Three Ways to Stop Settling and Live the Life You Were Meant to Live

Do you want more from your life? Are you struggling with dissatisfaction in your life or relationships? You’re not alone. We were created for more, yet our fallen nature often causes us to settle for less or holds us back from aspiring for more. But the good news is, there are ways to break this habit and live the life we are meant to live!

Theology of The Body reminds us to stop settling.  To see that God wants to fulfill the deepest longings of our heart for a love that doesn’t fail, for relationships that are fulfilling, and for a life that reflects the glory of his grace.  Pope St John Paul the Great reminded us that we must keep our eyes, not on what we see in front of us when we look at our broken world and our broken lives, but on what God sees when he looks at us and what God wants to make of our lives and relationships so that his glory could be known in the world through our lives.  The truth that will set us free is the truth God sees when he looks at our lives.  Our job is to stand up to to our doubts and fears and lean into the vision that God has for us instead so that we can become what we are.

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Do you want more from your life? Check out:

The Life God Wants You To Have

Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail

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Here are three ways to stop settling and live the life you are meant to live:

1.Get Your Binoculars–We tend to settle because we get so caught up in the frustrations of the present that we lose sight of the destination to which God is leading us; Namely, a life and relationships that are healthy, whole, and holy.  Stop settling for what is in front of you.  Get your binoculars and look to the horizon line.  Keep imagining what a healthier, whole, and holier life and relationships would look like and start walking toward that.  Sometimes it will seem impossibly hard.  No Matter.  Trust that God’s grace will make up for what you lack and start walking.

2.Take Small Steps–We often settle for surviving because we can’t see ways to make the big changes that need to happen.  Remember, big journeys are made up of a million little steps.  Ask yourself, “What is one small thing I can do today to make the change I want to see in my life?”  Do that, and then ask that question again, and again, and again. Each time, remember that you are fighting against the temptation to survive and, instead, learning to cooperate with God’s grace to live life more abundantly.

3.Turn On Your GPS–We tend to settle when we feel lost.  But there is no reason to ever feel lost if you have your GPS, your GOD POSITIONING SYSTEM–that is, PRAYER.  When you feel lost and find yourself giving into the temptation to survive in your life or relationships, ask God to help you make the turns you need to make to get back on the path to wholeness, health, and holiness that he wants you to be walking.  Just like with a regular GPS, chances are, it will only take a few simple turns for God to get you back on the path.

If you want more information on how to overcome the frustrations in life and stop settling, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

The Rite of Christian Relationships–Conventional Discipline VS. Discipleship Discipline

In most households, the word “discipline” suggests an adversarial relationship. My child is “out to get me” and it’s my job to get them under control.

Discipleship Discipline directly challenges this antagonistic, fallen, and hopeless view of the parent-child relationship.

In Discipleship Discipline, you and your child are not adversaries. You are your child’s mentor. Your child is your disciple. Your job is not to control your child. It is to lovingly teach, guide, and shepherd your child to a responsible, graceful adulthood.

In conventional discipline, children misbehave because they are bad and out to get you. From a Discipleship Discipline perspective, children misbehave because they have either gotten stuck in their emotional brain (instead of their thinking brain) and/or they genuinely don’t know what to do. In either case, they don’t need someone yelling at them and punishing them into submission. They need someone to lovingly help them calm down, get back into their thinking brain, and learn/practice what to do.

Conventional discipline depletes the parent’s emotional bank-account with their child. Both parent and child leave these exchanges frustrated and suspicious of each other. More often than not, Discipleship Discipline contributes to the emotional bank account. The parent feels satisfied with their ability to teach their child how to handle a difficult situation better. The child feels grateful to have a parent who can patiently teach them how to handle themselves and the challenges they face more effectively.

Conventional discipline is always looking for things I can do to my kids to “make” them behave. It demands a constant quest for Holy Grail Techniques I can use on my kids. Discipleship Discipline seeks to cultivate a mentoring relationship between me and my child. It makes me want to put in the time to really understand my child’s heart and makes my child want to turn to me for help and advice.

