The Catholic psychologists at Divine Mercy University answer your questions
William McKenna, M.S:
“No moment can be wasted. No opportunity missed. Since each has a purpose in man’s life. Each has a purpose in God’s plan. … One of the greatest things you can give someone, especially as a psychologist, is to be fully present. Listening to them is a gift of your time, attention, and love. And love is at the center of it all.”
I had the great pleasure of sharing the invitation of the author of the above quote, president of my alma mater Belmont Abbey College, Dr. William Thierfelder, to address this year’s graduates at Divine Mercy University’s 2016 Commencement Exercises. I have known Dr. Thierfelder for seven years and had the pleasure of working with him for one of those. One of my fondest memories of him was after opening night of my first college theatre performance. Dr. Thierfelder had brought two dozen donuts for the cast after the show and made it a point to congratulate each cast and crew member for how well they represented Belmont Abbey. I was stunned when a few months later, Dr. Thierfelder said hello to me on campus and remembered my name. This man was clearly very busy, not to mention much more important than myself, yet he took the time to make each student feel as if he or she were the most important person in the world when speaking with him or her. Such a man really lives out his credo to be fully present with everyone, and this credo has left a significant mark on me even seven years later.
In a time where we are filled with noise and distractions, it can be quite difficult to remain present with people. So often I hear people lament the passing of the “olden days” when we sought to actually know each other instead of turning in on ourselves with technology. In truth, this issue of decreased intimacy has been around for some time. We saw it with the decline of authentic sexual intimacy during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, and again with the breakdown of the family in the 1970s, with the rise of individuals substituting family for something else. In both cases, mankind’s most sacred and natural institution, the family, was attacked. These attacks slowly chipped away at us as a society and brought about the position we find ourselves in at present. What is the solution to this problem? Simply put: to be present with people who are immediately in your life, and thus actualize ourselves as human beings since man cannot, in the words of the Second Vatican Council’s document Gaudium et Spes, “fully find himself except through a sincere gift (my emphasis) of himself (n. 24).” If we all focus on those whom God has put in our lives and seek to have a genuine encounter with them (whether that be the patient in my office or the person I met while standing in line for coffee), then the world really will change for the better.
Time and again, research indicates that the most curative factor in therapy is the relationship between the therapist and the patient. Why is this? While I could go on about the how stable and healthy interpersonal relationships greatly assist in brain development and continued health, it seems to me that the relationship formed within therapy (or between friends) answers the existential longings of each human being to be seen and heard. Yes, each of us deeply desires the empathic gaze of another and the kind word of a trusted friend. This is why Adam cried out upon seeing Eve, “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (Gn. 2:23).”
William T. McKenna, M.S. is a Pre-Doctoral Resident in Clinical Psychology at Catholic Charities with the Diocese of Arlington. He recently completed his coursework for his doctorate at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. Divine Mercy University offers graduate programs in psychology and counseling, both online and onsite in the greater Washington, DC area.
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