When the Gate is Shut–A Faithful Response to Vaginismus

Image Shutterstock

Image Shutterstock

Aleteia posted a deeply heartfelt article about a Catholic woman’s struggle with vaginismus, a disorder in which the muscles of the vagina involuntarily spasm or become rigid which makes intercourse either painful or, in extreme cases, impossible.

I don’t know anything about the author of the blog referenced in the article, except to say that, having read her posts, I can say that  she is a tremendously brave and honest woman who has, with her devoted husband, found ways to allow God’s grace and love to create something beautiful even in the midst of their profound suffering.  I find their courage through adversity to be inspiring and I am grateful for her and her husband’s witness.

How Common Is It?

I wish to be upfront that I am not writing this article as a response to her particular situation. As I say, I know nothing about her circumstances and I don’t presume to be able to offer answers that would address her particular concerns. I invite you to join me in praying that she and her husband will find the grace to continue their struggle in faith and, ultimately, find the healing they seek.

I do, however, want to chime in on the conversation because the issue is both not uncommon (occurring in about 2 of 1000 women in the general population and up to 5% of women who struggle with anxiety or depression) and tremendously sensitive.  For Catholic women, in particular, it can be difficult to find treatment options that are both effective and faithful.  Many Catholic women who suffer from this problem never seek professional help out of either embarrassment or concern that they will be asked to engage in treatment approaches that are inconsistent with their moral values.

Why Does It Happen?

The most common causes are sexual trauma, postpartum trauma, or poor sexual formation, but it can also be caused by issues related to OCD/scrupulosity, alexithymia (a difficulty with identifying or expressing emption), poor interoception (a kind of conscious alienation from one’s bodily senses), avoidant attachment (which can make physical affection of any kind feel overwhelming and intrusive), or other factors.

Can It Be Treated?

Research suggests that self-help approaches to vaginismus (involving self-help reading and dilation/relaxation exercises and other approaches found on the internet) have about a 10% success rate for treating this condition.  With proper treatment, research finds that over 95% of women can experience a full recovery from their symptoms.    For the remaining small percentage of women for whom standard treatment approaches are ineffective, virtually all can be successfully treated through a course of counseling, physical therapy, and the therapeutic use of Botox by a plastic surgeon.  In sum, the recovery rate for vaginismus is virtually 100% once the appropriate course of treatment has been identified.

What is the Process?

There is no cookie cutter approach to treating vaginismus, but effective treatment tends to follow 8 basic steps.

  1. A proper medical evaluation (gynecological/urological) to rule our potential medical/structural problems.
  2. A proper psychological history and review of the various psychological and physical therapy interventions.
  3. Evaluation/Education regarding the nature of sexual pain anatomy.
  4. Mindfulness based approaches to help the client gain conscious control over the automatic spasmodic vaginal response.
  5. Couple-based techniques designed to eliminate phobic responses to (non-sexual) physical intimacy
  6. Communication exercises that prepare the couple for full sexual intimacy
  7. Sexual counseling that help the couple find the least painful positions for successful intercourse
  8. Sexual communication exercises that help the couple overcome any remaining pain and experience the restoration of a fully satisfying sexual relationship.

Because no two women are the same, there are many variations these 8 steps can take.  It is because of the varied nature of treatment that self-help approaches often fail to produce the desired results.  For Catholic women, it can be important to work with a faithful professional who can help them apply these 8 steps in a manner that is respectful of their moral values.

Finding Faithful Help

The Catholic Psychotherapy Association can be a useful place to turn for local assistance in dealing with this sensitive issue.  For those who struggle to find a local provider, or for whom local resources are not adequate for one reason or another, Karin Roach, MSW, LISW-S, a Pastoral Counselor who specializes in women’s issues through the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic Tele-Counseling Practice can help guide clients down the path to healing.  For more information on living the fullness of the Catholic vision of love, check out Holy Sex!  The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.