Conventional discipline treats children as a problem to be solved. Discipleship Discipline recognizes that children are people who need to be loved and compassionately shepherded.

Conventional discipline focuses on “getting my kid to behave.” Discipleship Discipline focuses on “raising my child to be a godly young man or woman.”

Discipleship Discipline is a key component of the spirituality of the Domestic Church. It reminds parents and children that this is more to their relationship and it calls parents and children to be more than they are. It is a powerful witness to the world of the difference that Christian households are called to live.

To learn more, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Four Simple Ways to Change Your Thoughts and Change Your Life

Memories have a powerful impact on our lives.  They shape how we feel, how we act, and the choices we make.  When painful memories emerge, it can be especially hard to shake the negative feelings that bubble up and the way they affect our quality of life.

A new study by the University of Alberta provides us simple ways to manage the level of emotional intensity that we experience when recalling past memories.

Researchers report that when we recall our memories from a third-person perspective we are able to decrease the emotional intensity of that memory. “Specifically, the results show that recalling memories from an observer-like perspective, instead of through your own eyes, leads to greater…interaction among brain regions that support our ability to recall the details of a memory and to recreate mental images in our mind’s eye.”

Not only does this third-person perspective allow us to recall memories with higher accuracy, but it also enables us to experience relief from troubling or even traumatic memories more successfully.

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Do you want to overcome past hurts and live a whole, healed, and healthy life?

Check out Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Learning to decrease the emotional power of negative memories is especially important because it helps us overcome limiting “core beliefs.”  Cognitive behavioral therapy defines core beliefs as central beliefs that people hold about themselves, others, and the world. These core beliefs then influence what CBT refers to as automatic thoughts—those thoughts or beliefs that seem to pop into our mind that shape our daily self-talk.

In addition to recalling our memories from a third person perspective to decrease their emotional power, here are three ways to re-story our core beliefs and develop healthy self-talk:

Label Thoughts—One of the best ways to get control of our self-talk is to label our thoughts as either helpful or hurtful. When we do this, we can learn to lean into helpful thoughts and let go of hurtful thoughts, just like we would listen to helpful advice from others and dismiss unhelpful advice.

Live Intentionally—When we live busy lives it’s easy for us to operate on “auto-pilot.” We go about our day moving through our tasks without really being present. But when we live in this more passive state, we are living more out of reaction rather than intentional action. Gain control over your negative feelings by being intentional about your actions and your self-talk. This can be as simple as changing your self-talk from “I have to go to work,” to, “I’m choosing to go to work because…(of this benefit I get from it).” Likewise, instead of saying “what is the day going to bring?” you might say, “what do I want to make happen today?” Living intentionally helps us regain control over our emotions and our lives.

Focus on Strengths—We often focus on what we didn’t do well or what we wish we could do better. However, this kind of thinking often leads to negative core beliefs and automatic thoughts.  Instead, practice focusing on what you CAN do instead of what you can’t do. Make a point of acknowledging your successes throughout the day. Even in the face of hardships, identify the strengths that you displayed and give yourself credit. For example, did you have a positive conversation with your spouse, co-worker, kids, or friend? Acknowledge that as a success and identify, “I was thoughtful, respectful, empathetic, (etc.) in that conversation which helped me be successful.”

For more ways to re-story your core beliefs and self-talk, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Becoming More Playful — The Added Benefits to Our Overall Well-Being

*This post is a continuation of the series based on Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship. Join the discussion in our facebook group.

There’s a lot in life that we have to take seriously. A lot to think about, a lot to manage, just… a lot. In the face of all this seriousness, one of the first things we adults lose is our ability to be playful.

Are problem solving and playfulness mutually exclusive?

A growing body of research has actually found that playfulness in our daily life has a large impact on our ability to handle challenges effectively, as well as increasing our overall life satisfaction.

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Do you want to cultivate greater joy and satisfaction in your family life? Check out

Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids

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Researchers from the University of Zurich and Pennsylvania State University teamed up to conduct a study on 533 participants. The participants were separated into three groups, two groups were given exercises pertaining to practicing and recording playfulness in their daily lives, the third group acted as a control group and were given exercises unrelated to the study.

