The bright sun and the sunset forest white dove and the holy cross of Jesus Christ symbolize death and resurrection. (GettyImages.com)
Catholic Herald staff
Writer’s note: This piece covers the interplay of psychology and Catholic spirituality in the process of personal healing and conversion. Two specific resources – Dr. Bob Schuchts’ “Healing the Whole Person” ministry with the John Paul II Healing Center and Neal Lozano’s “Unbound” program with Heart of the Father Ministries – will be featured.
In his 2023 Lenten message, Pope Francis reflects on the Gospel passage of the Transfiguration.
“During this liturgical season,” he said, “the Lord takes us with him to a place apart… during Lent we are invited to ascend ‘a high mountain’ in the company of Jesus and to live a particular experience of spiritual discipline as God’s holy people.”
The Holy Father described Lenten penance as “a commitment, sustained by grace, to overcoming our lack of faith and our resistance to following Jesus on the way of the cross. This is precisely what Peter and the other disciples needed to do.
“To deepen our knowledge of the Master, to fully understand and embrace the mystery of his salvation, accomplished in total self-giving inspired by love, we must allow ourselves to be taken aside by him and to detach ourselves from mediocrity and vanity. We need to set out on the journey, an uphill path that, like a mountain trek, requires effort, sacrifice and concentration.”
Loree Nauertz, associate director of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship for the Diocese of Superior, and Aaron Hendricks, former business manager for the Rice Lake area clustered parishes and currently in a supervised internship as a trauma therapist with Randall Therapies in Rice Lake, discussed the efforts and resources needed to ascend the ‘high mountain’ of which the pope speaks.
Both have participated in Dr. Bob Schuchts’ “Healing the Whole Person” weekend retreat. Hendricks and his wife, Danielle, are also very familiar with “Unbound” and Neal Lozano’s approach to healing and spiritual deliverance. Both programs have been well received in Catholic circles in recent years as channels of God’s healing and grace. Both also acknowledge the reality of healing and deliverance as ongoing processes that last a lifetime, while some stages might be more intense than others.
“Lent is a good time to hear John Paull II’s call to ‘Be Not Afraid’,” Nauertz said. “We don’t get to Easter without Good Friday, but it’s not all about the cross.” Jesus came to die, yes, but more so to rise again, “and to bring us the fullness of life.”
“Let Christ in and allow him to give himself and his healing,” she iterated.
Some might question how to reconcile Jesus’ commands, “Take up your cross and follow me” and “be healed.” It is a matter, Nauertz reflected, of learning how to move through the crucifixion to reach the resurrection.
“I find it so comforting to know that we have a God who entered into suffering himself,” Nauertz said. “He is constantly offering healing, but the results depend on our personal faith and desire.”
A correct understanding of healing encompasses the process of personal growth and integration that brings any person into greater peace with themselves, God and the difficult circumstances of their life, and opens to the door to richer, more authentic relationships.
Nauertz said that the term “healing” might trigger a defensive reaction in people, because “that implies that there is something wrong with me. That I need work, and pride and vanity can get in the way.”
Distinct from a rite of exorcism, deliverance deals with addressing wounds through which the enemy has entered and sowed lies, leading to unhealthy patterns of behavior. Nauertz said this concept of needing deliverance might seem less threatening, “because it relates to some elements outside of myself.”
For Hendricks, who is studying under Dr. John Klem in the Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program through UW-Stout, healing is all about holiness and that includes being freed from anything that keeps us from union with God, especially in our internal worlds that drive so much of our action.
This understanding of healing also includes the bodily consequences that modern psychology recognizes are deeply connected to trauma and wounding experiences. True to the Catholic understanding of human as body and soul, therapies have become more integrative in their approach.
Responding to the question of why would someone seek healing, Hendricks expounded on the Protestant notion of salvation in contrast to Catholicism’s understanding of redemption. He delineated two goals – from Protestant theology, where the goal is salvation in the next life, to Catholic theology, which presents the ideal of union with God in this one.
One mindset is, “When I die I get to go to heaven,” and that motivates Protestants (and many Catholics with this misaligned understanding) to work at rooting out sin, waiting life out in this valley of tears.
