Melissa Guzik is the founding president of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association of Canada.


Melissa Guzik is the founding president of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association of Canada.

May 13, 2013

The people best equipped to support Catholic families in their struggles with mental health "are Catholic psychologists who are practising in faithfulness to the best aspects of their science and the teachings of the Church."

That was part of the message Dr. Theresa Zolner, a clinical researcher and professor of psychology at The King's University College, brought to the inaugural conference of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association of Canada.

In supporting Catholic psychologists, we can care for Catholic families in new ways and use the gifts of the social sciences to give glory to God, Zolner said.

"Psychologists can help Catholic families if they are knowledgeable in the Catholic faith and respect Catholic teachings."

Zolner was one of several mental health professionals who addressed the first conference of the new Catholic Psychotherapy Association of Canada (CPAC).

Nearly 40 Catholic psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health therapists, nurses and social workers from several parts of Canada gathered at Newman Theological College in Edmonton May 3-4 to hear presentations on psychotherapy in the context of the family, seminary formation and pornography addiction.

For the most part, participants said they favour setting up a Catholic association because they need support from peers who embrace their own faith and values.

"We need to have people that build up our faith and keep us strong in our beliefs," said Janice Sargent, a mental health nurse from Mirror, Alta. The association can nurture the spirituality of those who are counselling others.

CPAC is being set up "to meet the needs of Catholic mental health professionals who are looking to integrate their faith with their professional practices and to be a resource to society and to the Church as well," said Melissa Guzik, an Edmonton certified counsellor and president of CPAC.

This fall, the association will create a referral network of psychotherapists for people of faith who are seeking counselling from professionals who have an understanding of their faith.

Guzik said CPAC is similar to the St. Luke's Physicians Guild for Catholic physicians and the St. Thomas More Lawyers' Guild, a group of Catholic lawyers.

"Our goal is to support Catholic mental health professionals in Canada by promoting the development of psychological theory, research and mental health practice that encompasses an understanding of the human person in family and society, which respects Catholic anthropology and the magisterium of the Catholic Church."

Recently the association opened up membership to mental health professionals across Canada that desire a fuller understanding of how the Catholic faith can complement, enrich and deepen their work for the benefit of individuals and society.

CPAC has four types of membership: clinical members, who are people licenced within the mental health profession; academic members, people who have a graduate degree in psychology, theology or philosophy; student members and associate members, who are people who would like to join the association for their own personal development.

CPAC has been in the works for more than two years and has the blessing of Archbishop Richard Smith. Father Andrzej Szablewski, a member of the formation team of St. Joseph Seminary, is the association's spiritual director.

"It's very important for Catholic psychotherapists to have their own association," said Calgary's Marcella Cameron, who is currently completing a master's degree in counselling. "This is an excellent opportunity for mental health professionals who wish to integrate their faith into their practice."

Zolner, communications officer for CPAC, said psychotherapists need their own association "because Catholic mental health workers, first of all, need support."


"They need a network of people around them who understand the importance of their work and with whom they can be collegial. It's important to understand that helpers need help and support too."

Catholic psychotherapists are seldom affirmed in their faith, particularly at the graduate level, and many professionals simple don't bring up their religious affiliation for fear of rejection, Zolner said in an interview.

In government-run mental health clinics or hospitals, for example, mental health professionals are not allowed to pray with their patients and in fact the practice may be considered inappropriate behaviour, she said.

"That's sad because prayer might be a really important part of that person's life," she lamented. "If faith is part of their life, you can't ignore that."


Zolner said it's really okay to be a Catholic psychologist or a Catholic counsellor or a Catholic social worker and she said CPAC will help affirm, understand and accept them as people of faith. In fact, it will help them integrate their Catholic faith into their practice.

Wayne Ottenbreit, a Calgary marriage and family therapist, said he will join CPAC because it's difficult to find support as a Catholic professional outside Church circles.

"I can't set aside my being a Catholic," he said. "It needs to be a part of everything I'm about, including my professional life."

Ottenbreit said he uses the Church's understanding of life and the human person in his practice and believes CPAC will affirm him as a Catholic professional and a man of faith.