I attended the Pastoral Counseling Department’s Retreat on Resiliency. It’s my last retreat as a Loyola student. The sense of community found at Loyola is unique. We are so different, yet we are one.
I never thought I was resilient. To me, resiliency was a quality for those who have been through severe crises or hardships. It takes courage and resiliency to attend graduate school later in life, to complete a master’s program, to graduate, and to make a career change — all of which I have done.
I forgot what I always tell my spiritual directees, “Don’t judge your life.” I judged my life story to be not particularly resilient. I was wrong. During the first break out session, we told our stories to each other. It was so healing and exhilarating to tell my story, to be heard, and to hear another.
I now see that I am resilient. I’ve gone through hardship, and not merely survived, but thrived! No longer do I judge my life. I embrace my cracks now, loving them for making me who I am today, and for the Light (God) that they let in. I want to shine that Light upon others.
Through experiential exercises, I tapped into my resiliency to face graduation and everything else that lies ahead for me. It was great to reflect on my life, to celebrate my resiliency, and to realize that I can face whatever the future holds.
I now feel empowered. I know my resiliency. How are you resilient?
Unlike pastoral counselors who use a therapeutic method based on a theory such as: Adlerian, Freudian, Person-Centered, Gestalt, or Cognitive Behavioral, spiritual directors are much more free-form. We generally do not give homework to our directees, nor do we set goals for them. We are taught that the directee sets the agenda. Our job is to listen for the Holy Spirit, discern God’s action, and to assist in cooperating with it. The Holy Spirit is the actual spiritual director.
We say things like: “What do you think God is inviting you to in that situation?” “Where is evidence of God acting there?” “Have you prayed about it?” “Why do you perceive that God is not responding to you?” and “What do you discern when you pay attention to your interior movements?”
During my spiritual direction internship, we (my spiritual directees and I) had an education process to go through and a steep learning curve. Some of them discontinued the process, and others never were really engaged in it at all. Perhaps spiritual direction was not what they expected? Analogous to when Vernon Ware lamented about his counselees in his excellent article “The Nerve of Some Clients,” perhaps my directees had one idea of what their experience of spiritual direction should be and I had another.
I am in my last semester in the M.A. in Spiritual and Pastoral Care program on the spiritual direction track. I am in the throes of writing my professional seminar paper and working out how I will respond to resistance in spiritual direction . . . more to come on that subject in an upcoming blog article.
I am far from having all the answers, but what I do know is that I want to meet my spiritual directees in the middle somewhere so that we can take each others’ hands, and together navigate that sometimes arduous journey of the spiritual life. I want us all to one day see God’s loving face smiling back at us. After all, isn’t that the purpose of why we are here in the first place?
JoAnn: How did you find your calling to Loyola?
Deb: While working with a special family – members of my Unitarian Universalist congregation – I learned pursuing pastoral care with greater commitment was my path. My minister recognized it before I did. When I thank her, she denies that she deserves the credit. At first, I could not use the word “calling.” I kept saying “no” until finally I couldn’t any longer. I stumbled upon Loyola’s program. It was the perfect fit for me.
JoAnn: What is your lasting impression of Loyola?
Deb: Spiritual and Pastoral Care with Fr. Kevin Gillespie shaped me as a caregiver. He taught us Care of the Entire Person or Cura personalis and – “where there is a story, there is hope.” Being present to someone listening to their story is the foundation of how I do pastoral care. When you are really attentive to the story, the heart of the matter is revealed. That is where God is! I come to it with the skills that I need and God does the rest.
JoAnn: How is God found in your work?
Deb: When I have the right words for someone that aren’t mine – during a baptism a Scripture verse comes to me that I didn’t even know I knew, or miraculously I run into someone and events just fall into place so that I am able to meet a need.
JoAnn: How do you use your education in your work?
JoAnn: Since graduating from Loyola what have you been up to?
Deb: Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). I did one unit each at the Hebrew Home, Sinai Hospital and now Johns Hopkins. I have had different supervisors, groups, and clinical components and learned a variety of skills. Typically, someone does a full-time chaplaincy residency in the same place for all four units. It is 60 hours a week – physically and emotionally intense. That was not the correct path for me. I have Muscular Dystrophy and I was not sure that I could handle it physically.