The other sees healing as an imperative, “because we can only give the love we receive,” contextualized by the mindset of seeking holiness, true divinization, “that I become the person of Christ in the world today.”
Psychology offers catharsis and corrective thinking – both which have their place.
Catholicism offers a path to restore relationships, with God, oneself, others and even things, in the way we use them.
The brain, he explained, is the organ that thinks, the heart is the organ the loves. “You can only give the love you receive,” he said, “and this is where psychology and spirituality meet, because you can only receive love with a healed heart.”
“If your goal in life,” he said, “is just to get your foot in the door, then honestly, you’re not going to pursue any of this. But if your goal is holiness and Christ-likeness then healing is essential. If we’re going to love, we need to heal our hearts.”
Hendricks confirmed, “All of us have been through heartbreak. Call it wounds or whatever you want, but our hearts hurt and we don’t know that we’re lovable. When we finally encounter that we are lovable,” he emphasized, “we see that everyone is lovable. And it changes everything.”
Original sin, Hendricks said, is the first “trauma we go through.” That is the moment humanity’s hearts were broken, and God sent Jesus into human history to reveal the Father’s love, to heal our hearts and to, through our own healing, enter into communion and relationships of love with others.
“Our fundamental longing is to be embraced by the Trinity and we are born into a world where that is ruptured – our most basic desire is not being met.
“Psychology says you’re suffering because your fundamental needs are not being met. Catholicism is saying the same thing – offering as the answer communion with the Trinity,” here and now.
Here enters the work of men like Dr. Bob Schuchts and Neal Lozano. Facing the apparent at-odds between spirituality and psychology regarding what do to with these wounds, ministries like John Paul II Healing Center and Heart of the Father Ministries show, Hendricks said, “that the two go hand-in-hand.”
“You do need to go back into that wound,” he said, clarifying that it’s not just to talk about it, “but so that it can be opened up to the Father’s love.”
“Counseling,” Hendricks said, “is born in imitation of the healing God offers… People think it’s going to hurt and be hard. Yes, there is discomfort, but it’s also been said that God takes nothing from us and gives everything in return.”
We’re terrified, he added, that if we turn to God we’ll lose ourselves. Modern psychology seems to say that turning towards and actualizing ‘the self’ is the path to peace.
Hendricks offered a brief summary of that history, with particular attention given to the resistance to counseling and healing ministries experienced by many, especially those who have strong faith and value virtues like hard work, self-sufficiency and acceptance.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, counseling psychology schools of thought (like Freud ) focused on catharsis – releasing the negative feelings inside to feel better. Hendricks said that elements of the Charismatic Renewal paired with that – a total dependence on the Holy Spirit to carry out God’s action and seeking to experience the gifts of the Spirit sometimes confused with strong emotions.
In particular for men, he shared, they feel like “that’s just not me.” They ask themselves what’s going on, “why does this feel like my wife’s book club where they don’t actually read the book but sit around and still cry about how beautiful the story was.”
In response to the amount of attention given to feelings and immediate experience, the 1980s-1990s swung towards the dominance of the cerebral. “If you just think differently, you’ll live differently.” The setting aside of emotions and human experience in light of intellectualism can even be seen in Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
“If guys just understood Theology of the Body enough,” Hendricks restated this thought process, “they would never masturbate or look at pornography. Twenty years later, and we’re still struggling to get it,” he said. “There’s a lot of false opposition between psychology and spiritual healing – they have always moved back and forth like a married couple,” Hendricks drew a parallel. “The fullness of truth has both.”
Seeing the value in Carl Rogers’ approach, Hendricks stated, “Our wounds are relational and therefore our healing must be relational.
“The reality is that modern counseling is fundamentally based in St. Paul’s theology laid out in Corinthians. The idea that God became man… breathing and walking like us,” shows that we’re not trying to access some distant, foreign being.
St. Paul takes it one step further, instructing listeners, “Be imitators of me as I am of Jesus Christ.” Henricks explained, “He now says that our access to Christ isn’t through abstract spirituality, it’s with other Christians.”
He shared how in his classes at UW-Stout, Dr. Klem – who is not a priest or a preacher – tells every class that they’re wrong in thinking the counseling profession was invented by Freud and Rogers in the early-20th century.
