By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you join St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church and what impact has the parish had on your spiritual life?
Kevin: My wife, son Matthew and I joined St Francis Xavier parish in 1999. The parish has given us a regular place of worship, fellowship and connection to a community of faith with an outreach to communities in need. as well as adult education on issues of critical importance in the church and world today.
Gordon: Early in your career, you served as a hospice chaplain. What did you learn about people facing death?
Kevin: What I learned and continue to learn is that you can’t take it with you and what lasts is faith, hope and love. The greatest of these is love. I learned about living more fully from those persons and families dealing with impending death. It is all about relationships and connections.
Gordon: What impact does a person’s faith have on their experience of dying?
Kevin: Without faith, it is easier to become depressed and despair. Faith gives meaning in the midst of suffering. I have often been touched by the powerful witness of faith amidst incredible suffering.
Gordon: What initially interested you in becoming a clinical psychologist?
Kevin: I was working as a hospice chaplain and often felt ill-equipped to deal with the many family issues that would arise during the suffering of patients and families.
Gordon: You head the Institute for Sexuality Studies. What are the primary challenges counseling people with sexual addiction?
Kevin: The primary challenge is overcoming shame. Shame fuels the addictive pattern in sexual addiction. Most sexual addicts feel intense internal and toxic shame that convinces them they are bad and unworthy persons and that no one could love them for who they are. There is also an extra stigma on sexual addiction. Whereas the stigma around alcoholism and drug addiction are somewhat less today with education, sexual addiction still carries with it a toxic stigma that often keeps people from reaching out for help.
Gordon: From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Is there anything that parishes can do to help address this challenge?
Kevin: Yes, invite in speakers in for adult education to discuss the issue from multiple perspectives, psychological, social, and spiritual.
Gordon: How is sexual addiction-related to other forms of addiction?
Kevin: Instead of being powerless over alcohol, drugs, gambling etc. the sexual addict is powerless over lust. The same 12 steps of AA recovery apply quite well to sexual addiction but are also applied to the powerless and unmanageability in one’s life as it relates to sex. Sexual addiction is less recognized and understood by the medical community and many debates whether it is a true addiction which is problematic for research, education treatment, and prevention.
Gordon: You also serve as Adjunct Faculty in Pastoral Ministry for the Catholic Theological Union. What have been some of the most challenging questions that some of your students may have asked?
Kevin: I love the questions related to how the church as a system can sometimes become part of the problem rather than the solution, especially in the case of sexual abuse in the church that for too long was covered up. Another common challenging question relates to the misuse of power and authority versus true servant leadership.
Gordon: You gave a dynamic presentation in May 2017 at Assumption Church on Responding to Toxic Language. Could you share with our readers a few of your recommendations?
Kevin: Yes, I think the major recommendation would be the challenge to become part of the solution for reconciliation, healing and choosing to enter difficult conversations with family, other church members and those of different views.
Blame has an inverse relationship with accountability and responsibility according to Dr. Brené Brown She reports that “Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain.” So, discomfort and pain are internal states. They are the root of dysfunctional and negative communication that causes all the problems in our relationships.
Our Christian faith as modeled by Jesus invites inner transformation and conversion. Jesus was continually inviting his followers to do less judging, blaming and critique of others without first going through an inner transformation to gospel values of mercy, justice and reconciliation.
The challenge is to put less energy looking outside and look within to what needs to be changed within me.
The final point would be to see the other person, even those we see as the enemy, as a child of God and seek to express the truth in love and allow God to work in their life and mine.
Gordon: What are some of the mental health issues you see with COVID-19?
Kevin: Calls to the Disaster Distress Helpline rose significantly over these past several months. Some areas of concern have to do with job loss, increased uncertainty, financial instability, and managing stress related to work/life balance and homeschooling. Marriages are often stressed given that the family dynamics have changed considerably.
These stressors may be even worse for single-parent households where one parent may have less support or may need to work fulltime. Working in the addiction recovery field, many folks in recovery from drugs, alcohol, and other addictions have received less face to face support and have come to rely more on zoom meetings and
telehealth sessions. This is especially hard on those persons in the very early stages of recovery who need more hands-on support.
During any rapidly changing situation, the loss of daily routine increased stressors and uncertainty can lead to anxiety, fear, depression, and loneliness. Information overload, rumors, and misinformation can further contribute to one feeling out of control and make it unclear what to do. When you feel this way, your kids may feel it too — and they often sense the way you are feeling. Talking to them about what is going on can be challenging.
Gordon: How to deal with children around coping with COVID-19?
Kevin: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has become a source of daily conversation. As a caregiver, you may be wondering how to support your kids' developmental needs and understanding of the coronavirus.
Here are a few helpful suggestions:
Remain calm and be hopeful. Your kids will look to you for clues about how to react. Remind them that how they feel right now is OK and encourage a positive and hopeful outlook for the future.
Keep to a routine. Keep or create new family routines, such as learning activities, mealtimes, chores, relaxation, and bedtimes. This structure helps kids predict what is planned, allowing them to feel control in situations.
Be real: Honest and accurate discussion with your kids about COVID-19 can help them understand what's happening, relieve some of their fears, make them feel safe, and help them begin to cope. Be direct and realistic in sharing information about COVID using reliable sources as there is so much misinformation that can easily lead to confusion for the children.
Be sensitive: Listen and attend to your child and allow them to talk about how they feel. Share simple facts about COVID-19 that are appropriate for your kids' understanding and developmental age. Children are reassured when you are honest and reassuring about your being with them. Parents need to get the facts about current federal and state recommendations and how to protect your family from infection. Listen and answer their questions with facts in a way that they can understand. Take the opportunity to talk with your children to see how they're coping and offer them regular updates as more is learned about COVID-19 and the precautions families should take.
Be a role model: Model for them that it is alright for them to express their feelings, letting them know that it's ok to be upset. Also encourage them to come to you with any new questions. Children often take their cues from adults they trust and
Be sure to discuss how your kids can stay safe: Explain how it spreads. Most commonly, the virus that causes COVID-19 enters people's bodies when it's on their hands and they touch their mouths, noses, or eyes. A virus is so tiny that you can't see it. This is why it is important to wash your hands often and try not to touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. If someone who has the infection coughs or sneezes on you from a close distance — closer than six feet — then that also can spread the virus. Knowing what one can do to help increases one’s sense of control in times of uncertainty.
Offer reassurance: Talk about what is being done. You are hearing so much about COVID-19 because it's a new illness that has not been seen before. Experts around the world are working hard every day to learn about COVID-19 and how to keep people safe.
Finally, seek professional advice if necessary. If you notice persistent problems with sleep, changes in eating habits or difficulty concentrating on typical tasks, or if your kids have a persistent sense of hopelessness, excessive sadness or overwhelming worry, contact your doctor or a mental health professional for advice.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview the challenges that many of us face.