Letter from the President: Have hope, not fear

Again today we hear of a tragic shooting at a school in Oregon. Recently, there have been officers killed in Canada and Las Vegas. We had a mass shooting in Santa Barbara. All this can lead us to wonder what in the world is going on? Why are people doing this, what is wrong? It can lead us to feel a kind of hopeleness and fear because it is so hard to understand. Yet, we know “We are saved by hope” (Romans 8:24). We need not fear, but cling to hope, the hope of Christ and the hope of good solid mental health therapy for those in need.

I don’t know about you; but I like the sound of that. So, I wanted to share with you an article written by one of our distinguished professors here at IPS, Dr. Stephen Hamel. Dr. Hamel outlines some of the underlying causes of these events and gives us hope that we can change the course. Please take a moment to read the article and pray. Pray for the healing in the lives that need it most and pray for them to have hope when they feel so alone ad desperate.

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By: Stephen Hamel, Ph.D.
The tragic shooting in Santa Barbara late last week resurfaced much debate over gun control and the mental health crisis in America. Pundits and critics are all over the media looking for reasons for these continuing tragedies and calling for a rapid response to a most complex issue confronting society.

Obviously there is no simple solution to these issues but a closer look at this proof of the crisis of mental health care in America and the significant and critical role of the family system is again in order and imperative. We know also that there is no single factor that can predict who might use weapons of deadly force in a given situation. Many experts can agree that gun violence is associated with a combination of critical risk factors involving the individual, family, school system, social groups and the community at large that incubate over childhood and adolescence, often undetected or certainly ignored. Thus, we know that individuals involved in these shootings frequently suffer from some aspect of mental illness. It would then be apparent that early identification of high-risk individuals could indeed mitigate these horrendous acts.

It is further known that there is a critical dearth of resources in mental health in America. Actually increases in emergency room visits due to a mental health issue have increased significantly often suggesting the failure of the current mental health system. Statistically, one in four Americans suffer from some type of diagnosable mental health disorder and that about 10 percent of American school children have a serious mental or emotional disorder.

Frequently those involved in these egregious acts often have an unhappy childhood and a most alienating adolescence. Poor experiences in the social domain along with perhaps bullying, poor social skills, and feeling social ostracized added to already strong feelings of loneliness, alienation and anger. Thus, having low self-esteem and feelings of being excluded and unloved, when unchecked, can manifest in internal psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, rage or external demonstrations as in violence.

Further, it is more common to see children to young adults having an “entitlement mentality’ that is fueled from a variety of sources. Oftentimes it is unwittingly enabled or reinforced by unsuspecting parents who give the individual material things or their own way on a regular basis. Perhaps it is the parents’ attempt of communicating love or a way of quelling a problem. Frequently this entitlement is a manifestation of a narcissism that is actually a defense against significant negative feelings about self. Thus, this narcissistic orientation is actually a way for the individual to keep himself from these negative feelings.

It can also be proffered that these tragic instances of shootings is a crude attempt to create attention from an individual who feels this alienation and feeling overlooked and marginalized. In this horrendous way, the individual may feel that they can finally be heard and recognized and have the esteem they desperately crave.

Solutions to these and other serious problems are never easy and with the high degree of emotionality many wish to have immediate results. It appears clear that this is a systemic issue and will require the participation of all sectors of our society: family, schools, community, religious institutions, government-supported programs, a refocusing of our already inadequate mental health resources and the media.

First, the media is a critical component that can be utilized to perhaps work toward the curtailing of these horrendous but high profile mass killings. We are all interested in the news and utilize all digital media to access information 24 hours a day around the world. One merely needs to go to any reputable news website and find out literally up to the minute news of the weather, national and international headlines, and literally all that is going on around the world. Mass killings, airline disasters, and other dramatic stories are aired constantly on all sites with replaying of the disasters repetitively. It can be construed that the repetition actually rewards the individual for these acts as, in a way, it has helped him reach his goal. It is further thought by some that the notoriety and repetitive display of these acts actually are seeds for and a reinforcement of the thoughts of the next perpetrator. Interestingly, a study of the 1984 Vienna subway bombing revealed that the number of copy-cat subway bombings actually decreased by about 75% after the media minimized their coverage and details of these bombings. Perhaps media can review this data and work to minimize the sensationalism of these acts and hopefully work toward reducing them.

We need to work harder in viewing the individual as part of a “family system.” The family is the emotional unit and interconnected. Thus, individuals cannot be totally understood in isolation from the system (family). Individuals that suffer from mental illness need the family to be an important component in understanding the etiology of the problems but be part of the solution. Psychological treatment can, oftentimes, be extremely important in working with individuals in identifying risk issues, encouraging continued treatment with the therapist both individually and with the family, as compliance to medication when appropriate. Individuals who are inconsistent in treatment and compliance to medication regimens are at high risk for an exacerbation of the problem. Here at IPS (The Institute for the Psychological Sciences), we are committed to a Catholic understanding of the person and family and feel deeply that the work with this system encourages individual and family flourishing.

We need to work with more Compassioned Focused Therapies certainly at early ages. We find that developing greater orientation and skills for kindness toward others results in a greater degree for kindness for oneself. Thus, individuals who practice CFT report less suffering and a greater joy for life.

Pragmatically we need to have greater means for Behavioral Threat Assessments. Prevention is certainly the best policy and early identification for high-risk individuals is paramount. This prevention model spans the developmental ages from early childhood in an effort to assist parents in the growth of emotionally healthy children. Early identification and intervention with high-risk children may result in a short-circuiting of potentially dangerous consequences.

Police and other emergency personnel need greater training in “mental health first aid” and in identifying high-risk situations. A more thorough training in interview techniques and analysis of the crisis with regard to identifying mental health issues is necessary. More formal training in aspects of psychopathology and clinical interviewing skills seem most warranted.

Lastly, a review and overhaul of our wholly inadequate mental health access for treatment. Greater access for mental health services on a timely basis appears imperative, certainly for the general population as well as the recently spotlighted Veterans population.

IPS is proud to train the next generation of Catholic psychologists as well as provide comprehensive mental health services to the community based on the scientific study of psychology on a Catholic understanding of the person, marriage and the family.

People need healing. We all need healing – we all need hope. Christ is our healer. Christ is our hope.

Please help our students help others. Wishing you a truly blessed and enjoyable summer!

Father Charles Sikorsky, LC, JD

IPS President