JoAnn: In your work in CPE, have you worked with people of various faiths?
Deb: Yes! My current supervisor is a ṣūfī, my supervisor-in-training is Episcopalian, and I had a Jewish Rabbi supervisor. I am comfortable praying with people of all faiths. I am leading the worship service at Johns Hopkins every other Sunday, and it is a surprise to me how much I love it.
JoAnn: Do you like your work?
Deb: Oh yes! I am where I am supposed to be. People ask: how can you do it? It is so sad to see people suffering. I think how lucky am I to be able to do the work that I do!
I am ‘spiritual, but not religious’ seems to be the mantra nowadays. So I did a little research on the subject. Alan Miller, Special to CNN, expresses some strong opinions in his article, My Take: ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ is a cop-out.
My niece remarked that she has yet to find a parish that fulfills her needs. She lamented that the music, liturgy, communication, and activities were all substandard. She observed that her church consisted of a change-resistant, older congregation that even her pastor could not convince to allow for implementation of new ideas.
My niece admits that she and others of her generation pick and choose the ideas/rules/beliefs that they like about their faiths and disregard the rest. In Catholicism, we call that being a “cafeteria Catholic.” Christians also apparently use the term cafeteria Christianity, but whether they’re Catholic, Christian, or neither, they all prefer to call themselves, ‘spiritual, but not religious.’
In my Pastoral Care Integration class, one of my classmates used the term ‘spiritual but not religious’ while presenting her final paper. She did not like the statement and did not understand how the two (spirituality and religion) can be divorced. She stated that she is in the leadership of her parish and they are working on increasing membership. Despite her dislike of the term, she and the others in church leadership try to appeal to that demographic.
Why does someone identify as spiritual but not religious? Perhaps something has turned them off to religion and/or church? As Dr. Rodgerson recounted to us regarding his church adventures, some of the nastiest, pettiest, most flawed people can be found behind those double doors.
We read Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What by Peter Steinke. He certainly has some church horror tales to tell! Steinke analyzed church dynamics from a Bowen theory and systems theory standpoint. He voluntarily goes into troubled churches and attempts to fix their problems. Talk about a job I would NEVER ever want…
Some of my classmates have expressed their dissatisfaction with church and their ideas of how to facilitate change. They fleshed out these ideas in preparation for writing the Pastoral Care Professional Seminar paper. As a spiritual director, I understand that people resist change. It is difficult enough to get an individual to entertain the concept, let alone an entire organization!
My prayers go with all of those visionaries who want to ameliorate church. If we are to believe the ‘spiritual, but not religious’ among us; church needs to do a better job of meeting people’s needs to stay viable now and in years to come.
JoAnn: How do you incorporate spirituality into your teaching?
Dr. Jill: In the Suffering class (PC732 Spiritual and Theological Dimensions of Suffering), we start with a song as a musical response to suffering. I am intentional with incorporating a devotional practice such as a time of silence and framing each class in a theological way. We have two lenses: our social science lens and our religion/spirituality/theology lens. We are in a constant dialectic between them. I think the two different languages are not striving toward the same thing – except health and wholeness. They need to be held in relationship with one another; through this creative tension we find even greater insight. This is integration of spirituality into pastoral care.
JoAnn: Do you identify with the Jesuit Way of Being?
Dr. Jill: Yes, absolutely! Cura personalis and making men and women for others is what we are trying to do – to create servants. Many service opportunities exist on campus such as CCSJ. This summer I received a Kolvenbach Grant to implement a spiritual/vocational discernment to the job readiness curriculum at Marian House – a program for women with histories of addiction and/or incarceration. Loyola is the most spiritually nurturing place where I have studied with invitations to attend to my relationship with God. That is huge!
JoAnn: Was there anything that surprised you about Loyola?
Dr. Jill: I appreciate our students’ maturity and the sacrifices they have made to be here. I have taught at other institutions where the humility of being a graduate student isn’t present. Humility and responsibility are important in graduate work. I had a professor once who said that only less than 1 percent of the population gets to have higher learning, so if you do not feel blessed every day, stop. I think they have an attitude of gratitude and a commitment that I have not seen in any other institution.
