This year Saint Luke Institute celebrates its 40th anniversary. When one considers all that has changed since we first opened our doors, it is remarkable. Founded in 1977, Saint Luke began as a small outpatient alcohol treatment center for clergy and religious. Today it is a full-service facility that works hard to stay on the cutting edge of compassionate care. Looking back, one thing is clear: Programs may change, but the need for a Christ-centered healing ministry, a staff committed to that ministry, and a willingness to adapt do not.
Four years after our founding, we established a residential program in Suitland, Maryland, a Washington, DC, suburb, where the Institute occupied a building that had formerly housed an aspirancy program for the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters.
By the mid-1990s, the shift to a broad-based, psychiatric approach and the addition of a number of psychologists—who had doctoral degrees and more in-depth training—was complete.
Saint Luke Institute also had grown to the point where a new, larger building was needed and found, this time in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the former seminary for the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity.
New Issues, New Approach
The most dramatic change at Saint Luke, however, was the shift from a strict focus on addiction recovery to a clinical, psychiatric model encompassing many mental health problems, notes longtime Coordinator of Neuropsychological Services, Dr. Gary Thompson.
Dr. Carol Farthing, who joined the staff in 1989, says, “Alcoholics often had sexual or personality issues in addition to the addiction. With this growing awareness, by the mid-1980s, Saint Luke Institute began treating broader issues.”
This grew out of Institute clinicians’ experience that when someone has an addiction, there always is some underlying problem. And so there developed an appreciation amongst the clinical staff of just how important it was to treat these in order to bring integral healing.
At the same time clinicians had identified the need to address depression and trauma history along with addiction, the Catholic Church in the United States faced a wave of reported clergy sex abuse. The Institute began to minister to these individuals, though, as Dr. Farthing notes, “That was even then a small portion of what we treated.”
The 1990s saw the advent of another major change: The creation of Talitha-Life, a program specifically for women religious. Saint Luke had always served women, but this was the first permanent program designed for and by them.
“Talitha-Life was very group oriented and community-oriented,” says Dr. Sheila Harron, who arrived at Saint Luke in 1995.
Women have remained an important part of our ministry. Today approximately a third of our residential clients are women religious. Saint Luke Institute is the only major treatment center for clergy and religious to offer a five-year Continuing Care program. This comprehensive program assigns a continuing care therapist to the client who helps them transition back into everyday life over the next five years. It also helps them develop a local support team, facilitates a re-entry workshop, and provides periodic “touch-base” workshops at the Institute.
Why a five-year program when others are only one?
Coordinator of Continuing Care Fr. Ken Phillips, TOR, says people who can maintain their recovery “for five years” have a better chance of maintaining their mental health “for the long term.” In short, “We have adapted for the needs of the Church,” observes therapist Steve Kopp, who has served on staff since 1984. “As new components were found to work and help clients, they were incorporated into the program.”
“Saint Luke was ahead of the curve,” says physical therapist Dana Dowd, in explaining why she has remained on staff over 30 years. “We were integrating physical, psychological, and spiritual wellness long before there was an understanding in the mainstream of how important this is.”
Kopp observes that Saint Luke also incorporates art therapy, experiential therapy, nutritional counseling, integrative movement, plus medical care from a doctor, psychiatrist, and 24-hour nursing.
The Spiritual Life
Yet another hallmark of the Institute is its integration of spirituality into the psychological assistance people receive since ultimately, “We are about the healing of souls,” contends Sr. Meg Parrish, CSJ, a member of the Spirituality team since 1996.
Indeed many who come to the Institute arrive feeling very distant from God. Their spiritual lives need rebuilding.
For this reason, the Spirituality team helps clients bring their suffering and crises to the Lord in prayer and confront doubts about His love for them.
“We are always encouraging the residents,” she says, “to see prayer as a relationship with the Lord. Our work is to help them grow in intimacy with God.”
Sr. Meg adds many people over the years have said “the Institute saves lives. And it saves souls, too.”
How Much Has Changed?
“In the past, there was a real taboo [in the Church] about the need for therapy. A lot of people today are engaging in it on an outpatient basis and are familiar with the idea. It is
not as stigmatizing as in the past,” Fr. Phillips notes.
There also seems to be a shift in how people handle mental health situations.
Additionally clinicians have also seen some shifts in the issues they handle. Take, for instance, the increased usage of online pornography and a greater willingness to address issues such as trauma and depression.
With regard to the latter, many people have never felt free to speak about these. So especially as they approach middle age, says Dr. Harron, they end up suffering.
Saint Luke Institute offers such individuals a safe place to begin to gently and carefully uncover what has been hidden and to experience healing.
Dr. Farthing notes how growing awareness about brain function and how trauma affects the brain has led to new therapies to treat trauma, such as EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing).
Another development, observes Dr. Farthing, is the increased proportion of younger priests coming for treatment. Many of these gentlemen exhibit a lack of emotional skills and an inability to manage stress. This can result in their having difficulty in parish assignments.
“People may have accepted things in the past that they do not now,” Farthing says. “If the priests haven’t dealt with their own issues, it can be very difficult for them in their first parish.”
As a result, the Institute launched an online seminary formation program called Foundations, which several dioceses now use.
Thankfully, Farthing observes, the need for healthier human formation has gained increased attention and prioritization from the Vatican, seminaries, bishops, and superiors.
Additionally the graying of the population has led to the Institute’s formation of a new Aging and Memory Evaluation (AME), another example of how Saint Luke Institute continues to develop and expand its services. AME uses a three-week evaluation to assess whether someone is truly afflicted with dementia or if they are experiencing some other neurological, biological, or psychological issue (e.g., major depression), or some combination thereof.
In 2012, Saint Luke Institute launched SLIconnect, an education ministry designed to provide practical resources for clergy, religious, and lay leaders worldwide. SLIconnect supports healthy spiritual and emotional development for Church leaders through online courses, in-person workshops, and print resources developed by our
expert staff members.
Furthermore Saint Luke has expanded geographically. It now has centers in Louisville, St. Louis, and Manchester, England, an outpatient facility outside of Baltimore, and an adjunct ministry in South Africa.
“We are committed to doing all we can to support a healthy Church,” says Saint Luke Institute
President Fr. David Songy, O.F.M.Cap. “This means making our knowledge and experience accessible wherever it is needed and helping those who come to us in need of healing find a place where, as Donald Cardinal Wuerl once put it, you find ‘the mercy of God made real.’”