Online forum offers tools, self-help resources for coping during shutdown

Online forum offers tools, self-help resources for coping during shutdown

This is the logo for Souls and Hearts. Contributors draw from the psychological sciences to offer Catholics mental health education and information in an online format. (Credit: CNS photo/courtesy Souls and Hearts.)

Due to the coronavirus, the structures society once found comfort in have been shaken, and as time progresses with the end still nowhere in sight, people's resilience may be wavering.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Due to the coronavirus, the structures society once found comfort in have been shaken, and as time progresses with the end still nowhere in sight, people’s resilience may be wavering.

Right now, the challenge is overcoming the internal battles brought on by this global trauma, said two therapists on the team of Souls and Hearts, an online forum “developed to meet the needs of practicing Catholics who struggle with the everyday challenges of life.”

Bridging the gap between mental health as a spiritual issue and mental health as a secular issue can be difficult, and that is the goal of the forum.

Peter Malinoski, president and co-founder of Souls and Hearts and a clinical psychologist, defines conditions such as depression and anxiety not as disorders but symptoms of greater issues. Having good mental health, according to Malinoski, is “being well integrated.”

“That means that we know who we are and that we’re aware of what’s going on within us; that our emotions are connected to our thoughts, which are connected to how we experience our body,” said Malinoski in an interview with the Catholic News Service. As a practicing Catholic, Malinoski believes the disconnect will inevitably affect one’s relationship with God.

“There’s no sort of relational issue that a person has that’s not going to be reflected in some way in that person’s relationship with God. And so, by healing that, relational issue that that a particular person has, we then open up that person to be able to relate with God very differently.”

“As a Catholic, I’m particularly interested in the reality of us having God as a loving father (and) the Blessed Virgin Mary as a loving mother. I’m interested in being able to access our spiritual parents to help us with psychological issues that we have that maybe our biological parents, our earthly the parents, couldn’t help us with,” he said, giving context to the spiritual methods Souls and Hearts take to help their clients.

Gerry Crete, CEO and co-founder of Souls and Hearts, traces the “symptoms” he said people experience in a mental health crisis to trauma.

During the shutdown, both Crete and Malinoski have noticed an influx in the number of people seeking help. According to the Pew Research Center, 33 percent of Americans have reported experiencing high levels of stress during the period of extended social distancing. Among those, 45 percent said they were very concerned about becoming ill.

“Even people that didn’t previously have like health anxieties, per say, can’t help but be affected by something that’s happening on a national and global level,” said Crete.

Crete, a licensed marriage and family therapist, attributes that to the collective trauma the coronavirus has caused.

“It’s the same kind of thing like with 9/11,” Crete told CNS. “There’s collective uncertainty, collective anxiety that people absorb and have trouble resolving and figuring out what to do. And then that’s fueling their own personal issues, their own personal traumas in what might be going on with them,” Crete continued, explaining his “systemic” point of view when it comes to mental health.

“Yes, we were affected by our own internal processes, but we’re affected by everyone in our family. We’re affected by people in our community and are affected by the nation,” he told CNS, shedding light on why some may have had mental health issues surface in the last few months.

“The number one thing that I think people struggle with is insecurity. And it’s really exacerbated now with the whole coronavirus crisis that we find ourselves in, because the kinds of things that people trusted in, the kinds of things that they look for security with are being taken away,” said Malinoski. “That could mean your job. That could mean your investment portfolio, could be your health.”

Like Malinoski, Crete also is a practicing Catholic. For this reason, he explained that he strives to protect tenets of the faith while offering mental health tools, an approach strictly health care professionals might not have.

The programs on Souls and Hearts website that are rooted in Catholicism work to remedy these issues, including with one of its newest offerings– a free resource titled “A Catholic’s Guide to Self-Help.” Other free content is available at soulsandhearts.com along with three online pilgrimage courses, ranging in cost from $25 to $250.

“What I find the most satisfying is when these obstacles to connecting with God” are gone, there will be “experiencing peace,” said Malinoski. “Not as the world experiences it, but that deep, abiding peace; that kind of peace that the world can’t take away. When clients start to experience that, that’s when they really have security. That’s when their anxiety levels really go down.”

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