The results found that those individuals who actively looked for ways to be playful in their daily lives reported greater life satisfaction even 12 weeks after the experiment took place, whereas the control group reported no difference. Furthermore, the results indicate that it is possible to teach individuals who are typically not prone to playfulness how to be more playful simply through intentional practice and participation in playful activities.

This study, as well as research conducted by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, shows that playfulness in our daily life actually increases our ability to process emotions and solve problems. Dr. Neufeld refers to playful activities as “emotional playgrounds,” stating, “When words fail us, emotional playgrounds are our best answer for safe emotional expression and for feelings to bounce back,” and that “Play is where we are most likely able to feel our emotions safely.” Neufeld and other research demonstrates that this is the case for both adults and children.

Research such as this highlights the significant importance of creating and maintaining family play rituals, like the ones we describe in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life and the Rite of Family Rituals.

The ritual of play allows us to not only build rapport and connection as a family on a regular basis, but also creates the opportunity for these “emotional playgrounds.” Play enables us and our children to become more emotionally intelligent and emotionally healthy. We are able to problem solve, increase our emotional intelligence, and emotionally regulate more effectively, if we integrate play/playfulness into our regular, daily lives.

But how do we make time for this ritual of play on a daily basis?

Here are a few ideas:


– Start a family tickle fight when getting out of the car on your way home after soccer practice.

– Take turns bringing a joke to family dinner.

– Turn on your favorite music and have a dance party while picking up the living room or washing the dinner dishes.

– Sing your favorite songs in the car or snuggled up before bed.

– Read stories together and/or have your kids read to you while you get chores done (like folding the laundry).

– Take a walk together.

– Bake a yummy dessert.

– Integrate crafts into school activities and sit down and do them together.

– Have a family movie night, but make it special with your favorite pillows, blankets, and snacks.

– Play a card game during/after a meal

Start your own list of fun activities! Have everyone add to the list, hang it on the fridge, and pick one thing off the list that you have time for every day.

For more ideas on cultivating the ritual of play—and all the rituals of connection—in your family, join the discussion at Catholic HOM and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

The Secrets of Communication: How to Be A Better Listener

We try to be our best. We mean well, and when our efforts are misconstrued we feel like there’s nothing we can do. But there’s good news: recognizing the ways that we can grow in no way means that we’re not well intentioned and doing our best! This is one of the greatest keys to communication. Understanding that we’re well intentioned, but we always have room to learn from the other person and grow in ourselves and our relationships with others.

In order to learn from another person and learn to grow in relationship with them, it’s crucial that we learn to listen effectively.

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Are you struggling to get along with difficult people?

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Research published in the Harvard Business Review describes that the typical ways we think we’re being good listeners—such as being silent, periodically nodding or acknowledging the other person, or even repeating what the other has said—aren’t as effective as we may think.

Here are a few ways to become a more effective listener:

Ask questions—while sitting in silence allows the other person to talk, it doesn’t always communicate that they’re being heard. Asking questions shows both interest and comprehension in what the other person is discussing. Likewise this allows for the dynamic of listening to understand rather than listening simply to respond.

Be a cooperative partner—research indicates that the most successful conversations are those where the individuals view one another as partners, meaning neither person gets defensive about comments made by the other. When we are partners in a conversation, we work together, we care for one another, and we are certain that our responses are solution focused (rather than derogatory, competitive, or distracting from the topic at hand).

Offer reflections—A good listener keeps the conversation going by gently offering reflections that open up new lines of inquiry. Complaints often occur when someone feels as though the other just “jumped in and try to solve the problem.” Good listening, however, requires that the suggestions/solutions are not the end of the conversation, they are a support to the conversation.

To learn more tips and techniques for effective communication, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Stop Labeling Yourself: 3 Steps to Stop Holding Yourself Back

The terms “mental health” and “mental disorder” are extremely common, but research from biological anthropologists are calling into question these definitions in relation to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

New research published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology posed the question, “What if mental disorders like anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder aren’t mental disorders at all?” A summary of the results indicated that, “With a thorough review of the evidence, they show good reasons to think of depression or PTSD as responses to adversity rather than chemical imbalances. And ADHD could be a way of functioning that evolved in an ancestral environment, but doesn’t match the way we live today.”

