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Psychologist Michael Horne offers advice and guidance during the pandemic

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In a world turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, Michael Horne offers a balm of gentle help and calm normalcy. 

As a licensed clinical psychologist and director of clinical services for diocesan Catholic Charities, Horne, 42, supervises counseling, medical and other programs, and still sees a few therapy clients on the side. 

Find one thing every day that gives you hope, that makes you smile and feel happy or grateful. That’s what’s going to sustain you.” Psychologist Michael Horne

Anxiety, depression and other mental health problems have skyrocketed since the pandemic began, so his days were already full. But he also has stepped up to write articles for the Catholic Herald with advice on issues arising in this strange and stressful time, from tips for better communication between spouses both working from home, to advice for coping with grief and loss amid social distancing. 

With all the restrictions surrounding the pandemic, “there are so many things we couldn’t do, I just wanted to do something helpful,” Horne said in a phone interview from his Fredericksburg office, a few blocks from the home he shares with his wife, Kara, who “works harder than I do” as an educator and mom home schooling their four children, ages 10, 7, 5 and 1. 

A call to help people is why Horne became a psychologist. The oldest of three brothers, he was born in New Orleans but lived for 10 years in London, where his dad worked in the oil industry in the North Sea. Surrounded by diversity, Horne developed a healthy sense of self at an early age, learning that “I may not be like everybody else, and that’s fine.” 

After the family moved to Houston when he was 16, he earned a degree in radio, TV and film from the University of Texas at Austin and worked in public television for a while. But, “I just got the sense that something was missing. As good as entertaining people was, there was more that I should be doing,” he said.

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Psychologist Michael Horne says he and wife Kara are “joyfully outnumbered” by four children whose names celebrate their Irish roots. They are (from left) daughter Maeve, 7; son Liam, 10; and daughters Caoilainn, 5, and Aibhilinn, 1. COURTESY

Although raised Catholic, he had stopped going to Mass during college. Then in his 20s he became interested in Catholicism again, and simultaneously in psychology. “People were struggling, and I felt God was calling me to serve, to help families and individuals through psychology,” he said. 

At that point, he hadn’t even taken basic psychology classes, but decided to apply to graduate school at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS), founded in 1999 in Sterling. It has since changed its name to Divine Mercy University. Horne says it was “the only graduate psychology program that seeks to integrate a Catholic understanding of the human person with the science of psychology,” and was the only school to which he applied. 

“If God wants me to be there, I’ll get it,” he told himself. He was accepted and began classes in 2002. 

“I began learning psychology at the same time I was learning about faith as an adult and learning a Catholic anthropology of what human flourishing can truly look like,” he said. Psychology and Catholicism have been intrinsically connected in his mind ever since.

Horne speaks and writes in a voice that is distinctly Catholic and pastoral as well as psychological, which differentiates him from most others in his field. He is one of a relatively small group of psychologists around the country steeped in this “integrative” approach. “We’re trying for an authentically Catholic approach to mental health services, informed by a Catholic understanding of the human person,” he said. “We are very blessed here in the diocese to have so many fantastic mental health practitioners who think this way,” including the 15 clinicians at Catholic Charities. 

Art Bennett, president and CEO of diocesan Catholic Charities, recognizes the importance of this unique focus. “It’s a sophisticated integration of psychology and the Catholic faith that looks at the whole person — body, mind and soul,” he said. “It’s also respectful and open to people who aren’t Catholic.”

Bennett is pleased that Horne is able to provide psychological support to more in the diocese through his writing. “The pandemic is very anxiety-provoking, so there’s a need for these articles. People are struggling. You don’t have to have a psychological problem, it’s a very stressful time for everybody.”

The way Horne sees it, “in my small part, I am responsible for the mental health of every person in 21 counties,” whether directly working with clients or “helping my great staff as they help those people.”

So, what’s his best advice for maintaining equilibrium in a stressful time?

“Find one thing every day that gives you hope, that makes you smile and feel happy or grateful. That’s what’s going to sustain you,” he said.
The two main things that sustain him are “first, my vocation as a husband and through that, as a father, every day.” The second is his work, also a vocation of sorts. “I love the work that I do. I wrap up my day sincerely believing that I have been a part of helping people.” 

Horne believes his role as a manager and administrator allows him to serve a wider base than he could as a counselor. “I loved private practice and helping the people who came to my office. But in a place like Catholic Charities, I have the ability to help set up programs that help even more people. I can help tens of thousands instead of thousands, and train the next generation of clinicians. I get the best of both worlds.”

The biggest change in his routine since the pandemic began is that he’s spending more time in Fredericksburg and less time driving up and down I-95 to visit Catholic Charities’ 23 locations around the diocese. All client appointments are now by teleconference, using a secure HIPAA-compliant video platform that clients can access on computers or phones.  

Since everyone else is working from home lately, he can practice social distancing while still going to the office, which he said is “more normalizing for our kids. They say, ‘Daddy, you sure are wearing jeans a lot to the office lately.’ If that’s the biggest change they notice, I’m doing my job,” he added.

He makes a point to be home for dinner and help put the kids to bed, then puts in a couple more hours of work from home. It makes for 10- or 11-hour days, but “that’s the way I like it,” he said, recalling a homily he heard when he was first married in which the priest said living well means you fall into bed exhausted at night “from having loved as much as you possibly could.” 

That’s what motivates him with his wife, his kids, his staff and his clients, he said. “It’s a privilege to serve. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do whatever it takes to help.” 

Find out more

Catholic Charities clinicians work with a wide range of issues including anxiety, depression and trauma. To make a teletherapy appointment with a counselor, call 703/425-0109 or 540/371-1124 or visit http://ccda.net/need-help/medical-and-counseling/counseling/


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020