Agency focuses on integrating psychology, faith

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Clinical psychologists, social workers and counselors for diocesan Catholic Charities gathered in Arlington last week for a conference aimed at learning how to integrate the Catholic Faith into their field work with clients.

Art Bennett, president of Catholic Charities, said the purpose of the conference was to help the social workers be more helpful to the clients who are being counseled.

"We do things at Catholic Charities in a particular kind of way," said Bennett. "We want to be able to bring the Faith into the sessions, not imposing or proselytizing … (but offering) a view of the human person that is an integration between their emotions, their feelings, their thoughts and their souls. It's a delicate thing to do, which is why we need the training."

In addition to Bennett, five speakers covered topics related to integrating faith and psychology, including Dr. William Nordling, chairman of the department of psychology for the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington; Dr. Paul Vitz, professor of psychology at New York University; Father Paul deLadurantaye, director of the diocesan Office of Sacred Liturgy; and Father Paul D. Scalia, pastor of St. John the Beloved Church in McLean.

Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde gave the keynote talk, emphasizing that the men and women who work with those in need "are God's instruments providing healing that is so needed today."

It's essential for Catholic Charities employees to remember that the person being treated is a human being made in the image and likeness of God, the bishop said. The focus should not be on converting clients to the Catholic Faith, he said, but rather on best serving them by helping them realize a respect for themselves and for others. Their work should be steeped in not one particular religion, but in the natural moral law that "transcends all religions in treating this human person … made in God's image."

"I applaud all of you for wanting to treat the human person this way that respects who they are," the bishop said. "It seems to me that when we do that, in the end we have (helped) not only to enable someone to cope adequately, but richly and fully."

Kelly Filippini, a social worker in adoption counseling from the Center for Adoption and Pregnancy Services in Burke, said that though she has a master's in social work, she had never been trained in how to integrate the Catholic Faith into her career.

"That's what brought me to Catholic Charities. I wanted to be able to operate from my Catholic faith in a social work setting," she said. "As a therapist you want to empower your clients, but at the same time you want to direct them away from immoral behavior that will eventually hurt them in the long run."

Bennett considered the conference a success.

"I think the clinicians showed clearly how good psychology can be integrated with the Catholic Faith," he said. And the priests "did a great job of showing how fundamental Catholic principles are congruent with good mental health."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010