Story by Reagan Scott
(SNR) - Dr. Courtney Miller, clinical director for the Immaculate Heart of Mary Counseling Center (IHMCC) of Catholic Social Services, is seeking help in determining how the center can best serve the people of the Diocese of Lincoln.
All are invited to complete an online survey, whether or not they have received services from IHMCC in the past.
The survey, which is available online, includes questions to gauge satisfaction with services received in the past, as well as questions about people’s current needs and how IHMCC can meet those needs.
“We’re learning about the demographics of our clients and trying to gauge what new areas of services are needed,” Dr. Miller said.
Right now, Dr. Miller is working on finding ways to best provide services to parishes in western Nebraska and other remote areas through telehealth. Telehealth would allow IHMCC staff to have counseling sessions or consultations through a secure portal service.
The counseling center is also focusing on outreach, working with priests and schools to provide support for students and staff.
“We just want people to know that we are there for preventive and supportive services, not just crisis response,” Dr. Miller said. “We want people to access us as a resource along a continuum of care.”
The survey is being issued in response to a change of staff in the counseling center. Dr. Miller just took on the position of clinical director full-time. Dr. Kathryn Benes, who helped to start the Immaculate Heart of Mary Counseling Center in 1994, served as the interim director of the center since her return from the Archdiocese of Denver in 2016 and has now entered retirement.
When Father Joseph Walsh became the executive director of Catholic Social Services in 1991, the program had a small counseling service, but the Catholic faith hadn’t been integrated. Father Walsh wanted to create a diocesan-wide mental health program, and he asked for help from the only Catholic psychologist he knew—Dr. Benes.
“I thought it was a novel idea, but I had to pray about it a lot,” Dr. Benes said. “I would have to leave my private practice, and there weren’t many models on how to integrate the faith with psychology.”
In the end, Dr. Benes and her husband decided that she would spend two years trying to help the Diocese of Lincoln. After that, she could return to private practice.
Before doing anything, she wanted to spend four months traveling the diocese. The focus of the assessment surrounded two questions, “What do you need?” and “How can we help?”
“Parishioners were telling us their parish communities were falling apart,” Dr. Benes said. She also discovered that priests weren’t willing to reach out to Catholic Social Services for help. At the time, they believed the organization was too secular due to its receiving funding from the federal government.
As a result of her listening tour, Dr. Benes determined that the new counseling center would need to bring psychology to the service of the Church, and work to strengthen the ecclesial fabric of the Church within the Diocese of Lincoln.
“Everything we did needed to be Christ-centered, and it needed to be diocesan-wide,” she said.
What started out as a two-year commitment turned into a 12-year vocation.
“This kind of work requires the grace of God, and He calls us to serve Him and His Church, often without our initially realizing it,” Dr. Benes said. “It has truly been a gift from God.”
Thanks to her efforts, about 50 people have been trained to be mental health professionals. These individuals are able to bring Christ-centered healing to the people they serve. One of these individuals was Dr. Miller, who completed two internships through the doctoral internship program that Dr. Benes created in 2003.
One priest told Dr. Benes that before IHMCC was started, priests wouldn’t refer clients to Catholic Social Services for any problems that they were having. After one or two years, it was the first place that they would refer to. Now, it’s the only place they turn to when they need help.
“There’s no place doing what we’re doing,” Dr. Benes said. “Psychology being consistent with the teachings of the Church is critically important today.”
Now, Dr. Miller is looking forward to continuing the legacy that Dr. Benes started in serving the needs of the diocese.
Dr. Miller said, “I just want to be able to use psychology to meet the needs of the Church and serve the community in any way that we can through our counseling agency.”