How to Reduce Stress and Serve During COVID-19

In this video, Dr. Mallory Wines, assistant professor for the School of Counseling, defines "pandemic," outlines the current orders in place, and explains what U.S. residents are being asked to do, such as teleworking, using telemedicine and practicing social distancing. She also provides tips on how to effectively respond to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as:
  • learning about the symptoms and being self-aware
  • allowing yourself and your family time to recover
  • doing self-care activities
  • asking for help
  • staying physically and mentally healthy
  • maintaining a daily routine and coordinating schedules with family members
  • staying connected with other people
  • setting a work schedule and dedicated work space
  • establishing boundaries (work time versus personal time)
She also shares ways to lend a helping hand to the community by helping the elderly get groceries/medications, making face masks, donating blood, and assisting food banks with packaging or distribution of food. Speaker Bio Dr. Wines has been a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in Ohio since 2011, providing behavioral health services to various populations including children, adolescents, adults, and older adults. She specializes in working with trauma, PTSD, mood disorders, and childhood disorders. A majority of her clinical work has been in outpatient mental health centers, school settings, and in-home services. She has experience teaching in a graduate counseling and school psychology program, and supervising masters level counselors-in-training and therapeutic support staff. Her research interests include PTSD, trauma-exposure, vicarious traumatization, and posttraumatic growth.
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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.

6 Tips for Handling Holiday Stress

We always look to the holidays as a time of celebration; a magical time of good cheer, warm traditions, and being with family and friends. We think of it as a time of rest and relaxation, filled with joy and gratitude for all that we have. Despite the surface magic and positivity, the holidays are often accompanied by even busier schedules and events that can seem daunting. For many people, the mere idea of attending large family gatherings, numerous holiday parties, and all the traveling can produce anxiety, stress, and depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), three out of four people surveyed reported feeling anxious and/or depressed during the holiday season. Holiday parties in particular are a common stressor, especially for those with a social anxiety disorder. For some, they’ll try anything to avoid activities that involve larger groups. For others, the problem lies in attempting to have the “best” Christmas ever, where the thought of something being out of place or decorations falling short can cause significant feelings of distress, as well as fears of disappointing others or feeling that everything they do is being scrutinized and judged.  “There’s just so much that goes into the holidays,” said Dr. Alexis Melville, co-director of the IPS Center for Psychological Services, an outpatient mental health facility located on the campus of Divine Mercy University. “We’re rushing all over the place just trying to tie up loose ends and get everything prepared for the celebrations, but we also tend to self-evaluate how we did throughout the year. There are perceived societal pressures throughout the holiday season that can amplify expectations for ourselves or others, and those expectations can induce a greater anxiety during these times.” You don’t have to succumb to the holiday stress. Here are some ways to help manage the stress this holiday season:
  1. Plan
The holidays may feel like one gigantic party, where everyone is invited and you’re the host. Like with all parties, planning for it is a key practice toward success. Plan your menus, make your shopping list early, and set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. This will help prevent last-minute scrambling for forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup so that you’re not doing EVERYTHING.
  1. Be realistic
We love our traditions, but the holidays don't have to be perfect. In fact, they’re never the same. Life changes. Families grow and traditions will change. You can try to hold onto some old traditions, but try starting new ones too.
  1. Set aside differences
It’s no secret that some family gatherings can be tense, but chances are that everyone is feeling the same holiday stress. Try to accept family members and friends as they are and set aside old grievances. Try to be understanding if others get upset or distressed.
  1. Set healthy boundaries
It is easy to feel pulled in many different directions over the holidays, but don't be afraid to make the choices that feel right for you; overindulgence, especially with alcohol, only adds to the stress. Try to get plenty of exercise and sleep during the holidays. Also try eating a healthy snack before the parties so that you don't go overboard on cheese, drinks, and candy canes.
  1. Take a breather
Make some time for yourself. Spending 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
  1. Just say no
It’s okay to turn down invitations. We may want to be involved or feel pressured to be involved. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time. Following these tips and strategies can help you reduce anxiety and take control of the holidays. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself still feeling persistently anxious, stressed, or sad. Perhaps there was a change in your life that altered how you approach holidays -- a good friend may have moved far away and can’t celebrate with you, or a loved one passed away. If you lost someone dear to you, it’s normal to feel their absence; it’s normal to feel grief in their absence.  If these feelings last for a while and manifest physically and if you’re feeling irritable, hopeless, unable to sleep or unable to perform routine chores, then you should seek out a mental health professional. The IPS Center at Divine Mercy University offers psychological services on a sliding scale basis. Services are offered by supervised doctoral students and are available to both adults and children. For more information, call (703) 418-2111 or email ipscenter@divinemercy.edu.

