An Advent of Humanity – No Cape Necessary

by Dayna Pizzigoni

What does it mean to have a God that was born in a manger and died on a cross? About five years ago I wrote this question in an untitled notebook on a page without a date. As my spiritual community closes our liturgical year with Christ our King on the cross and begins our celebration of Advent, I ponder this question and its personal meaning in my faith journey again.

The reality of a God born in a barn and murdered after healing the sick and feeding the hungry means that Jesus was not a super hero. He participated in the messiness of humanity. I need to remember that if God did not step into the world as a super hero then She probably doesn’t expect me to be a super hero (despite how fun it might be to have super powers as a doctoral student).

I am a human being. God does not expect me to be perfect. He intentionally did not give me a super hero cape. My humanity, like my need for rest and play, is not a flaw. The most significant joy I will celebrate, pain I will suffer, and contribution I will offer the world will be done cape-less-ly as a regular human.

Now it must be said that sometimes we, as humans, do put on wonderful capes of determination and resilience. Single fathers, abuse survivors, refugees, and struggling students probably have made good use of metaphorical capes. It is beautiful how we can survive, stretch, and grow, but this strength becomes a liability when our expectations for ourselves become too high. We are not made to be “on” and heroic all the time. Following Christ is not about being a super hero. It is about being fully human.

There is nothing as tempting as a doctoral program to make me wish I could be a super hero; however, doctoral classes are not crises. I do not need a cape for my courses. I need to plan for adequate time to do my work and trust my intelligence. My studies call me not to heroism, but to humility with which work and be ever grateful for the privilege of higher education.

This Advent I hope to contemplate the beauty of our limited humanity. I can honor the holiness of my humanity and humbly invite Christ into the Bethlehem of my heart this Advent. Jesus will be ok in the messiness of my fragile humanity. After all, He was born in a manger and died on a cross.

Why does CACREP matter? An interview with Dr. Oakes on accreditation, retirement, and excellence

Dr. OakesHave you heard that Dr. Oakes was retiring?  Not just yet!  We still need her expertise.  Loyola University is in line with the trend according to Business News Daily of employers who are hiring workers over 50 valuing their experience, credentials, and mentoring abilities.
Read on to find out why Dr. Oakes changed her retirement plans, and to uncover exactly what CACREP is and why it matters.
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.
 
 
JoAnn: How long have you been with Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling Department?
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 alluded to closing out her work here and retiring, so I asked her about it.)
JoAnn: That leads into my next question, I heard that you were retiring, but now I hear that you have taken on the role of Chair of the Pastoral Counseling Department?  Can you tell me how all that came about?
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:

  1. Looks at the content of the courses
  2. 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).  

 

 
 
 

 

Reminiscing with Ralph: An interview with Dr. Ralph Piedmont

I have had the honor of working as Dr. Ralph Piedmont’s graduate assistant for the past several years.  The experience has been personally and professionally enriching because of his high expectations, intense energy, genuine concern for my development, and abundant generosity.  For example, I have met many luminaries in the field due to his leadership on the Mid Year Conference on Religion and Spirituality.  As his teaching assistant, I have honed my instructional skills and have increased my knowledge about psychological testing and statistics, and I have been impressed by his openness to learning from me (e.g., the incorporation of adjunctive materials such as podcasts).  He has invited me to be a co-author on several publications, including an upcoming chapter in an APA handbook and an upcoming article in Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion.

Teri Wilkins and Dr. Ralph Piedmont

Dr. Piedmont supporting my Emerging Scholars presentation (2011)

Someone with his depth and breadth of knowledge and prolific publications can appear intimidating, but I have always found him to be amazingly approachable.  I recently had the chance to sit with him and bombard him with questions, which he graciously addressed.  He spoke about how his professional journey brought him to Loyola, his consideration of spirituality as an aspect of personality, the development of his ASPIRES instrument, his appreciation for the core values of Jesuit education, his role in nurturing his graduate assistants, and many, many more topics.  See below for my questions and comments and for the audio links.

