June 19, 2020

Joining the Catholic faith with mental health therapy offers added help to clients

By Sean Gallagher

John Cadwallader, Jonathan Chamblee and Pauline Kattady are three mental health clinicians who practice at Central Psychological Services in Indianapolis.

They seek to help clients’ mental health both through their professional training and experience, and through the Church’s deep spiritual traditions and its understanding of the human person (which can be described as a “Catholic anthropology”).

This stands in contrast to a large majority of mental health clinicians, Cadwallader said, who either have reservations about incorporating faith into their practice or, as atheists or agnostics, are opposed to it.

“For us, our experience has been that psychology is one way to understand the human person,” Cadwallader said. “It’s complimentary [to the Catholic faith] in the sense that we understand clients’ dignity and try to see what is natural and supernatural.

“With our own experience as Catholics, we’ve brought the fullness of the faith to the work because we may not have seen this as part of our training and formation.”

Kattady sees strength in bringing psychology and the Catholic faith together when helping clients cope with difficult emotions.

“I try to validate the emotional fear they feel sometimes,” she said. “God gave us those emotions. They’re not something that shouldn’t be felt. Sometimes people struggle a lot with that. They think that if they have faith, they shouldn’t be feeling a certain way.

“Emotions can help us to discern what we need to do in a moment. The emotions need to be validated. This is where we step in. Discerning and being prudent—what does that mean in these times? I’m a firm believer that God works more effectively when there is peace within us.”

Chamblee tries to draw on the Catholic view of the human person to help build confidence and hope in clients.

“We, as Catholics, can have a unique view because of the rich history of our Catholic faith,” he said. “The Church has gone through so many trials by fire in the last 2,000 years and has survived and thrived.

“As Catholics, when we understand various lives of the saints and Church history, it gives us a perspective and background for hope and strength. We can endure through challenging times.”

At the same time, these clinicians see a difference between the therapy they offer and the Church’s tradition of spiritual direction.

“The work that we do is very complementary to spiritual direction, but there are differences,” Cadwallader said. “We view [the person] primarily through a psychological lens and a Catholic anthropology. Sometimes, spiritual directors will dabble in psychology, but they’re grounded largely in spirituality, faith and a Catholic anthropology, too.

“They dovetail nicely. Both are good, because they both lead us to God.”

Although Cadwallader and his colleagues work out of a Catholic understanding of the human person, they treat both Catholic and non-Catholic clients. And they strive to see every person as having “intrinsic goodness and dignity” because they are “creations of God.”

“They don’t have to be Catholic to receive this deeper love,” Cadwallader said. “God’s truth and goodness should always be shown to others. We just ask to be his instruments.”

Cadwallader, Chamblee and Kattady make their faith known to their prospective clients, from information about them shared on the practice’s website to religious icons that decorate its office.

“We respect their freedom that they can choose how much or little they want to explore faith and spirituality,” said Cadwallader of their non-Catholic clients. “Some have an appreciation that we are openly Catholic, but do not emphasize it or condemn them for different beliefs.” †

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