So what does this mean for our mental health and treatment for such mental health difficulties?

As evidence has shown, we have a tendency to identify with our “emotional problems” in a way that we don’t identify with “physical problems.” When we contract a virus, we don’t say, “I am flu.” We say, “I have the flu.” But when we struggle with anxiety (or other emotional difficulties), especially if we deal with chronic disorders, we do often say, “I am anxious,” or “I am high strung,” or something similar. It becomes an identity statement. The problem is, when we personally identify with the anxiety we feel, we begin to think of it as a necessary part of who we are.

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For more on this topic, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety
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How do we, then, break free from these labels and finally identify with our healed, healthy, “true” selves?

1. Identify with strengths, not weaknesses—To counter the tendency over-identify with our emotions it is important that we make an intentional effort to focus on our strengths. Write down at least one thing you did well every day. Identify the strengths that you displayed in that situation in order to handle that moment well. Prioritizing this thought process enables us to begin to identify with our healthy, true selves, rather than identifying with the areas where we may be struggling.

2. Stick to a routine, create “healthy habits”—No matter what we deal with in our daily lives, having a routine helps us to stay on track and cultivate healthy habits. Routines, like getting up and getting ready at the same time every day, doing chores at the same times every week, and going to bed at the same time every day, help us create order out of chaos and make us feel like we are on top of things. Make time for the things that help you feel good, such as journaling, prayer, exercise, or your favorite activity/hobby.

3. Be a gift to others—Look for ways to serve others, nothing is too small. Bake cookies for a friend, hold the door open for a stranger, let someone in front of you in line, reach out to someone you love or someone you haven’t checked in on in a while. Use your gifts to in big and small ways to be a gift to others. When we reach out to others in this way, we are able to make a positive impact on their lives AND feel good about what we have to offer at the same time.

For more on breaking free from labels and becoming the person you were created to be, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com and check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety.

New Research Finds Tele-Counseling To Be Even More Effective Than Face-to-Face

Since the beginning of the global pandemic, there have been significant changes in the way physical and mental health care are delivered. Many providers and patients have moved to tele-health, which certainly makes health care more accessible, but is it as effective as face to face treatment?

Timely research that began prior to COVID-19 and continued after utilized randomized control trials to evaluate the effectiveness of tele-counseling.

A recent study, involving randomized control groups found that that tele-counseling across a variety of modalities (e.g., telephone, videochat, etc) is, in many ways, more effective than traditional face-to-face counseling.

According to lead researcher, Zena Samaan, “The common understanding was that face to face psychotherapy has the advantage of the connection with the therapist and this connection is in part what makes the difference in treatment…However, it is not surprising that electronic interventions are helpful in that they offer flexibility, privacy and no travel time, time off work, transport or parking costs. It makes sense that people access care, especially mental health care, when they need it from their own comfort space.”

As Samaan describes, not only is tele-counseling an equally if not a more effective in treatment that face-to-face counseling, tele-counseling creates greater accessibility to individuals with busy schedules or limited resources (i.e. those who are home bound, in rural areas, or areas with limited specialized counseling).

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As leaders in the field of pastoral tele-counseling, Catholic Counselors has been providing pastoral counseling for individuals, couples and families by telephone since 1999 and conducts  over 15,000 hours of tele-counseling services per year. Interested in learning more about how Catholic tele-counseling—and our many other resources–can help you get more out of your marriage, family or personal life? Visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

The Power of Our Thoughts

Most of us know that negative thinking isn’t good for our mental health, but did you know that repetitive negative thinking has harmful effects on our physical health?

A study led by researchers at University College London evaluated 123 participants to determine the relationship between repetitive (chronic) negative thinking patterns and dementia. The results of this study reveal that individuals who exhibit repetitive negative thinking (RNT) patterns have higher levels of tau and amyloid—two proteins which cause the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, when they build up in the brain. Over four years, the individuals who displayed RNT showed greater cognitive decline, including decline in memory.

