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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Timothy Lock, Ph.D.

Gordon: Where did you earn your Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, and what was the mpst challenging course that you took, and why was it so challenging?

Dr. Lock: The State University of New York at Binghamton is where I did my doctoral studies. As an undergraduate, I studied under a professor who was developing new treatments for individuals who had been traumatized, specifically by abuse. Hearing about the horrors of abuse led me to feel tremendous compassion for the victims.

I was also fascinated in some newly developing treatment approaches that could really help people get their lives back. I decided to do my graduate studies with this same professor so that I could learn the treatment approaches and contribute some research to the field with the hope of, please God, alleviating human suffering. I graduated in the year 2000, right around the same time the Catholic psychology doctoral program was beginning at Divine Mercy University (or DMU).

Students at DMU benefit from the curriculum that teaches the integration of psychology and theology and Catholic spirituality. At a state university, like SUNY Binghamton, I did not get any training in this type of integration. However, like many Catholic folks in mental health, I found mentors to supervise me and guide me in how to practice as a Catholic psychologist.

Gordon: Is a Catholic psychologist different from a psychologist who is Catholic?

Dr. Lock: There are many psychologists, and clinicians in the mental health field, who are Catholic. Many are very devout and offer excellent psychotherapy. Someone who calls themselves a "Catholic psychologist" or a "Catholic mental health professional" offers psychotherapy through a lens of Catholic theology and spirituality.

We Catholic therapists try to approach the person as a unified whole - the unity that includes the client's Catholicism faith and their Catholic spirituality. We often try to augment good state-of-the-art psychotherapeutic techniques with our Catholic theological heritage.

I love the question "what would Jesus do" because we can learn a lot about how to be human from looking at our Lord's life. Catholic therapists also have to be attuned to the difference in how people live the faith. I can think of a cloistered nun client I worked with who was tremendously lonely. You might think that she needed to seek connection with the Lord but every day she prayed probably more, Gordon, than you and me combined!

So, her problem was not that she wasn't praying. And not that she wasn’t deeply connected to Jesus. There were psychological issues that were surfacing and these needed to be addressed. Now, given the fact that she lived a cloistered life and that her community's rule of life discouraged "particular friendships" or close friends, I had to approach this issue with sensitivity and understanding to best address her symptoms within the context of the life she had professed.

Gordon: When you served as Assistant Professor at Divine Mercy University (DMU), also known as the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, what courses did you teach?

Dr. Lock: I taught courses on a Catholic-Christian Approach to psychology (and the integration we discussed above) and Personality. Through the DMU's Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies, I also taught a workshop in trauma treatment. Currently, at St. Joseph's Seminary, I co-teach the Sexual Morality course; this has been a lot of fun as Professor Moral Theology, Dr. Thomas Berg, and myself go back and forth between the medical / psychological side of human sexuality and the theological and moral side of human sexuality. It has been a great experience which ultimately helps the seminarians to gain an understanding of the many complicated issues in human sexuality and to have a rich Catholic moral theological response. It also helps the men in their training as confessors.

Gordon: You started you clinical practice in 2001. Approximately how may people have you cared for?

Dr. Lock: I have treated many folks in individual psychotherapy but I have also run groups and I have offered supervision for many other clinicians. All taken together, I've probably worked with over a thousand clients. I don't have a solid number for you though.

Gordon: When and why did you start the Goretti Center for Healing and Forgiveness?

Dr. Lock: I started my individual private practice in December 2001 but in November 2016, in the Year of Mercy, I was moved to found the Goretti Center for Healing and Forgiveness. The idea had been on my heart for many years, but during the Year of Mercy I felt that the Holy Spirit really wanted this to come together, so I filed the appropriate paperwork and started working under this title. And things developed.

Today, the mission of the Goretti Center is to provide psychological assessment, treatment, and consultation that fosters healing particularly for the people of God in the Roman Catholic church. In addition, the mission of the Goretti Center is to provide supervision and training to clinicians who are working within a Catholic context and seeking to provide treatment in areas of trauma and anxiety. The general call I have felt was the need to help the Church to be healthy which will (a) promote authentic freedom to pursue the Lord and grow in virtue and (b) help people feel greater peace when engaging in missionary work and evangelization. Through the intercession of St. Maria Goretti, the Goretti Center is particularly prepared to assist clients who have experienced trauma.

It should be noted that the Goretti Center will serve any client, Catholic or non-Catholic, traumatize or not-traumatized. One’s religious affiliation being Christian or Catholic is not required for a client to receive services at the Goretti Center. Trauma is not required for a client to receive services at the Goretti Center. When clients come to the Goretti Center, they should note the following: (a) that we are an organization of Catholic clinicians who are seeking to provide psychotherapy through a Catholic anthropology or world-view, (b) that as Catholics we believe and live (with the help of God) the teachings of the Catholic Church, and (c) we specialize in helping Catholics although we help people of all faiths and no faith.

Overall, this has been well received. While most of my clients are Catholic - and love the fact that they can be treated by fellow Catholic - even my secular and atheist clients don't seem to mind the big Divine Mercy image that is on the wall of my office. You can learn more by visiting my personal website.

Gordon: Maria Goretti is one of my favorite Saints. Please share with our readers an overview of her life.