Dr. Jill: I taught Crisis Intervention and this Fall I teach Group Spiritual Guidance. I will teach Pastoral Care Professional Seminar next semester. That is the kind of work that really excites me; the dialogue between theory and practice, looking at a current ministry situation, turning to what we know about best practices and saying: what are we going to do?
JoAnn: What course do you enjoy teaching most?
Dr. Jill: I love the Suffering class because it is constructive and fun. We are never going to find out why bad things happen to good people. It’s really fun to wrestle with that question; to dialogue with personal experience and what theologians have been saying for millennia. It’s an interfaith class, so we look at suffering from different faith perspectives. There’s a tragic-comedy element in it because we have to laugh in order to suffer; you need both sides of that coin. Also, we are partnering with Grass Roots here in Columbia. The students in the course work with women-parents and children there. It’s like that book we read this year — What shall we say? Evil, suffering, and the crisis of faith by Thomas G. Long – that was saying solvitur ambulando: the answer to suffering is by walking. To take on that perspective is empowering in a paradoxical way and deeply spiritual because you give it all over to God. I am not going to fix the world’s suffering in a lifetime, but I take steps toward it.
JoAnn: What led you to Loyola’s Department of Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care?
Tiffany: I got my undergraduate degree from Mt. Saint Mary’s and knew I wanted to stay in Maryland. While looking for graduate programs in Clinical Psychology, I saw Pastoral Counseling, but I had no idea what it was. I researched it, and the more I learned about it, the more I realized that it was the perfect fit for me with its blend of psychology and spirituality. I was not comfortable pushing aside my faith in my career path. I discerned Loyola was a good fit for me.
JoAnn: How was it at Loyola?
Tiffany: I loved Loyola from day one! Starting class with a prayer, meeting people from different faith backgrounds, experiencing everyone’s passion to help other people, and the way they integrate spirituality into their work was so inspiring for me from my first class to my last and now.
JoAnn: What were your most memorable experiences?
Tiffany: Dr. Sharon Cheston’s and Dr. Frank Richardson’s classes stood out for me. Family Counseling and Pastoral Integration were my favorite classes. The clinical portions of my studies were meaningful for me. Getting hands-on experience with different supervisors was extremely helpful. Two years of internship gave me the confidence to go out into the workforce and know that I was ready.
JoAnn: Where did you do your internships?
Tiffany: My first one was at St. Francis Academy, a Catholic High School in Baltimore, and the second year I was at Lighthouse Youth and Family Services. I had a practicum supervisor, an on-site supervisor, and a small group supervisor in my first internship and two supervisors in my second. I learned so much from all of them and would advise students to make the most of the supervision that they receive.
JoAnn: I heard you got married, bought a new house, went on your first ever cruise for a honeymoon, got a new dog, wrote the Professional Seminar paper, and got a new job! How did you juggle it all?
Tiffany: Through the grace of God! And, with very supportive family/friends and self-care. I did a lot of knitting and crocheting blankets/scarves. I prayed and journaled. I had a “keep my eyes on the prize” mentality. Everything that happened, while stressful, was a positive thing, so that helped. Knowing that I was called to be a counselor helped me to get through the program.
JoAnn: How was the job hunting process?
Tiffany: I started job hunting my second to last semester before I graduated. Perhaps I was a bit pre-emptive, but I am glad I did. The process was frustrating and discouraging! I put out so many resumes and only got only two bites. I was in a catch-22 situation. I had not yet graduated or gotten my license. I interviewed with Contemporary Family Services. I told them I wanted to be a school-based counselor and they were looking for a counselor for their charter schools in Baltimore. They offered me the job on the spot! I will start as soon as my LGPC (Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor) certification is completed.
JoAnn: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Tiffany: I am thankful, grateful, and blessed to have gone through the program, graduated, and to be where I am now. I enjoyed my years at Loyola in the PC
Program and I miss it much more than I thought I would.