As this study shows, negative thinking not only has harmful effects on our emotional life, but on our physical body as well.

So how to we break our habits of repetitive negative thinking and live healthier lives?

Find your power: In any situation, ask yourself, “What can I make of this?” Don’t simply allow yourself to be a passive participant in your situation. Seek your power through intentionality. Asking yourself questions such as, “What can I make of this/learn from this/do with this?” helps engage your cortex (your thinking brain) and allows you to focus on resources and solutions as opposed to getting caught in the trap of negative thinking. 

Focus on gratitude: Intentionally recall your blessings, your strengths, and your skills. This can be done in several ways, such as keeping a running gratitude list throughout the day, focusing on the things that you did well during the day, or keeping a “got done” list to remind yourself of your daily accomplishments. This type of thinking helps cultivate more helpful thinking patterns instead of the hurtful thinking patterns caused by RNT.

Cultivate Connection: Cultivate connection and maintain a sense of community by actively seeking ways to be a blessing to others—even when you are struggling. When we are focused on serving others and acting out of self-donation, we are more effectively able to break the cycle of negative thinking.

To find more resources for breaking your habits of negative thinking, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com 

Innocence Restored-Hope for Those Who Have Suffered Indignity or Abuse

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

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One of the most heartbreaking aspects of my work with victims of abuse—whether verbal, physical, sexual or some combination of all of these—is to hear them talk about how they feel “dirty”,  “tainted,” “guilty” and a host of other adjectives that undermine their dignity and worth as persons.  Intellectually, most of them know that they bear no blame for the things that were done to them, but the emotional and spiritual wounds run deep.  When we’re treated like trash, we often internalize that treatment.   In many cases, we carry the feelings of shame and the loss of our innocence long after the abuse is over.

The Truth Will Set You Free

As difficult as this can be to face, one truth that seems to really resonate for my clients is the idea that they cannot lose what didn’t belong to them from the beginning.  What do I mean?  The truth is that as Christians, we know that none of us can claim to be good or innocent on our own power.  We are simple lumps of carbon; obstinate bags of water that, left to our own devices can claim no goodness, innocence or dignity.

But, as Christians, we also know that we  can  claim goodness, innocence, dignity and more as our inheritance  because we are loved by the God who is the source and summit of all of those qualities. Because God loves us, he shares  his  goodness,  hisinnocence,  his  dignity,  his  grace with us and through his merciful love, makes us good, innocent, dignified and grace-filled.  When he shares these qualities with us, they do not become ours.  Rather,  they make us more his.  That’s a tremendously important distinction, especially for the victim of abuse.  Why?

Because the abuser pretends to have the power to take away his victim’s innocence, goodness and dignity. That’s part of the spell the abuser casts on his victim, making the person he preys upon believe that he has more power than he actually does.  But while an abuser can hurt our bodies and wound our minds, he or she cannot take our innocence, dignity or goodness because these qualities are not ours to lose in the first place.  They are God’s to give.    And God would never give away those qualities that are part and parcel of his love for us. Nothing separates us from the love of God or the benefits that accompany his love.  No one can take either his love or the benefits of his love from us either.

Loved Into Innocence

 

In other words, we are not innocent because nothing bad has ever happened to us.   (BTW, That’s Pelagianism, not Christianity!)   We are innocent  because we are loved by God regardless  of what we have done or have had done to us.   Likewise, we are not good because we have not done anything bad or been subject to badness.  We are  good because we are loved despite  the badness in our hearts or in the world in which we live.  We do not have dignity because we have never suffered indignity.  Rather,  we enjoy dignity because God loves us no matter what  indignities we have suffered.

I do not mean to suggest that the abuse victim’s pain should magically disappear because they might read these words.  But I have found that reflecting on these truths in a spirit of prayer does open survivors’ hearts to new possibilities.  Specifically, the possibility that they  are  good,  and  innocent  and  have dignity and that they have always been these things and always will be these things as long as God loves them, which is always and forever.