66% of Kids On ADHD Meds Don’t Have ADHD, Says Scientific American

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 5 percent of American children suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), yet the diagnosis is given to some 15 percent of American children, many of whom are placed on powerful drugs with lifelong consequences. This is the central fact of the journalist Alan Schwarz’s new book, ADHD Nation. Explaining this fact—how it is that perhaps two thirds of the children diagnosed with ADHD do not actually suffer from the disorder—is the book’s central mystery. The result is a damning indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, and an alarming portrait of what is being done to children in the name of mental health. READ THE REST

Saying that too many children are on ADHD meds doesn’t mean that those children don’t have problems.  It just means they probably don’t have ADHD. There are many different reasons besides ADHD a child might be impulsive or inattentive. If you have concerns about your child’s behavior you and your child deserve a comprehensive answer.  A proper evaluation leads to proper treatment.  Neither you nor your child deserve less.  If you would like to learn more about helping your child exhibited better behavior and attention, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn how we can help you.

When Every Child is Left Behind: Teaching “Stupid Faith”

My latest for OSV (online now and in the 10/16 print edition)

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Catholic children as young as 10 years old are renouncing God and quitting Church, claims a new study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown. 

According to lead researcher Mark Gray, children are finding that faith is “incompatible” with what they are learning in school, and the older the child becomes, the more this is the case. According to Gray, “this is a generation that is struggling with faith in ways that we haven’t seen in previous generations.”

This is disturbing news. Our children are besieged with the message that atheism is “smart” and faith is “dumb.” But there is a more provocative challenge presented by this dilemma. Namely; how long will we keep teaching our kids to have a “stupid” faith?

‘Stupid’ faith?

By “stupid” faith I mean one that doesn’t make experiential sense. Faith is only “stupid” — and, therefore, susceptible to allegedly “smart” atheism — when a person has not experienced Jesus Christ in a real and personal way. An experience of Christ is even more essential than good catechesis. If I’ve experienced Christ personally, I know he exists. If Stephen Hawking wrote a book denying the existence of my mother, I wouldn’t have to be an expert in quantum physics to know he was writing nonsense.  READ THE REST

Pastoral Solutions Institute Seeks New Catholic Counselor to Join Team


The Pastoral Solutions Institute is pleased to announce that we are expanding and seeking a new Catholic therapist to join our team of professional Catholic counselors.  If you are interested, please read the following carefully.

About the Institute

Founded by Dr. Greg Popcak in 1999, the Pastoral Solutions Institute is a Catholic behavioral tele-health practice providing over 10,000 hours/year of ongoing pastoral psychotherapy services by telephone to Catholic couples, families and individuals worldwide.

The Pastoral Solutions Institute is internationally recognized as a leader in the effective integration of the Catholic faith and spirituality in clinical practice. In addition to providing counseling services, the Institute provides ongoing training and formation for therapists wanting to practice in a Catholic-integrated context and spearheads educational and outreach initiatives intended to empower lay Catholics to productively live the Church’s vision of life and love.

About the Position

The Pastoral Solutions Institute has an immediate FULL-TIME opening (due to our high level of commitment to ongoing training/formation of our staff we are NOT accepting part time applications) for a new therapist to join our team of telephone-based pastoral counselors.  After a comprehensive, initial training period, the new clinician would work from home but serve as part of our integrated team of professional counselors and spiritual directors.  In addition to carrying a full case load, the clinician would be expected to participate in weekly staffings/trainings and other activities that support professional development and the mission of the Institute.


The applicant MUST…
-Have at least a masters degree in a mental health related discipline (counseling, clinical soc.wrk, marriage and family therapy, etc)
-Be licensed to practice INDEPENDENTLY in his or her state of residence.
-PLEASE NOTE:  Applicants who do not hold a current, valid state license for independent practice WILL NOT be considered.
-Be a faithful, practicing Catholic in good standing in the Church and agree with the Magisterial teachings of the Church especially as related to marriage and family issues, including sexuality and natural family planning.

The Following Additional Qualifications are a PLUS but not specifically required
-A degree in Catholic theology (BA, MA, M.Div) from an accredited Catholic college or university.
-Formal training (or advanced independent study) in the Theology of the Body
-Formal training (0r advanced, independent study) in attachment theory (relating to both children and adult pair bonding)
-Familiarity with Dr. Greg Popcak’s books in general and marriage and family life in particular.

The Application

Interested parties should please send the following to GPopcak@CatholicCounselors.com
1. Current CV
2. Brief 300-500 word reflection on your faith development including a brief reflection on how the Church’s teaching on marriage, family and sexuality impacts your life and relationships.
3. List of 3 references that could speak to both your professional and faith development (e.g, professional 
colleague, supervisor, pastor)  You DO NOT need to include reference letters.  ONLY names of references and contact information.