The top 5 lessons I learned in the MA in Spiritual and Pastoral Care Program in no particular order are:
1. Be careful sharing your theology with others – What you believe about God may not be what another person believes, and even if you are well meaning you may hurt someone else by imposing your views. In Theological Anthropology, Dr. Gerry Fialkowski told us many stories. One that stands out for me was the story of what one well-meaning, but misguided person said to a child grieving for her mother. It was not a pastoral response. She said, “God needed your mommy in heaven, which is why she died.” That child needs her mother. Only a cruel God would deprive a child of her mother. Is that the God I believe in?
2. God is mystery – God continues to reveal Godself to us, God is continuously creating, and God’s work is never finished. All we have are metaphors to describe God. Our human minds do not have the capacity to fully understand God. If you think you understand God, drop that concept you think you know because you have got it all wrong. St. Augustine said, “God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand, you have failed…”
I now live by that concept. Surprise and discovery are what I find here at Loyola on this journey toward union with God. I am constantly reminding myself to stay open to new possibilities, new understandings, new invitations, and new calls from God.
3. Self-Care is Sacred. – It is not selfish to practice self-care — it is self-preservation for someone in a helping profession. We are so highly prone to burn out, and when this occurs we can cause harm to those for which we care. “Physician heal thyself.” (Luke 4:23). I have studied the wounded healers (like Henri Nouwen) who bind up their own wounds, and in so doing learn empathy/compassion. They sooth others’ wounds because they first tended to their own.
4. I AM capable of being a spiritual director – In my tradition of Roman Catholicism, priests and religious do most of the spiritual guidance. It is only in the last generation that lay men and women have taken on a greater role in Ministry within the Church. There are still many traditional and conservative individuals who would rather go to a priest or nun with a spiritual matter viewing him or her as “more qualified.” I had carried this with me and it made me doubt my ability to be a spiritual director. But then, I took Spiritual Direction with Fr. Brian McDermott, SJ. He showed me that I do have what it takes, that I can be a spiritual director, and that anyone who has a true calling regardless of whether or not they have been ordained can companion someone in their spiritual journey.
5. There are distinct differences between spiritual direction, pastoral care, pastoral counseling, and psychotherapy – As I sit with someone in a spiritual direction session, often relationship issues enter into our space and that is okay. The Spirit is there between us continuing God’s work of creating by mending fences, changing hearts, calling to conversion, reconciling, nurturing, tending, and challenging. My directees and pastoral care receivers constantly teach me what they need from me. If I can assist them with that need then I will; however, if I cannot then it is time for me to refer them to another professional.
A plethora of personal growth and formation takes place here at Loyola. I could communicate so many more lessons I have learned. This is just a sample of life at Loyola as an MA student in the Pastoral Counseling Department.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing my new boss in the Pastoral Counseling Department, Dr. K. Elizabeth Oakes (Kayliz). I work with Dr. Oakes chiefly on our pursuit of CACREP re-accreditation through the self-study process. Below is an account of the interview highlights.
Dr. Oakes: I joined the Loyola Pastoral Counseling faculty, July 1, 2002. So, I am coming up on my 10th year. I am coming from a background of clinical training as well as practice. I am a graduate of this program. I graduated with my doctoral degree in 1999, and a CAS (Certificate of Advanced Study) in 1994.
Dr. Oakes: The Interim Chair. I found out, as it were, (that I will serve) for a year in that role as a transitional object. Are you familiar with that term? I am using it inappropriately though, in clinical counseling it is not used that way. (I am serving as Interim Chair) in order for the department to move between the loss of the previous chair due to illness, and to do a faculty search to get a chair brought into the department.
JoAnn: And does that have anything to do with CACREP – you staying on and changing your plans of retiring and taking on the role of Chair?
Dr. Oakes: Yes, it has everything to do with CACREP. They would like the leadership of the department to have a background in Counseling Education. And the previous interim chair had a background in English Literature, so we needed to change that.
JoAnn: So, not only are you functioning to help with CACREP accreditation, but your very credential helps with CACREP because you have what they are looking for in the leadership of the department?
Dr. Oakes: Yes, that is correct. My degree is in Counseling Education.
JoAnn: Ok, let’s back up a bit. For those who may not know, what is CACREP exactly?
Dr. Oakes: Let’s start with the name itself. It stands for Counsel for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. This is the accrediting body for the American Counseling Association. … CACREP looks to provide standardization and consistency in the quality, content, and relevance of the curriculum of students who are in counselor education programs.