  1. How did you end up at Loyola?
  2. Can you tell me what the trajectory of your interest in spirituality has been?  When did you really start thinking about that?  Has that always been part of something that has drawn you?
  3. For those who aren’t familiar with your work (I don’t know that everybody realizes how prolific your writing has been) and also the scale development for your ASPIRES scale, can you talk a little bit about how that came to be?
  4. So you were looking for a universal human quality?
  5. That’s been some of the criticism of social science research, that whole WEIRD acronym (i.e., coming from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic nations).  It seems like a lot of your data has been in populations that don’t necessarily follow that kind of “WEIRD” criticism.
  6. One of the benefits of being in the Pastoral Counseling department at Loyola is the ability to attend the Mid Year Conference.  You’ve been fundamental in having that be a major part of research presentations.  Can you talk a little bit about that? 
  7. Not just professionals, but students have a lot of opportunities.
  8. PRS is not the only journal you’re involved with in terms of editing.  Can you talk about the other?
  9. Loyola seems to provide a lot of support.
  10. What do you see as your role when it comes to interacting with your graduate assistants?
  11. Can you talk about your recent experience in Poland and what’s ahead of you in Poland?
  12. Where do you see yourself going forward at this point? 

Many thanks to Dr. Piedmont for his patience, willingness, and candor during the interview!

Surprised by Authenticity, Diversity, and Hope | 10th Anniversary Mid-Year Conference

Where can students and faculty from so many diverse backgrounds come together, respect each other’s opposing views, and learn from each other?

At Loyola’s 10th Annual Mid-Year Research Conference on Religion and Spirituality (MYC).

session in progress
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

Scioli signs his book for Teri Wilkins

Scioli Signs Book for Teri Wilkins

      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.
Well attended session at Mid-Year Conference
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.

Remembering Mary Marguerite

On May 3, 2012, I was watching the evening news and learned that an Episcopal priest and an administrative assistant had been shot, at their church, by a homeless person.  No names were given.  Over the course of the next week, more information surfaced.  Apparently, the shooter had a history of approaching the church for assistance but became agitated after being told he had to limit his visits to the food pantry so others could benefit as well.  He killed the two women and then killed himself.

At first, I felt horrified that such a tragedy had occurred, but I was able to distance myself.  I could offer prayers for the repose of their souls and prayers for their families and friends, but I did not know anyone involved.  Or so I thought.  When the names of those involved became public, the pain became personal.  I knew Mary Marguerite Kohn.  She was my friend.

Mary Marguerite, or MM, was a graduate of the PhD program in pastoral counseling.  While she was preparing to defend her dissertation, she spent hours and hours in the doctoral lounge entering data and reviewing and revising her work.  At that same time, I was using the office directly across the hall to help with the copy editing of Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion.  MM would come in frequently to visit with me and to offer support because she knew I sometimes got impatient with the pace of the academic requirements.  The process seemed to take so long!  She told me many times that perseverance was the key to success and to keep plugging away.  She set a wonderful model in that respect.

After she graduated, she became an affiliate professor at Loyola and at Fordham and sometimes consulted with me about online education.  She had a great love for her students and was deeply invested in their success.  I recall an extended email conversation about the cost of materials for one of her courses where she examined every possible way to keep the costs down and the quality high.  In addition to her kindness, I remember her intense energy, her easy laughter, and her generosity.  While I feel very sad about her death, I am also very, very grateful that I had the chance to know her.

Eternal rest grant unto her, oh Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon her.
May her soul and the souls of all the
faithful departed, through the mercy
of God, rest in peace.
Amen.

Thank you! A note from Tucker Brown, PhD

Tucker BrownDear Pastoral Counseling Faculty,

I am honored and humbled that you awarded me the Dr. Barry K. Estadt medal.  I belong to such a supportive and dynamic cohort of students; this honor is as much theirs as mine.  Thank you for helping to create an atmosphere of thriving, love, and life-long friendship.

 I worked hard as a student and I approached the pastoral counseling program as a formation experience, as a process that would shape me into a skillful, wise, attuned, and responsive healer.  I worked hard and I recognize that I am graduating on Saturday very, very much because of your encouragement and pruning — your illumination of my growing edges and your honest response to my efforts.

By your instruction, presence, and patience I have been discovering a voice that might be of service to others.

