Ethan Bennett, seen in his office on May 11, 2023, is a Catholic licensed professional clinical counselor and owner of Abba Healing Services in Owensboro, as well as being a counselor with the Diocese of Owensboro’s Counseling Assistance Program, (also known as CAP). ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC
‘Healing and wholeness’
By offering discounted counseling, diocesan program affirms mental health ‘self-care’
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Difficult circumstances, backgrounds, and life experiences impact everyone differently, but when addressing these challenges through counseling, “it frees us to be able to love as God commissions us to love,” according to Ethan Bennett, a Catholic licensed professional clinical counselor in Owensboro.
“Catholics should consider counseling because psychological issues are like the opposite side of the coin to spiritual issues,” said Bennett, who owns Abba Healing Services. “Your spiritual life affects your mental health, and your mental health affects your spiritual life.”
Bennett is one of the many counselors in western Kentucky affiliated with the Diocese of Owensboro’s Counseling Assistance Program (also known as CAP), which provides parishioners with a discounted rate for up to six sessions with a licensed counselor.
The program, which is overseen by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro, offers a list of counselors who have signed an agreement to practice within the teachings of the Catholic Church and who are qualified to offer counseling for individuals, couples, and/or families. The agreement is renewed annually.
Bennett said parishioners can access CAP in several ways. Sometimes, a priest may suggest or refer a parishioner to a CAP counselor. Or the person can simply visit the diocese’s CAP webpage (owensborodiocese.org/counseling) and directly contact a counselor on the list.
After the client presents proof of parish membership – such as a tithing envelope or parish directory photo – to the counselor, the counselor submits a form to Catholic Charities, who in turn requests reimbursement from the applicable parish.
The fee is then split among the client, Catholic Charities, and the parish – and the client’s name is never revealed.
Instead, the client is listed as a number and “the diocese does not receive the name of who is receiving services,” said Bennett, explaining that this in line with the confidentiality standards required of all counselors.
Bennett said Catholics, and society in general, need “a greater awareness of our own personal need for healing – and not that it is only for a special select group of people, but that everyone needs healing one way or another,” he said.
“We all have difficult wounds that have affected us – whether past or current,” said Bennett.
Fr. Mike Williams, an associate pastor at Sts. Joseph and Paul Parish, and the chaplain of Brescia University in Owensboro, is an avid promoter of CAP and of counseling in general.
He emphasized the importance of the “mind-body-spirit” connection, and said that when he entered seminary years ago, “I went to counseling for the first time, and it changed my life,” adding that he still goes back to counseling for routine “tune-ups.”
“I am the greatest proponent of counseling,” said Fr. Williams, explaining that it is part of the human experience to always be growing and learning more about oneself. “Everybody needs it!”
Fr. Williams considers this crucial for the young adult demographic, whom he serves today and had also served in his previous assignment as the chaplain of the St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.
He said that during his time at St. Thomas Aquinas, he would find himself referring students to CAP “nearly every week.”
“Young people are in a culture where they don’t know how to listen, or don’t feel listened to,” he said; however, “I have seen a great maturity in the way they process with the tools they receive from counseling.”
Fr. Mike Clark, the pastor of Blessed Mother Parish in Owensboro, is thankful that CAP exists in the diocese.
“Any time we can assist someone in healing and wholeness, we should invest in that,” said Fr. Clark, who said he makes referrals to CAP counselors on a regular basis.
He said that amid the various storms that can impact a person’s life, such as “a crisis of faith, mental health issues, a devastating loss – they can feel isolated and alone.”
CAP, by offering the reduced fee through diocesan and parish support, “helps them see that they are connected to the Church in a tangible way,” he said.
This “creates a small community that surrounds that person, and helps them realize, for example, ‘Well, Fr. Mike cares about me, and so does the parish at Blessed Mother, because they are willing to invest in me,’” he said.
Fr. Clark said going to counseling “does not discount what is done in confession or spiritual direction.”
“I can offer confession and spiritual and practical advice – but I’m not a marriage or family counselor,” he explained, highlighting the “both/and approach” of spiritual direction and counseling.
Dr. Jill Duba Sauerheber, a professor and head of the Department of Counseling and Student Affairs at Western Kentucky University, agreed.
“Religion and faith are the foundation, but not enough on their own,” said Dr. Sauerheber, who operates a private counseling practice in addition to her university role and has served as a CAP counselor for about 10 years.
A Catholic herself, Dr. Sauerheber encourages her Catholic clients to consider spiritual direction in addition to therapy, and if they already have a spiritual director, she will sometimes ask for their permission to collaborate with their spiritual director when appropriate.
If the client is open to this, they sign a formal release of information permitting her to communicate with the spiritual director.
This is just one component of the many aspects that make up the human person, she said.
Dr. Sauerheber advises that when it comes to mind-body-spirit wellness, clients pay attention to their nervous and endocrine systems, which are closely connected to mental wellbeing.
“Human beings are spiritual, but also relational, and are also in contact with their work, with toxins in the air, with their family, with social media, with politics, with their five senses, with the food they eat…” she said.
Dr. Sauerheber said counseling should be viewed more as “mental health self-care, rather than as a pathology.”
“Because so many good things can be revealed through counseling, other than just ‘what’s wrong with me,’” she said.
To learn more or to view the list of CAP counselors, visit owensborodiocese.org/counseling.