“This is the New Testament… We’ve been doing the same thing for 2,000 years,” Hendricks said, then mapped out the process as akin to the steps of sacramental confession.
First, a wound is caused by sin. Second, you confess; in other words, go to someone who can give you access to healing. Then you repent, a step he related to cognitive behavioral therapy where new behaviors are worked toward. After that, the step of being given direction is like receiving a penance to establish new ways of living.
“Then,” Hendricks concluded, “you let go of all the yucky emotions tied to those negative behaviors which is catharsis in psychology or forgiveness in Christianity.”
Both Dr. Schuchts and Lozano have elements of this same process woven in their approaches to healing and deliverance. There needs to be acknowledgement of where repentance is needed; renouncing of lies and harmful vows stemming from wounds, forgiveness or others and a turning towards the unconditional love of God the Father throughout.
Hendricks has learned through his studies that there are three principal roots of maladaptive behaviors, as promulgated by Aaron Beck, the founder of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. They are, “That we believe we’re unlovable, we’re worthless or we’re inadequate.”
He clarified that he believes all three work together, and so, “Every singles session, every hour with every person I work with, I am showing three things: You are loved. You are worth dying for. And because of that grace, whether you know it or not, you are capable of redemption and fullness.”
“Fullness” is a word Hendricks he uses to describe his own personal experiences of healing and deliverance.
“Counseling is rooted in Christian truth: confess, repent, pursue virtue; all through a healing relationship with a person who is acting as the presence of Christ for you. However, without the revelation of Christ’s love, all this is incomplete. It is one thing to know that your life has a purpose and that you are loved. It is another to encounter a God who created for you an irreplaceable role in his plan. To encounter a God who knows all you good and bad and loves you unconditionally.
“A therapist can mirror much of this, but fullness is found in Christ,” he asserted. “And it doesn’t matter how much insight and formation someone has. They can bring wounds to the surface, but it is only when we experience ourselves as loved, by God and others, that the healing begins.”
Hendricks reflected on “the happy fault” (felix culpa) sung about in the Easter Vigil Mass’s Exsultet, the proclamation of Easter: “It is by his wounds we were healed… and our wounds set us free and can become a source of healing for others.
“We’re not just trying to get back to Adam and Eve in the garden. We are moving towards a better version of humanity in communion with God that ever could have been achieved in Eden.”
Healing the Whole Person
From more of the deliverance standpoint, Nauertz shared some of her personal experience at a Healing the Whole Person weekend event with Dr. Bob Schuchts.
She was very surprised what God revealed to her. She acknowledged there was a certain wound from her teen years that she thought she had dealt with. She had already forgiven the person who had wounded her, but through the talks and reflection times, she realized a lie had been attached to it.
“At the time, I didn’t think it was a big revelation, but when I went home and saw how that lie was affecting my relationship with my husband, and months later how it affected my relationship with God, it was incredibly eye-opening.”
Grateful that her husband was able to listen attentively, she is continuing to work through it all at a deeper level, “But praise be to God, I know he is gentle and merciful and he will only reveal things to me that he knows I am ready for.”
Nauertz’s husband Al also attended the weekend. While they have been married for 27 years and rely on the grace of their sacrament and live it out as best they can, she shared, “The conference opened our eyes to the healing that God wants to do in our marriage. Healing we weren’t even fully aware that we needed.
“It is challenging, but it is so good,” she affirmed, adding that since attending, they have had some of the most open and honest conversations of their entire marriage.
Freedom – internal and external – is a fruit and confirmation that healing is taking place.
Nauertz noted how the process they have been going through has opened up conversations with their children they never would have imagined. They can openly discuss and show their willingness to listen to ways they might have inadvertently inflicted wounds on their children. Nauertz noted they make fun of this sometimes but are learning and witnessing their parents’ openness to listening and seeking reconciliation in their home.
Friends and family members of Nauertz’s who also attended Healing the Whole Person have been amazed at the difference it is making in their lives.
“Remarkable” healing as she described the healing taking place in marriages and parent-child relationships.
“All of them acknowledge it’s hard work, but they also have this understanding that this is a process and the Lord is incredibly patient with us. The freedom it brings is so worth it,” Nauertz affirmed.