 My wife, Emily, and I are going to New Mexico because we feel called to live and work among those whose voices some call illegal.  I have been able to honor and nurture a desire to answer this call with your wisdom, teaching, and blessing, and for that I am most grateful!

See you at the reception.

In gratitude,

Tucker

Goldilocks finds Pastoral Counseling

I never thought that I might have something in common with Goldilocks (you know, the one who made herself at home at the Bear Chateau), but our journeys do parallel in experience.  Goldilocks was a very bold young lady who saw what she wanted and pursued it.  She sought to find the right fit for the best seat to sit in, the best meal to eat from, and the best bed to sleep in.  She had to try three times until she found what was right for her.  Now, I must say that I wouldn’t go as far as to walk uninvited into someone’s home and make myself comfortable (especially not into the den of bears).  Yet, I do find some similarities with Goldilocks’ experience of trial and error as I have been on my path of finding my own professional best fit.

            My first professional taste of porridge was that of teaching special education at the elementary school level.  I found that being a special education teacher was too hot.  I enjoyed teaching my students and interacting with my co-workers, but burned my tongue on all the other things that came with teaching that made it scalding at times.  I did not feel that it would sustain as a best fit for me.  I liked it but I didn’t love it.

            So, I prayed and asked God what He wanted me to do.  Well, I kind of asked/told God that I was open to anything but teaching (showing some of Goldilocks’ audaciousness).  I was led towards studying art therapy and absolutely loved it.  It was a good fit for me and I proceeded to do my thesis on spirituality and art therapy.  Oh, this was some good porridge and I felt it was right, but God kept telling me it was good but not great.  Alas, it was too cold. 

I knew I was called to more and applied to the PhD program at Loyola on a leap of faith (www.loyola.edu/pastoralcounseling/academics/phd.html ).  I have found that pursuing pastoral counseling (www.loyola.edu/pastoralcounseling) has been and continues to be Just Right.  I began taking prerequisites in the Spring of 2011 and continue to find that I am challenged and growing and maturing and loving more.  I can see the potential in my professional development and am in awe at the synchronicity of the lessons learned in this program.  The curriculum, classes, and students are so unique and I feel that I fit in and have genuinely found a place to call home in pastoral counseling.

Riding the Dragon Down the Path To Pastoral Counseling | Teri Wilkins

My introduction to the pastoral counseling department came via Dr. Wicks.  I was presenting at the annual convention for teachers in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and he was the keynote speaker.  He had just published Riding the Dragon and spoke of how educators needed to take care of themselves, which was a lesson I needed to hear.  At the time, I was enrolled in a PhD program in education and was teaching continuing education courses in classroom management and brain-based learning.  I had retired from K-12 classroom teaching and had decided to change careers and become a full-time professor. 

While I was enjoying my classes and doing well academically, I had noticed a void in my secular doctoral program.  When Dr. Wicks noted he taught in Loyola’s pastoral counseling program, something finally clicked.  After decades in the Catholic school system, where spirituality had been embraced as a vital component of people’s lives, it was strange to me that the topic of spirituality was now actively avoided.  I decided to investigate pastoral counseling.

In the classroom, I had counseled many students, especially adolescent girls and teachers struggling with technology integration, but I had always been uneasy about that role.  While I was quite confident about my abilities as an educator, I lacked training in counseling.  Would studying pastoral counseling make a difference?  I was not sure but made an appointment to speak to an advisor. 

When I walked into the suite of offices that morning, I was struck by the atmosphere.  Everyone was so warm and welcoming.  I met one of the current students, and she graciously and enthusiastically spoke with me about the importance of spirituality in the department’s offerings.  I spent over an hour with the advisor, and she recommended first applying to the M.S. program.  Going from a doctoral program into a master’s program seemed a bit disconcerting, but she explained that the licensing work was at that level.  The thought that I could become a licensed counselor excited me, and after some extensive reflection, I submitted my application.

I am now completing my last class as a PhD student.  The past six years have been wonderful.  The coursework has been academically rigorous, my professors have been marvelous, and I have made enduring friendships and obtained employment as a licensed (LGPC) therapist.  I have honed my skills as a clinician, a researcher, a supervisor, and an educator.  The void has disappeared, and I have never been happier.