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April 8, 2009
Mental health workers group integrates Catholic teaching with therapy
By Roxanne King
If you’re a mental health professional and a practicing Catholic, the Catholic Psychotherapy Association wants you to know they exist for you.
Last month, the organization, which is headquartered in Deluth, Ga., launched its Web site, catholicpsychotherapy.org, to increase awareness of the group. Local Catholic mental health care providers hope the additional exposure will result in a Catholic Psychotherapy Association guild in Denver.
Dr. Christina Lynch, staff psychotherapist for St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, serves as secretary for the Catholic Psychotherapy Association board of directors.
“The CPA … is a new national, with interest internationally, association of professionals who wish to incorporate their Catholic faith into their therapeutic work,” explained Lynch. “Through this association we hope to meet other professionals who share the same ideals. The CPA is unique in that we invite students, theologians, clergy, religious and academicians who may desire to help us develop theory with application.”
The Catholic Psychotherapy Association began as a guild of the Catholic Medical Association in Atlanta, Ga. The group was formally established in 2007, about 10 years after a group of mental health professionals began meeting monthly in the home of psychotherapist Sandra McKay, a resident of Deluth.
“As a longtime therapist with a re-awakening of my faith, I was keenly aware of how necessary Christ’s love is to the healing of the human heart,” recalled McKay, who serves as CPA president. “I felt incredibly alone with my desire to put this into the therapy I was doing, especially working within a Catholic Church.”
Colleagues who felt the same included CPA co-founders Ann Howe and Tom Spudic. With support from local clergy the therapists invited other mental health professionals to join them for monthly prayer and discussion.
“It was beautiful to pray and share with others who desired the same for their clients,” McKay said.
In Denver, the CPA was introduced at meetings of the Catholic Medical Association, which is open to all health care providers, said Lynch.
“A group of Catholic mental health care providers has come together to join with our fellow physicians and network amongst our mental health professional peers right here,” she said. “This local network of mental health care providers will hopefully mature into a local Catholic Psychotherapy Association guild.”
Denver’s CPA guild would be the second after Atlanta, noted Lynch.
“It is the hope of the CPA to form local guilds around the country and abroad in the not too distant future,” she said.
So how does one make psychotherapy “Catholic”?
“Psychology is a secular science and many people who are faithful to God and their spiritual life recognize that the human being is comprised of body, mind and spirit—that this spirit is a major part of the healing process,” said McKay. “Our association strives to take the knowledge of the Catholic faith to promote healing in the person, couple and family. By having academicians, theologians, clergy and psychotherapists come together to discuss and write about the application of Catholicism to the healing process, we can develop methodologies of complete healing of the person’s heart.
“The love of God and all the gifts he gives us cannot be ignored in healing,” she added. “This is never imposed on a person,” she emphasized, “but for those who are hungry, they can find qualified professionals who understand and encourage their walk with God, never encouraging anything that would be contrary to that walk.”
Patroness of the organization is Our Mother of Good Counsel.
“We were founded on her feast day,” said Lynch, adding that the Web site was launched on another Marian feast, the Annunciation.
The organization’s logo depicts a crown of thorns and a dogwood flower to represent the mental suffering and healing clients experience and entrust to their therapists.
“It helps to explain the integration of our Lord’s suffering (in the Passion) and people’s suffering,” explained Lynch, “and how (Christ the Divine Healer) can transform that suffering through the tools of psychology by removing the blocks that might be holding people back.
“The flower buds out of the crown of thorns, showing the healing power of our Lord,” she emphasized. “Through the suffering,” she added, “new life can be born.”