St. Raphael’s to host first annual Hope and Healing conference

Rocio Madera

For more than a decade, St. Raphael Counseling Center has worked hard to help thousands of people and restore families and parish communities through counseling and mental health services.

In this year of uncertainty, during which most of us have been impacted by the pandemic in one way or another, many people are experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression. In an effort to help, St. Raphael Counseling Center, in association with Dr. Michelle Connor Harris and St. Thomas More Parish, will host its first annual Hope and Healing Catholic Mental Health Conference, which will take place on Saturday, September 26 at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Englewood. This conference will explore everyday metal health issues and provide practical tools for stress reduction for teens, parents, and adults.

“Through the Hope and Healing conference I want to normalize the experience of mental health issues and help educate both teens and their parents so that they do not feel afraid when it comes to mental health,” said Dr. Michelle Connor Harris, Licensed Psychologist and Clinical Director at St. Raphael Counseling, to the Denver Catholic. “I also want people to leave this conference with tangible things they can do to help improve their mental health.”

The event will begin with Holy Mass and will be followed by mental health talks by guest speakers, many of which are professional counselors who work for St. Raphael’s. Dr. Connor Harris will be sharing the origins of mental illness, how it’s diagnosed, and how therapy can help. Dr. Jim Langley, Executive Director of St. Raphael Counseling, will address the need for Catholic therapy and how the spiritual and psychological aspects work collectively. Kate Johnson will discuss Stress Management for students and Kevin Cure will host a break-out session for parents to learn about how important a healthy marriage is to the mental health of the whole family. Katie Bardsley will lead participants in practicing relaxation exercises to help reduce anxiety and tension. The conference will also feature a special talk by Jo Holt, Director of Marriage and Family Life at St. Thomas More, and her daughter, Anna, who will share their experiences with depression, suicidal ideation, and mental health.

“We will discuss suicide and remember those we know who have died by suicide,” added Dr. Connor Harris. “This is probably the most difficult topic to address, but it is also extremely important that we have open communication about suicide. So many Catholic families in the Archdiocese of Denver have been impacted by suicide and we need to address it and use our faith to help us heal.”

Anyone ages 13 and up are invited to the Hope and Healing Catholic Mental Health Conference, completely free of charge. Due to social distancing requirements, space will be limited, therefore people are encouraged to register as soon as possible. The event will begin at 7:30 a.m. with the celebration of Holy Mass and will conclude at 2 p.m.

“Teens should bring their parents and parents should bring their teens – you don’t necessarily have to sit together!” Dr. Connor Harris concluded.

Founded in 2009, St. Raphael’s Counseling offers services, ranging from family and couples therapy, counseling services for depression issues, anxiety, addictions and other struggles. They also offer marriage preparation, psychological evaluations for seminary applicants, and counseling for priests and religious communities. The programs are focused on providing assistance to those most in need and religious affiliations. St. Raphael provides outreach and education through presentations and retreats that integrate psychology and spirituality.

Register for the First Annual Hope and Healing Catholic Mental Health Conference HERE.

For more information about St. Raphael Counseling services visit their website: www.straphaelcounseling.com

COMING UP: Resisting the stigma of mental illness

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Dr. Michelle Connor Harris serves as the Clinical Director for St. Raphael Counseling.

Imagine that you live in ancient Rome and you are feeling sad and hopeless.  The Colosseum holds no appeal, you have no desire to see your friends, and you just want to sleep.  Your physician diagnoses you with melancholia, known today as depression, which is a good start.  This diagnosis of melancholia is a more advanced understanding than the centuries-old belief that all mental illness is the result of evil spirits.

What Roman remedies are available? Your doctor might prescribe a program of vigorous exercise and playing games with your family, which sounds reasonable – maybe even pleasant – depending on your family.  This ancient physician may also prescribe shaving your head and rubbing it with herb-infused oils, which is less pleasant – especially if you’re a woman.  Following this guidance, everyone now knows you’ve got an “issue” because you’re walking around bald and smelling of juniper berries!  If these remedies fail, the alternatives are much less pleasant: expect to be chained up, starved and flogged.  Yikes!

Physicians continued to advocate restraining and starving patients into the modern age, despite many advances in the understanding of mental illness in the ancient world.  Unfortunately, this progress was significantly set back when Western Europe was devastated by famine and plague in the 14th and 15th centuries.  Significant religious and political upheavals resulted in a loss of intellectual capital that had been cultivated for hundreds of years.   Many authorities reverted to the belief that mental illness was caused by demonic possession.  People were “exorcised” with the winning combination of prayer and torture, sometimes resulting in death.

Many of these ideas, and the accompanying stigma, lingered and migrated with European settlers to the New World – and we have been playing catch-up ever since.

Now imagine that you feel those symptoms of melancholia today.  Would you talk to a doctor?  Would you tell your family or friends?  If you feel hesitant to talk to anyone about your experience, it is partly due to history and partly due to human nature.  We can thank our ancestors for creating fear that we might be prescribed extreme remedies like being tied up starved and beaten.  We can thank our human nature for the desire to fit in and the very visceral rejection of any sense of difference or abnormality.

People have a deep need to be accepted by those around them, beginning with our family.  If we are rejected by those who feed, house, and clothe us, we might not survive.  Humans are wired to please those around us to ensure our survival.  As parents, we want our children to fit in and be liked by teachers and peers, because we know how important it is to their survival out in the world.  The U.S. is a very competitive society that demands complex relationships and behaviors to remain successful. The thought that our children might struggle to be successful in that society can be very frightening to parents, especially when we fee ill-equipped to help them.

Fear is a powerful motivator.  In the case of getting help for mental illness, the fear of social stigma can leave us paralyzed and unwilling to act.

We can change that.  Mental illness is a fact of life and we are professionals who are here to help.  Those ancient remedies are long gone.  Let’s be thankful that we live in a time and place where mental health professionals no longer employ torture, but rather use empirically-based methods that always begin with talking.

At St. Raphael Counseling, we work at the intersection of the psychological and spiritual – with an in-depth knowledge and understanding of what it means to be Christian in an increasingly secular world.  We can help you find hope and healing.  Call us at 720-377-1359.

We also invite you to please join us for a special conference for parents and teens ages 13 and older on Sept. 26 at St. Thomas More parish.  We will share information about diagnosing mental illness, helpful tips for managing stress for students, and guidance for parents of teens.  We will also remember those who have died by suicide.  Go to our website at straphaelcounseling.com and hit the events tab at the top to register.  We look forward to seeing you there!