by Gordon Nary
Gordon: What interested you in becoming a therapist?
Sean: The road that led me to a career in mental health counseling has truly been a lifelong one. Born to devout Christian parents, who served as missionaries in Japan, I was aware from a young age of Christ’s love for people all over the world. Raised in an urban area outside of NYC, I also became keenly aware of the trials and sufferings people must endure.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a help to others. After studying Social Work in college, volunteering with the Peace Corps for two years, and discerning a graduate degree in urban ministry, I discovered that working with people in a one-on-one setting through therapy helped facilitate deep healing in their hearts and lives. I went to graduate school for counseling, and have been grateful for the opportunity to serve in this way ever since.
Gordon: When did you join CatholiPsych and how many people are you currently caring for?
Sean: I’ve been working with the CatholicPsych Institute for over 4 years now. I’m thankful to typically have around 30 people under my care at any given time.
Gordon: If someone came to you who was abused by a member of the religious community, what are some of the most effective ways of addressing this challenge?
Sean: Any form of abuse is a terrible injustice against the dignity of a human person, who is created in the image and likeness of God. It is therefore gravely consequential to the victim’s psychology. When a member of the clergy or someone in a religious community, who is supposed to represent the love of God, is the offender, this is all the more devastating. The betrayal of trust is deeply wounding and injures the person’s perspective of self, others, and God.
In therapy, effective treatment for the trauma of abuse involves: establishing safety in the therapeutic relationship, allowing the patient to express authentic emotions in response to being abused, challenging any lies that the victim has come to believe because of the abuse, providing corrective emotional experiences in the therapeutic relationship, and guiding the patient forward, now anchored in the truth of one’s identity.
Ultimately the goal is to find healing through meaning-making. The incredible truth of our Catholic faith is that God is in the business of redeeming our suffering. He can bring good out of the worst evil; He unites the depths of our wounds to those of Christ himself, and out of authentic love will resurrect it all. Helping the abused recognize their true worth, value, and goodness through the eyes of their heavenly Father is important and effective in discovering meaning, and experiencing healing.
Gordon: In many of the countries where we try to help children, there are wars which have a powerful impact on children. Please comment on the article Impact of War on Children and Imperative to End War
by Joanna Santa Barbara in the Croation Medical Journal
Sean: War is a disastrous reality that puts the people involved through a great deal of insecurity and trauma. Trauma can result in disturbance or damage to the developing brain and lead to neurodevelopmental deficits that affect a child’s functioning, which may result in lifelong problems. Research has provided insight into how early childhood maltreatment affects brain development, and contributes to personality disorders, addictions, and/or other mental health disorders which can have life-long effects if gone untreated.
Children, who are some of the most vulnerable members of society, should be prioritized in providing care and protection, but unfortunately, often are not. I agree with the author, that there is much work to be done in aiding children afflicted, and traumatized by war. Though I’m not convinced that war can be entirely eradicated from the world, this side of heaven, I do believe that religious faith can help victims find meaning and purpose in the traumatic experience, and thus reframe the person’s self-narrative from meaningless pain to growth through suffering. May the truth and love of our Lord Jesus Christ be what sets all people free. May Jesus be the anchor of peace, and our salvation from all forms of abuse, evil, and trauma. Amen.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional Interview!