PITTSBURGH: With a shortage of Catholic priests for existing parishes and the demanding nature of the priestly role, research has found evidence of depression, stress, burnout, and loneliness among Catholic priests. New research out of Chatham University shows that priests have a positive attitude about seeking mental health services, and that nearly 60% of priests in the study had sought mental health services for support during their time in ministry.
The study by Anthony Isacco, Ph.D., assistant professor of counseling psychology at Chatham University, examined Catholic priests attitudes about, behaviors toward and the benefits received from mental health services. “A Qualitative Study of Mental Health Help-Seeking among Catholic Priests,” published in the Spring 2014 journal Mental Health, Religion, and Culture (Taylor and Francis Press) and co-authored with Ethan Sahker MA, Deanna Hamilton, PhD, Mary Beth Mannarino, PhD, Wonjin Sim, PhD, and Meredith St. Jean, MSCP of Chatham University’s Graduate Psychology Programs, examined 15 Catholic priests through qualitative interviews to determine how priests thought about mental health services, barriers to seeking mental health services, utilization of mental health services, and reasons why mental health services are useful for priests.
All priests in the study expressed positive attitudes about mental health services and the majority of priests (60% of the sample) had sought services in the past for a variety of reasons and for support for those priests who considered themselves “wounded healers.” Three barriers to seeking help were identified: stigma, sufficient supports, and no perceived need for services. In order to help priests more effectively, all priests encouraged mental health professionals to understand the importance of prayer and the unique stressors of the priestly role.
“Most priests are so self-giving and in the helping role more often than not,” Dr. Isacco says, “this study asked the question – who helps the helper? It turns out that priests are willing to go and benefit from counseling. Mental health providers are uniquely trained to play a critical role in enhancing the health and wellbeing of priests. Other priests should find encouragement in this study and consider help-seeking a strength rather than a weakness.”
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Anthony Isacco, PhD