“If I just ignore everything, it will get better with time.”
There have been several seasons in my story as a Catholic woman where I’ve turned to Catholic therapists for help. I’ve sat down in their offices to discuss grief and loss, unpack trauma, learn to love my family better and invest in my marriage.
But my mental health journey has not been simple or easy. Making the decision to see a therapist meant that I had to reject lies and false mentalites that were holding me back from asking for help. I had to overcome the fear of admitting that I couldn’t heal on my own. Ignoring the situations that were causing me so much stress and worry wasn’t a solution — it was only making things worse.
I knew I needed help, but it took a lot of perseverance, prayers and work to get to therapy. I thought I was the only one who struggled to make therapy appointments, even though I knew deep down that therapy could be transformative. But after sharing my mental health journey with a few trusted friends, I realized I wasn’t alone in that experience at all.
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Over the years, asking for help has become easier. This is because I better understand the purpose and mission of therapy and its role in my journey to healing. I sat down with Maribel Laguna, a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor in Irving, Texas, where she is the co-owner of In His Image Counseling Center. She shared what it means to have a Catholic view of therapy and why knowing the importance of integration is key to healing.
Whether you’re desiring healing in your own mental health journey or wondering how to accompany friends and family who are in therapy, it’s important to understand the purpose of therapy for Catholic women, as well as what physical and mental markers are good indicators of when to seek help from a Catholic therapist.
Rooting your understanding of therapy in a Catholic worldview
It’s no secret that the Catholic worldview usually differs from a secular point of view. This is no different when it comes to therapy. So just what does therapy mean for a Catholic?
“In therapy, a Catholic understanding of the human person means respecting the dignity of each person, viewing them as Jesus views them. It also means respecting the ‘whole person,’ integrating mind, body and spirit. Thoughts are not separate from behaviors and behaviors are not separate from emotions,” Maribel explained.
She went on to say that even though our souls and our psyche are distinct, the line between the soul and psyche is a very thin line. What does this mean practically? Our actions, words and thoughts affect our souls — and vice versa! But when we don’t understand the integral aspects of what it means to be human, we can settle for therapy that doesn’t honor our whole human dignity.
“Psychology that separates psyche from anima is an improper understanding of the human person. Therefore, when searching for a mental health professional in a secular setting, it is important for a Catholic client to be upfront about the integration of mind, body and spirit,” Maribel continued.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t find healing with a secular therapist who respects your faith. While finding a Catholic therapist is a gift, time with a secular therapist can be a helpful option if you don’t have a Catholic therapist in your area. Secular therapy can also be a good route to take if a Catholic therapist near you doesn’t specialize in the area you’re seeking help in.
Thoughts of fear and shame are normal — but don’t let them stand in the way of your mental health
When I initially sought out counseling to heal from trauma and grief, I first had to combat the lies of fear and shame. I was worried about what others would think of me if they found out I was seeing a therapist. When I shared my experience with Maribel, I discovered I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.
“Many individuals are ashamed and afraid of seeking counseling services. This is a normal experience. However, it is important to not let shame and fear detain us from seeking help,” she advised.
The lies of shame and fear can fool you into believing that it would be better if no one knew what you were going through. But those lies can make sharing your experience with a therapist seem overwhelming — if not impossible.
“I encourage clients who become overwhelmed with the idea of sharing, to focus on sharing one sentence at a time, little by little, shining light into their difficulties little by little. In the same way that looking directly at the sun is damaging to our eyes, looking at our difficulties directly and all at once is not healthy nor prudent,” Maribel said.
It’s important to remember that a therapist isn’t there to shame you for what you’re struggling with. When a therapist responds to your story with empathy and understanding, you’ll be able to find healing from the lies and burden of shame.
Discerning when to turn to a therapist you trust
One of the struggles in my mental health journey that I experienced was not knowing when I needed to look for help outside of trusted friends and family. I didn’t know exactly when asking for professional help would be a good step. When I spoke with Maribel about discerning when to start therapy, she pointed out that not knowing how or when to help ourselves isn’t uncommon — especially for women.
“As women we tend to emphasize self-sacrifice to the point of deafening the voice of our bodies. This is not healthy. Our bodies speak through physical and emotional symptoms, alerting us that psychologically, something is not okay,” she explained.
What are some of these physical markers that we can look to and understand what our body is trying to communicate? Maribel advised looking for changes in weight, appetite, sleep, menstrual cycles and energy. If there isn’t a medical explanation for a physical change that’s occurring in those areas, it’s likely that something needs to be addressed psychologically.
But there’s also experiences and emotions to observe as well as you’re discerning if sessions with a therapist would be helpful for your healing journey.
“A general overview of emotional symptoms that indicate a need for counseling are irritability, unexplained sadness, crying spells, excessive worry, low motivation, trouble concentrating, intrusive thoughts, low self-worth and thoughts of self-harm,” Maribel explained. “It is important to note that there are more specific emotional symptoms that coincide with various psychological disorders. For specificity, seeking a professional mental health evaluation is necessary.”
If you recognized any of the physical or emotional markers in your own life, your body may be trying to alert you to the fact that it’s time to turn to a trusted professional for help. To find a local Catholic therapist to share your experience with, check out your local diocesan resources as well as online directories of resources. Seeking out therapy that integrates your soul, mind and body and respects your human dignity is a great step in holistic self-care as a Catholic woman.