Mental health services complement academic, faith formation

St. Raphael Counseling enriches holistic formation offered at Catholic schools

Roxanne King

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: The shock of forgiveness

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Every so often, the media will pick up a story that serves as a potent reminder of what it means to be a Christian. That’s because living as a Christian in today’s post-Christian society is an unusual way of living, contrary to what the rest of society might say about it. It is not “outdated.” It is not “irrelevant.” It is radical, countercultural and, to some, even incomprehensible.

On Oct. 2, the trial of Amber Guyger came to a close. Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, was charged with the murder of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old man who lived in the same apartment complex as Guyger. On Sept. 6, 2018, she walked into Jean’s apartment, thinking it was hers, saw Jean sitting there on the couch, and after giving verbal commands, shot him twice, killing him. It was an absolute tragedy and played into the ongoing national conversation about police behavior toward people of color (Guyger is white; Jean is black).

What I want to focus on is a particular moment that came at the end of Guyger’s trial, after she had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Jean’s younger brother Brandt took to the witness stand to address his brother’s killer directly. He wasn’t planning on saying anything during the trial but changed his mind at the last minute. A prompting of the Holy Spirit? I think yes, based on what happened next.

“I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things you may have done in the past,” Brandt told Guyger. “If you are truly sorry … I forgive you. If you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.” He continued, “I’m not going to say I hope you die … I personally want the best for you … I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want … and the best would be: give your life to Christ. Giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.”

But it didn’t stop there. Brandt was bold enough to ask the judge if he had permission to give Guyger a hug. He was granted it, and they embraced for over a minute, Guyger weeping into Brandt’s shoulder, just as some of us might do were we to be embraced by Christ.

Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement to her in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. Guyger has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her black neighbor in his apartment, which she said she mistook for her own unit one floor below. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Brandt has every reason to hate Guyger. This woman gunned down his innocent brother who had his whole life ahead of him and was given a lighter sentence than what she originally faced. Those in the courtroom and watching on TV wouldn’t have been shocked to hear Brandt tell Guyger that he hopes she rots in hell. No, the shock from those in the courtroom – and subsequently, the rest of the nation – came when Brandt did the exact opposite.

With those words and the simple act of embracing his brother’s killer, Brandt gave the world an incredible witness to the forgiveness Christ calls us to live as Christians. Of course, you can count on the bickering voices of social media and pundits to take this powerful moment and exploit it for their own agenda, but that’s because many of them don’t understand. It is not normal in our culture to forgive. It is also not easy. And that’s what makes witnessing something like this so shocking. It was not supposed to happen, but it did. It defied every expectation. Make no mistake about it: Brandt was living his call to be more like Christ in that moment. And it is exactly this moment – this shocking moment – that we are able to get a glimpse of what it is to be a Christian.

Following Jesus does make for quite a shock. And it is that shock that we are called to bring to the rest of the world, just as Brandt Jean did.