Mental health services complement academic, faith formation

St. Raphael Counseling enriches holistic formation offered at Catholic schools

How Dick or Jane learn, behave or handle their emotions can point to mental disorders, with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and behavior disorders being the most common diagnosed, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The 2013 study found that 1 in 6 U.S. children aged 2 to 8 years (17.4 percent) had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. It also shows that diagnoses of depression and anxiety are more common with increased age, and behavior problems are more common among children aged 6 to 11 years.

Most sobering? In the same report, suicide was the second leading cause of death among adolescents aged 12 to 17.

The encouraging news is that early diagnosis of mental health disorders and appropriate services can make a difference. In Catholic schools of the Denver Archdiocese, a team of six counselors from Catholic Charities’ St. Raphael Counseling work with students and staff in nine elementary/middle schools located in Broomfield, Welby, central and inner-city Denver, Boulder, Aurora and Lakewood.

“Each week our team is providing over 120 direct service hours to kids in Catholic schools,” said Jim Langley, a licensed clinical psychologist who is co-founder and executive director of St. Raphael Counseling. “They serve hundreds of kids a year.”

In addition to providing counseling, the mental health professionals help identify learning disorders. Once a psychologist makes a diagnosis, in partnership with school staff and parents, the counselors tailor an action plan to effectively meet the child’s educational needs.

“They also do consultation with teachers on a variety of topics: classroom management, how to meet the emotional needs of kids in the classroom and how to work with families,” Langley said.

Outreach efforts include hosting parent nights for Catholic schools addressing topics ranging from how to manage screen time at home to how to manage homework and set a good evening routine.

“Another thing we’re involved with is when a threat assessment is deemed necessary,” Langley said. “We help perform the psychological assessment and advise the school on how to respond if a kid is bullying somebody and maybe makes a threat. We assess the severity of the threat and figure out the best way to respond.”

Superintendent of Catholic Schools Elias Moo has worked with the archdiocesan team both in his current position and in his previous roles as a principal and teacher.

“They are a tremendous blessing for the community,” Moo said. “These days we see a lot of mental health-related issues that come up and impact the learning experience of students.

“One of the most important aims of the Catholic schools is to tend to the formation of the whole child: their intellectual faculties, soul, body and emotions—the heart. Having mental health support through St. Raphael where a counselor approaches through an authentic Catholic anthropology and understanding of the human person is great.”

The majority of youths today, 8 out of 10, Langley said, will experience some type of mental health issue, such as bullying, academic struggles, anxiety, low self-esteem or family issues.

“Most kids have experienced some of that in their childhood,” he said. “We often assume kids are resilient and these things don’t affect them that much. That’s not true, they are greatly affected.”

Noting that Colorado’s teen suicide rate continues to increase—it is nearly twice the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—Langley said there is a clear need to be able to provide mental health services for youths.

“Our counselors are really focused on helping kids recognize their God-given dignity,” Langley said. “The worldly way of looking at life … teaches that your worth is something that has to be earned and that the way you can tell you’re valued is by the feedback you get from your peers.

“Our counselors help them understand their sense of worth and their dignity in the Lord and help them to make choices based on that dignity. It’s an awesome message to give kids at such a young age.”

Moo affirmed that foundational Catholic belief.

“We’re not immune to anything but we are an educational community of faith and every child is being reminded constantly that they are loved by God and that they are sons and daughters of God,” he said. “When it comes to topics like depression, how to prevent suicide and terrible acts of violence, youths can lose hope and forget they have someone who loves them. The Catholic schools have a message of hope and love to transmit rooted in our faith and in our Lord.”

Moo and Langley both expressed a desire to see counselors made available at all Catholic schools that want one (there are 36 diocesan schools, according to the Office of Catholic School’s website). Currently, counselors’ salaries are covered jointly between the school and Catholic Charities.

“If you have kids in a Catholic school that doesn’t have a counselor, advocate with the school for getting one,” Langley advised. “Many principals see the value in it.”

“There are no concrete plans, but we are committed to doing what we can,” Moo said.

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”