Danielle Hendricks, Aaron’s wife, has been involved with Unbound and Heart of the Father Ministries, even being trained to offer healing and prayer ministry.
“One key aspect towards lasting healing through “Unbound” or any healing ministry,” she said, “is that the first step and desire for healing comes from the participant. Ministry and prayer for any particular person will not provide healing without their commitment to make regular habitual change in their lives.”
She believes this to be the reason that counseling and prayer ministry can partner so well, “because counseling can offer those lasting opportunities of healing and the prayer can create a space for the Holy Spirit to be present and work.”
Hendricks also believes that while prayer is very valuable, “without lasting habits of virtue, participants will continue to see wounds fester and vices continue… We need to be taught, and to teach, how to open our hearts to the love and ministering of God in our lives” – as individuals and families.
“I do truly believe that God can work miracles when we are open to them, but I also believe that God gives us people to walk with us through suffering and healing,” Hendricks concluded.
Psychology and spirituality
While there are many parallels and psychology can partner with spirituality and faith, Aaron Hendricks made very clear that as a trained counselor, his job is not a catechetical one. He is there to “help each person – who is the expert in themselves – know and be the best version of themselves.” That said, he added that being a counselor who is Catholic does inform how he sees in each client the image of God, destined to find the fullness of life, but his means are different than a spiritual guide or teacher.
He stated that if someone desiring growth in holiness has a spiritual director who doesn’t look at early childhood wounds, “and how that shapes your needs and thoughts, you’re not going to get healing from your sin. And if you’re going to a therapist who doesn’t think that redemption can actually divinize you and lead you to the fullness of life – you’re not wrong, you’re just coming up short.”
Hendricks’ trajectory into the mental health field was personal – both from personal experiences of grace, redemption and the need for continued healing through psychology and spirituality. It was also a seed that had been planted decades earlier in watching his own father – a dentist who received a respected service award from his alma mater, Marquette University – who his son saw as an example of “finding himself in giving himself.”
He saw in his dad a witness of a strong man being both a leader and a helper, and although Hendricks resisted to call to the mental health profession for many years, it wasn’t for lack of interest. It was more that he couldn’t relate to many male counselors or therapists he had met.
Meeting Dr. John Klem was a turning point that put him back in touch with the desire to help by seeing it paired with strong leadership and gentle strength. Hendricks primarily deals with court-ordered clients in Barron County, but the men who have mentored him and his foundational faith motivate him to see his work as a real mission.
Addressing once more the practical elements of how to foster a desire for healing in growth, Hendricks said, “If you want to show someone that healing is attractive, pursue holiness: “Holy people are happy people. They are fulfilled people.”
Nauertz added, “Wherever you are in your journey, first and foremost, read Scripture and receive the sacraments. When you encounter Christ there, he can open your heart, help you get to know him and experience his mercy.”
Hendricks echoed that, saying, “If you’re not ready for counseling, then confession is really where it starts.”
The sacramental grace of confession and the Eucharist are both key elements of Dr. Schuchts and Lozano’s ministries. Nauertz noted the many resources they offer and variety of programs, books and podcasts. She added that there are other faithful groups offering similar methods and tools.
She observed the importance of friendship and mutual mentorship, especially when so much of the healing that is needed people experience in family relationships. Besides advocating strongly for frequent reception of the sacraments, she feels that good support systems are irreplaceable.
Concluding his Lenten message, Pope Francis talks about the need to listen to Jesus. He says Jesus speaks in the word of God, and he speaks to us through others, especially those in need. He noted that Jesus brought disciples together up the mountain at the Transfiguration: “The light that Jesus shows the disciples is an anticipation of Easter glory, and that must be the goal of our own journey, as we follow ‘him alone.’
“Lent leads us to Easter: the ‘retreat’ is not an end in itself, but a means of preparing us to experience the Lord’s passion and cross with faith, hope and love, and thus to arrive at the resurrection.”
He ended, “Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit inspire and sustain us this Lent in our ascent with Jesus, so that we may experience his divine splendor and thus, confirmed in faith, persevere in our journey together with him, glory of his people and light of the nations.”