Miscarriage Trauma Involves Mental Health Need

Step into an examination room at an OB-GYN, and you may find a young couple staring up at a monitor. Little by little, their pure love, joy and anticipation illuminates the room, burying any sense of worry or cautiousness they may have.  But as they both stare up at the monitor--anxious to see and hear the long-awaited music of the beating heart of their first child--they are met with silence. Their radiant eyes become like icicles melting in the sun as they realize that their child is gone forever.  Miscarriages are more common than one would think. Approximately one in four women will lose their baby to miscarriage. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it’s the most common cause of pregnancy loss, with 80 percent of all miscarriages happening within the first trimester.  Sadly, that one-in-four statistic drives a stigma of commonhood that overshadows the true devastation of miscarriage, allowing friends and family on the outside looking in to feel compelled to offer words of encouragement rather than words of compassion: It’s God’s will; There was probably something wrong; You’ll be pregnant again before you know it This stigma makes it incredibly difficult for parents, especially those who miscarry within the first trimester, as their grief may be less socially acceptable or acknowledged than the anguish of someone who miscarried beyond twelve weeks gestation, leaving the grieving mother feeling that her loss is not valid. “I think it tends to be more of an afterthought,” said Dr. Benjamin Keyes, professor and director of training and internship at Divine Mercy University. He is also the director of the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies, which offers training towards certification as Mental Health First Responders in times of disaster and traumatic situations.  “I think parents losing a child is the most devastating of losses,” he said. “I don’t think it ever fully heals. For some parents--depending on how strong their mood towards parenting is--it may actually stop them from the process out of fear of experiencing it again. I don’t think people realize just how bonded parents become to the fetus, nor the emotional changes that happen, certainly within the mother. When there’s a miscarriage, we think ‘well, it almost was.’ We move on and that’s the end of it. But that’s not the case for the person who has gone through the hormonal changes, those shifts in the body. That’s not the case for the people who were in preparation to becoming parents only to find themselves not being parents.”  As miscarriage carries a physical toll on the mother, it also takes a toll mentally, and can be a trigger for mental health issues including depression, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety. The grief is comparable in nature, intensity, and duration to that in people who suffer other types of major loss, and a 2016 study showed that four in ten women who experience miscarriage experience symptoms of PTSD Julia Bueno, a psychotherapist in London, England, has experienced miscarriages herself and  specializes in working with women who have experienced pregnancy loss. She is also the author of The Brink of Being: Talking About Miscarriage, where she explains that, despite how common miscarriages are, most are never mentally or physically prepared for the firsthand experience. “Many women,” she writes, “don’t expect it to happen and are not prepared for what it may involve: neither the potential physical--and possible medical--endurance nor the roller coaster of competing and complex feelings that the grief for a lost pregnancy can involve. The sadness, guilt, self-blame, sense of failure and worthlessness, anger, and uncomfortable envy can surprise or even shock the bereaved, who bear all this with no sure sense of how or how long to grieve, nor confidence to talk about an experience that has been relentlessly silenced.”   In addition to the unexpected mental and physical toll, most mothers find themselves at a loss in finding the strength to overcome such a tragic and traumatic experience that’s seen more as an afterthought. But according to Divine Mercy University professor and senior scholar, Dr. Paul Vitz, the struggle is not due to a lack of strength. As part of the module for Dr. Keyes’ course, COUN 640: Crisis and Trauma: Prevention and Treatment, Dr. Paul Vitz explains why some people who have experienced traumatic obstacles may struggle to overcome them. “I think in many cases,” he said, “the person who has failed to overcome those obstacles is not without many strengths and could really overcome them. But they haven’t been given any guidance. They haven’t been given any help. They haven’t been shown any strategies that might work.” Fathers are also affected by the same grief and, for them, the grief is twofold. First, there is grief for the mother, but also feeling an overwhelming sense of needing to set all grief and emotions aside in order to be strong for her. But then there is the individual grief for the loss of their baby with whom they had already forged a bond. This twofold grief can develop into what psychologist Dan Singley sees as the most common reaction for dads who experience a miscarriage: a profound sense of guilt.   “The guilt is very often the result of the fact that he himself is struggling,” said Singley, who is also the media chair for Postpartum Support International. “He’s got a lot of anxiety and depression but doesn’t feel entitled to it — kind of like, ‘Hey, I’m not the one who lost the baby, so what right do I have to be taking up her emotional bandwidth with my issues?’”    As our knowledge of the mental health risks and consequences that arise with miscarriages and infant/pregnancy loss grows, so does the need for mental health professionals to intervene with those parents in their time of need. The students at Divine Mercy University are being trained to address these parents’ needs as they cope with their grief. And the faculty work on both training the students and developing coursework that helps them be prepared to reverse the stigma around some of the less visible sources of grief, like miscarriage. “We do a lot in terms of parents,” said Dr. Keyes. “That is certainly a focus of the Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person (CCMMP): parenting and thriving within families. I think it does a good job in addressing family issues. I also think the focus in our courses does the same as we discuss family processes and family struggles across the lifespan of a person.” The Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person is unifying framework that integrates philosophy and theology with the psychological sciences. As one of the nation’s leading graduate institutions, Divine Mercy University is training students to identify, address, refer and treat both individuals and families who are suffering from depression, PTSD and other trauma-related disorders, with the specific mission to help patients flourish through the lens of the CCMMP. One excerpt from the document shows this focus on the family: Interpersonal relationality is first developed in the family, which is the basic unit of society. Humans have both a natural need for family and natural inclinations to establish families, that is, inclinations toward the goods of marriage and the procreation and education of children. All families, regardless of structure, deserve support, including assistance for the difficulties they face (Chapter 2). “That’s one of the functions of the helping professions,” said Dr. Vitz, “to give opportunities for new growth--for new flourishing--as a way of overcoming things that, in the past, the person was really depressed by or felt controlled by and felt, if you will, victimized in a way that made them passive, sad, withdrawn and without hope. That’s one of the things our programs focus on: How to provide strategies and ways of overcoming the past so that you can move hopefully and positively into a more flourishing life.”  Access to psychological services through the IPS Center at Divine Mercy University are available on a sliding scale basis. Services are offered by supervised doctoral students and are available to both adults and children. For more information, call (703) 418-2111) or email ipscenter@divinemercy.edu.

Suicide Among Leading Causes of Death in U.S.

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