By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published May 1, 2019
ATLANTA—Catholic mental health professionals and students from across the country attended the Catholic Psychotherapy Association (CPA) annual conference April 25-27 at the Atlanta Marriott Buckhead Hotel and Conference Center. The theme of the conference was from John 14, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
“As clinicians, we are proclaiming the Gospel when we tell and show people they are worthy of God,” said Father Keith Chylinski during his homily at the morning Mass on Friday, April 27. Father Chylinksi is the first chaplain of the CPA and a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He also serves as the director of counseling services at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.
Father Chylinksi explained that the mental health field works with people who feel lonely or that they don’t belong and are suffering. However, the work of mental health professionals is an opportunity to say to patients, “Your dignity transcends this world.”
The Catholic Psychotherapy Association originated in Atlanta. According to the organization’s website, the late Archbishop John F. Donohue recognized it as a Catholic lay group in 2002.
The mission of CPA is to “support mental health practitioners by promoting the development of psychological theory and mental health practice which encompasses a full understanding of the human person, family and society,” according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The conference began on Thursday with a day of reflection. On Friday and Saturday, breakout sessions covered various topics, including self-care, family therapy, support for clergy, trauma in multicultural settings and the sex abuse crisis in the church. Auxiliary Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III celebrated the closing Mass on April 27.
Sue Stubbs, director of the Victim Assistance Program for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, along with Dr. Ann Howe and Dr. Gerry Ken Crete, led a session on The Way retreats for survivors of abuse. Retreats are held in the Archdiocese of Atlanta for men and women each year.
“The Stations of the Cross is the backbone of the retreat,” said Stubbs, who created The Way retreats. Participants follow the journey of Christ and relate it to their own experiences of surviving abuse through meditations, prayer and activities that help them act out their feelings, such as drawing, sculpting and journaling. Attendees are also encouraged to go to Mass, adoration and confession.
The retreat “meets people wherever they’re at,” explained Stubbs. Whether people meet regularly with a therapist or are just starting the healing process, there is something for everyone at every stage.
A separate retreat is held for men, led by Crete, who serves as president of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association and operates a private practice, Transfiguration Counseling, in north Atlanta.
Male survivors of abuse have a lot of shame, Crete said.
“They don’t want to be seen at all,” he explained. Therefore, he works to build a sense of community.
Crete begins the retreat by asking participants to share their favorite super heroes and the reason for the selections. He later explains, “All the interesting heroes have a wound,” just as they do. However, that wound can start a path to transformation.
“A true man, a good man, does not transmit pain, he transforms it,” said Crete. “Jesus came to show us what a man is supposed to be,” he said.
Howe attends The Way retreats and is a founding member of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association. She has maintained a private practice in Roswell for almost 20 years. For her, the retreats are an “extremely rewarding experience.”
“It has been a healing experience for me as well,” said Howe, who is also a court expert for the Metropolitan Tribunal of the archdiocese.
During the session, she discussed the role of a therapist during the retreat, which includes making presentations and meeting one-on-one with participants. New abuse allegations that surface during the retreat are reported to authorities as explained in the application.
Upcoming The Way retreats for men and women will be this fall. The next one for women will be Sept. 6-8. The application is due Aug. 29. For men, the next retreat is Nov. 22-24; the application is due Nov. 12.
Stubbs believes the Holy Spirit wrote most of The Way retreat.
“People that are coming on the retreat are on a journey,” she said.
For more information and applications for The Way retreats, contact Sue Stubbs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-920-7554.