It does this in several different ways, but the two main ones are CACREP:
- Looks at the content of the courses
- Examines/monitors how we prepare our students to become professionals in the field; seeing that the formation of the students’ professional identity is consistent with that of the field and then making sure that the teachers who teach are qualified and of a caliber that helps to meet the expectations of CACREP standards.
(When I asked Dr. Oakes why CACREP accreditation is important, she offered)
Dr Oakes: … it is more like CACREP is a watch dog, like AMA for physicians. It gives you credibility to the public that is seeking your services. If they see that you have been trained by a CACREP accredited program, they will be assured that you have had a quality of training in line with what the profession expects for its counselors to have.
JoAnn: How did you become the CACREP expert for the department?
Dr Oakes: This past school year, 2011-2012, I was the MS Program Director, and the CACREP process makes sense to fall under the purview of whoever is in that position. Also, I had training from CACREP to conduct the self-study.
JoAnn: So what does the PC Department do to keep its CACREP accreditation?
Dr. Oakes: (She says as we share a laugh.) You would have good insight into that! We conduct a CACREP accreditation self–study. We investigate, review, analyze, and assess how well we have been doing as compared to the standards that CACREP has laid out for us.
Our self-study then is reviewed by CACREP officials. Next, we have a visit from a CACREP team that samples what we have told them in the self-study for verification. They write a review and analysis and make recommendations to the CACREP board of directors, and at that point the decision is made whether or not to grant the accreditation status.
Once the board makes a decision to grant us re-accreditation, we could get an interim re-accreditation (2-3 year) or a full accreditation (8 years).
JoAnn: Is there anything else about CACREP that you think we need to know?
Dr. Oakes: Well, it is very important to have CACREP accreditation! It really makes the department pay attention to the quality and character of the faculty that we hire, it makes us look closely at the admission strategies and the assessment of potential students and their ability to be successful in the program, and it contributes to the evolving professionalization of the field.
The Pastoral Counseling Department also holds university-wide Middle States accreditation, and at least 3 certifications: the National Board of Certified Counselors, the National Association of Pastoral Counselors, and International Registry of Counsellor Education Programs (IRCEP).
Where can students and faculty from so many diverse backgrounds come together, respect each other’s opposing views, and learn from each other?
As I listened to A Dialectical Paradigm Shift in the Search for the Sacred, the presenter, M. Chet Mirman, PhD outlined what it means to be sacred, mentioned Buber, the supernatural, transcendence, and having a sense of awe and wonder at the mystery of the world.
I was under the impression that the room was filled with theists on a quest for God (i.e. the sacred). There were at least two Catholics in the room other than myself: a Jesuit pastoral counseling affiliate faculty member Fr. William Sneck S.J. PhD, and a Catholic nun in a full habit…
Then, someone in the audience raises his hand and asks this question, “What do you mean by keeping the baby of spirituality while throwing out the bathwater of bad metaphysical beliefs?”
Mirman replies, “Well, you know, God parting the Red Sea, bushes spontaneously bursting into flames, and other similar phenomenon. The inquisitor looked puzzled. Then the presenter offered, “Well, I guess I’d better come clean and tell you all that I am an atheist.” Mirman continues, “And I am trying to find my way back to belief.” You could have heard a pin drop. After a pregnant pause, the conversation continued with the theists and the atheist discussing metaphysical, philosophical, and theological theories and constructs.
I had taken four pages of notes and listened to his lecture for forty minutes before he disclosed that he was an atheist. I think he was courageous to transparently admit to his views in a room full of theists. And the fact that the discussion didn’t miss a beat with both theists and atheist learning from each other speaks to the brand of education found here at Loyola.
A Whole Brain Intervention to Instill Hope was another example of the strength of diversity in action. Anthony Scioli, an American, and Fr. Jen Charles Wismick, a Haitian, worked together in Haiti to instill hope in the survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. We need each other and work best in community; we do not do pastoral care in a vacuum.
Loyola students are diverse, hailing from all over the world, representing every race, creed, ethnicity, and gender. Additionally, we are inclusive; we listen to, respect, and learn from each other.
And that is why I am proud to be a student at Loyola.