faith communities from various backgrounds for whom having that openness is very helpful. Our mission as a program and a clinic states explicitly that faith and spirituality are a component, and we know that is attractive to people. Research shows this is important to people, but it’s not always highlighted as something that would be attended to in one’s therapeutic work. There’s also been this stigma or even a divide over the questions of faith’s compatibility with psychology, which can lead people to avoid reaching out to mental health services. Instead, they may be more inclined to reach out to their pastor or their church community. But often, the people they reach out to are not prepared or equipped to meet their needs. With that in mind, the IPS Center can provide a great value and serve people in need. Often, we find that clients are looking for something that is Christian-based; they’re looking for someone with a Catholic understanding of the human person; they’re looking for someone that’s respectful of the holistic nature of who we are.  In my clinical work, people often share that they’ve had past experiences where they didn’t feel free to disclose the spiritual part of themselves. And that reaction to stigma hindered the growth that they could have accomplished.             How do you see the clinic impacting the local community? Moving out to a new area and building the clinic in a new location has been a process that takes a fair amount of time. What we’d like to offer the community, through the training that the students receive, is a level of mental health care and compassion that they currently don’t have access to.  

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.”   
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.