Dr. Lock: Maria Goretti was a young girl of 11 when a young adult, name Alessandro, showed a special liking of her. Despite her disinterest in the young man and her repeatedly telling him that she was not interested, Alessandro continue to make crude comments to her which would embarrass her and cause her to run away.

Alessandro knew her family well and went to see her one day when he knew that she would be alone. This day, however, his crude jokes turned violent when he made sexual advances toward her. She did her best to protest and Alessandro retaliated by stabbing her. Not once. Not twice. But fourteen times. Alessandro ran away but the screaming attracted people who found Maria bleeding to death. She was brought to the hospital but they were unable to save her. As she was dying she said, "I forgive Alessandro Serenelli...and I want him with me in heaven forever." Many months after she had died, while Alessandro was serving prison time, St. Maria Goretti appeared to him and forgave him.

This forgiveness prompted a major conversion. Alessandro developed true contrition for his attempted rape and murder of Maria Goretti. He then lived a life of prayer and penance for 60 years until his own death; that is, 30 years in prison and an additional 30 years after release from prison.

It is my hope that St. Maria Goretti will intercede for my clients to help heal their trauma and to help them find forgiveness.

Gordon: What is the role of forgiveness on psychotherapy?

Dr. Lock: I see forgiveness as one of the ultimate goals of our Catholic faith. If we can live as "forgivers" we can shine the Light of Christ and tell the world the Good News - not just by word but by the witness of our lives and our example, forgiveness is difficult - I mean, really really really hard! A lot of times we need help to move from a place of anger and wanting revenge, to deciding to give the gift of forgiveness to those who have hurt us.

Believe it or not, the field of secular psychology has been studying forgiveness to see how people succeed in forgiving, and how others can be taught to forgive. This is separate from the eyes of faith, simply with the realization that forgiveness has many additional positive psychological and physical benefits. Simply from a perspective of the realm of nature, a Catholic or non-Catholic can forgive. However, by grace, we can enter into a deep level of forgiveness that leads us to love the very person who has harmed us - to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors. Again, this is not about rainbows and unicorns, not about "forgiving and forgetting" and not about saying "whatever" - this is about rolling up your sleeves and doing hard work to get to the point of choosing forgiveness.

Gordon: Congratulations on your book Choosing Forgiveness which has had exceptional reviews. What inspired you to write it?

Dr. Lock: Thank you, Gordon. You are very kind. You know, if readers are interested in rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work of forgiveness, they should check out this book that I co-authored with Professor of Moral Theology, Fr. Thomas Berg. The topic of forgiveness speaks to us all. Jesus holds the bar high, and we all want to follow Jesus.

But we can hold grudges and anger and private thoughts of revenge which at our core we know are inconsistent with call of Our Lord to His Father, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do". Fr. Berg saw this issue of forgiveness as essential but there are few resources that approach the topic from both a Catholic theological perspective and a Catholic psychological perspective.

We've tried to bring the best of both worlds together to offer a method - empirically shown to be effective - that people can use to grow in forgiveness. We've tried to keep it real and we've tried to keep it simple. The feedback we have heard has been great and people have told us that the book "speaks" to them. We pray that the Holy Spirit inspire the hearts of those who read it to a deeper level forgiveness where they can experience greater freedom in the Lord.

Gordon: You also serve as Director of Psychological Services at St. Joseph's Seminary. What are you primary responsibilities at the seminary?

Dr. Lock: I love working at the seminary. I get to work with a fantastic group of priest faculty (including our beloved Rector who is a bishop) and lay faculty, and the wonderful young men seeking to give their lives to the service of the Church as priests. Don’t we all want priests that are happy, healthy and holy.

But our world today is complicated, and the past scandals have caused such profound devastation and left so many feeling betrayed. And probably all of us know a priest who did betray us by acting one way (allegedly pious) at Sunday Mass, and another way (a wicked way) in private. It turns out, most priest are really good guys. Most priests are healthy and happy and holy. So, the Church has been looking at what aspects of seminary formation produce excellent priests and where do the troubled fellows slip through the cracks.

When looking at this problem, the Church has recognized the widespread breakdown of the family, culture, and morality, and the Vatican notes that this has left even seminarians with, “psychological wounds that are not yet healed and that cause disturbances” (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2008, 5). In response to these needs, in August 2019 I began as the full time Director of Psychological Services because the Borromeo Council, that is, the bishops who govern St. Joseph's Seminary of the Archdiocese of New York, wanted to integrate more Catholic psychology in the culture of the seminary.

They are leading the way, with a number of other fine Catholic seminaries in the USA, to seek a greater presence of Catholic psychology in the formation of the seminarians. As a psychologist at the seminary, I offer counseling to the seminarians, I offer consultation regarding psychological issues to the Rector and the faculty, and I offer lectures on various psychological topics to help the seminarians, both personally and in their ministry. I can share a lot more about this topic, but perhaps on another day.

Thank you, Gordon, for the opportunity to talk. I love your work with Profiles in Catholicism. It is always wonderful to read stories about fellow Catholics and their journeys with the Lord Jesus. God bless you!

Gordon: Thank you for your kind words and a fascinating interview.

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