Your Innocence is Assured

If you are the survivor of abuse, first know that you have my deepest sympathy for your pain and your struggle.    Second, be assured that I am lifting you up in my general intentions each evening.  But thirdly, and most importantly,  know that you are good, and innocent, and have dignity not because of or in spite of anything that has or has not happened to you or because of anything you have or have not done.  You are good, and innocent, and have dignity because you are loved by God.  Period.    And no one could ever take that away from you no matter what they may pretend to the contrary.

Dealing with Depression: Getting the Help that Matters

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

depression-

The news of  Robin Williams’ suicide  has brought the insidious nature of depression front and center.  

I know too many Christians who believe that they should be immune from depression because they are Christian.   While research shows that  some believers can be more resistant to depression  and have a somewhat easier time bouncing back when they do get depression, it is also true that  some approaches to religion can be associated with higher rates of depression and emotional problems.  When evaluating the power of belief to protect against emotional problems, the research seems to show that the question isn’t “do you believe?”  but rather what do you believe, how, and why?

The bottom line is that, by and large,  Christians experience depression at rates that are similar to the general population.  Twenty-Six percent of adults in the US have depression.  The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of disability after heart disease.

Does Treatment Work?

The good news is that  depression is very treatable.  Sadly, many comments I am reading on the internet seem to suggest that seeking help must be pointless because if Robin Williams, who arguably had every resource in the world available to him, couldn’t get adequate care who can?  First, we don’t know all the details of Robin Williams situations and we never will.  Secondly, what we do know points to a much more complicated clinical picture than what most people experience.  Robin Williams’ history was not with depression but with Bi-Polar Disorder, which can be characterized by dramatic mood swings and is somewhat more difficult to treat than depression.  This, combined with his  long struggle with substance abuse and the unique pressure a person in his position faces,    should remind everyone to resist the temptation to draw broader conclusions about the effectiveness of depression treatment based on the tragic outcome of William’s particular story.

What’s the Best Treatment?

As I mentioned, depression is very treatable.  80% of people who seek help report that they experience significant or even total relief from their depressive symptoms.  That’s a tremendous success rate.

What is the best treatment for depression?  Studies of evidenced-based approaches to treatment show that psychotherapy alone should be the primary method of treatment.  This approach has the highest success rate, the longest-term recovery rates,  the lowest negative effects and the lowest drop-out rate.  For patients who need additional support, adding medication to psychotherapy is the best approach.

Interestingly, despite what all the TV commercials tell you, research seems to show that  the least effective approach is medication alone  because of the  relatively lower rate of effectiveness (about 50%), lower rate of symptom relief (about 30%),  higher side-effect profile, greater likelihood of post-treatment relapse, and greater treatment drop-out rate.  Bottom line?  If you have been diagnosed with depression and are not in ongoing psychotherapy, you are not undergoing the best course of treatment. Period.

How Do You Know If It’s Time to Seek Help?

Everyone experiences sadness, but its important not to dismiss depression as mere sadness.  If you are experiencing a period of sustained sadness that lasts for at least 2 weeks and is accompanied by any of the following: a change in eating habits (either eating more or less), sleeping habits (either more or less), withdrawing from social engagements, decreased enjoyment of previously enjoyable activities, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or especially, thoughts of dying, death, or harming oneself, it’s time to seek help.

How Do We Cope?

Our ability to resist depression or recover efficiently from it tends to depend a great deal on the coping strategies we use to deal with stress in general. For now, just know that if you or a loved one is struggling with feelings of sadness or despair that you think might be depression,  getting help early is key.  If you aren’t sure if it’s depression, that’s a good enough reason to get an evaluation (i.e.,  If you have to ask…). Talk to your doctor or contact a licensed psychotherapist who can help you clarify the nature of the problem you are facing and the best means of resolving it.  Getting help early is the best way to increase both the likelihood of a full recovery and your ability to experience the life God has given you as the gift that it is—even when that gift gets complicated.

For more information on faithful approaches to treating depression and other emotional problems, check out the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic Tele-Counseling Practice by  visiting us online  or calling 866-724-1196 to make an appointment to speak with a professional Catholic counselor.  Let us help you integrate the wisdom of our faith with contemporary insights from counseling psychology to help you develop the most comprehensive response to the challenges in your life.