Faith and psychology

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For Michael Horne, what began as a career in the entertainment industry has turned into a life caring for those in need of mental health services. As the program director for Catholic Charities in Fredericksburg, Horne now spends his days counseling people with depression, stress, addictions or marital problems in one of the most underserved communities in the state.

Horne, a parishioner of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg, was born in New Orleans in 1978, but spent his youth moving around the world before settling in Texas while in high school. As a young adult, Horne began to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. He studied radio, television and film at the University of Texas and he spent several years dabbling in acting, writing, directing and production as an audio technician for PBS in Houston.

After a few years, Horne realized that although his job was interesting, it was not fulfilling.

"I really just didn't feel that God was calling me to be there," he said. "Entertaining people is good, but is it really helping people?"

At the same time, Horne was experiencing a spiritual reversion, returning to the Catholic faith he had left behind as a young adult.

"I was just realizing that there was something more than what was being put forth as good and goals in life, and recognizing that those things weren't totally fulfilling," Horne said. "From there, I started to develop a better understanding of the faith and what that said about people and their dignity."

Though he had only taken one psychology class in high school, Horne felt drawn to the idea of working with kids as a child psychologist. To explore that option, he enrolled in the Institute of Psychological Sciences (IPS) in Arlington in 2002.

While pursuing his doctorate, Horne taught troubled students in Washington and spent his residency year working with Catholic Social Services in Lincoln, Neb. For his dissertation, Horne wrote about the effects of video games on compassion.

While at IPS, Horne also met Kara. They married in 2007 and now have two children, Liam and Maeve.

After completing his doctorate in 2009, Horne worked for a year at a Christian counseling service and spent time working at the Alpha Omega Clinic, a counseling service that integrates psychology with the Catholic faith. He has been at Catholic Charities since 2012 and he enjoys working at a place where his faith is on the forefront.

"I didn't plan on working at a Catholic clinic, but it seemed like such a natural fit," Horne said. "My time (with Catholic Social Services) in Lincoln really showed me how important it is to work at a place where the faith is right out front and everything that says to people. The idea that we see people as having an innate dignity and the capacity to flourish and become what it is that God calls them to be, I think that really matters."

Today, Horne's clients include children, teenagers, adults and married couples struggling with all varieties of mental health problems. Approximately 40 percent of the people Catholic Charities serves identify as something other than Catholic, he said.

"We want to serve the needs of the community and meet them where they are," Horne said. "We often say that we serve people because we're Catholic, not just because they have to be. We want to go out there and do what we can for the poor in mind, body and spirit."

As program director, Horne enjoys working as a manager and networking with other Catholic charities agencies and local nonprofits. He has learned how great the need is for mental health services is in Fredericksburg.

"They have the highest rate of mental health hospitalizations in the state," Horne said. "There's a real need and being able to collaborate with other agencies here to address that need is something I'm honored to be a part of."

Though his job is challenging and there's always more to be done, Horne says it is wonderful to know that he is helping bring people closer to the lives God wants them to have. He sees his job as an extension of his faith.

"Practicing my faith makes me a better psychologist and being a psychologist gives me a better understanding of my faith," Horne said. "It's the idea of seeing people, not just as the world sees them, but as God sees them."

Horne believes it's important for psychologists to understand their clients' faith backgrounds.

"For a long time, psychology didn't do a very good job of understanding where people were coming from, from a faith perspective," Horne said. "I think within the past 15 to 20 years, psychology had one of the highest rates of nonpracticing (of any faith) practitioners. Places like IPS and Catholic Charities are trying to shift that perspective. … When it is grounded in the teaching of the church, psychology can be tremendously effective and is able to meet people where they are."

In the years to come, Horne hopes to help Catholic Charities open more clinics in Stafford and Colonial Beach, while strengthening their connections with parishes throughout the diocese. In the meantime, he is just happy to have finally found the fulfillment he was looking for as a young adult.

"If you'd asked me 15 years ago where I thought I was going to be, this wouldn't have been in the top five answers, but if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans," he said. "I've tried to go along with what He wants and I'm delighted to be here. I couldn't imagine being in any other field."

For others searching for fulfillment, Horne suggests they remain hopeful and open to what God is telling them to do. He remembers an expression from a priest friend - "God gives the gift of faith and the gift of understanding and He rarely gives both of them to us at the same time."

"Sometimes things that may seem like doors closing may be the absolute best things for you because it means that there's something else, some other path," Horne said. "Keep having the faith, having that willingness to give your own fiat and knowing that God's going to lead you where you need to be."

Bahr can be reached on Twitter@KBahrACH.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013