Please submit all requested application information by Friday, October 21, 2016.

We look forward to receiving your application!




Physical Exercise May Be Best Treatment for ADHD

Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

The Atlantic reports on a new study published this morning in the journal Pediatrics.

…kids who took part in a regular physical activity program showed important enhancement of cognitive performance and brain function. The findings, according to University of Illinois professor Charles Hillman and colleagues, “demonstrate a causal effect of a physical program on executive control, and provide support for physical activity for improving childhood cognition and brain health.”   Physical activity is clearly a high, high-yield investment for all kids, but especially those attentive or hyperactive. 

The improvements in this case came in executive control, which consists of inhibition (resisting distraction, maintaining focus), working memory, and cognitive flexibility (switching between tasks). The images above show the brain activity in the group of kids who did the program as opposed to the group that didn’t. It’s the kind of difference that’s so dramatic it’s a little unsettling. The study only lasted nine months, but when you’re only seven years old, nine months is a long time to be sitting in class with a blue head.

Earlier this month, another study found that a 12-week exercise program improved math and reading test scores in all kids, but especially in those with signs of ADHD. (Executive functioning is impaired in ADHD, and tied to performance in math and reading.) Lead researcher Alan Smith, chair of the department of kinesiology at Michigan State, went out on no limb at all in a press statement at the time, saying, “Early studies suggest that physical activity can have a positive effect on children who suffer from ADHD.” 

Last year a very similar study in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that just 26 minutes of daily physical activity for eight weeks significantly allayed ADHD symptoms in grade-school kids. The modest conclusion of the study was that “physical activity shows promise for addressing ADHD symptoms in young children.” The researchers went on to write that this finding should be “carefully explored with further studies.”  READ THE REST

All of this goes to why author, Richard Louv, coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” as an alternative to ADHD.  No, getting out and playing isn’t the cure for ADHD, but increased physical activity should absolutely be a foundational part of any treatment program for ADHD.  ADHD does not have to be a lifelong sentence.  Kids can overcome it with proper, comprehensive treatment.  For more information on raising healthy, focused, well-rounded kids, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Secular Media Finally Admits: “The Pill” Causes Depression & Relationship Problems

shutterstock--The Pill

Despite a new Pew survey reporting that only 4% of Americans and 13% of weekly Mass attending Catholics in the US think that contraception is morally wrong,  “the Pill” is getting belated, but well-deserved, bad press from surprising sources.

Harvard psychology professor and Playboy Magazine columnist, Dr. Justin Lehmiller, is reporting on research I mentioned the other day indicating that hormonal contraceptives (HC’s)  influence the type of man that a woman is attracted to and can undermine satisfaction in longterm relationships–especially if a woman who chose a mate while on the Pill subsequently discontinues the use of HC’s.  Of course, one response to this might be, “well, then, don’t go off the Pill!” but such a flippant response denies the reality that, in most longterm relationships, couples eventually want to have children, necessitating that they stop using HC”s.  The real danger here is that just when couples need to draw closer to each other and work better together, the effects of discontinuing contraception can kick in, making partnership that much more difficult.

On top of this, a brand new article by the Guardian is accusing the medical establishment of “pillsplaining” (condescendingly minimizing the risks of HC’s) in light of a new study from the University of Copenhagen that demonstrates that the Pill can both increase the risk of depression and cause a worsening of already-existing depression symptoms in women who use HC’s.

Researchers found that women taking the combined oral contraceptive were 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression and those using progestin-only pills (also known as “the mini-pill”) were 34% more likely. Teens were at the greatest risk of depression, with an 80% increase when taking the combined pill, and that risk is two-fold with the progestin-only pill. In addition, other hormone-based methods commonly offered to women seeking an alternative to the pill – such as the hormonal IUS/coil, the patch and the ring – were shown to increase depression at a rate much higher than either kind of oral contraceptives.

All of this is to say that despite the challenges that couples using Natural Family Planning can sometimes face, it remains the most safe, effective, and moral approach to family planning.  Once again, we see an example of scientists arriving at the peak of the mountain only to find that the Vatican’s flag has already been planted.  If you would like to learn more about how the Church’s vision of love can help you and your spouse experience a more passionate, joyful, spiritual sexual life together, I invite you to check out Holy Sex!  The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

The bottom line?  Don’t believe the lie that opposing HC’s is somehow waging war against women.  In fact, the opposite is true.