Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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DAY 6: Spiritual guidance (Cultural Factors)

Though she’s been in counseling, Anna Studenny said her most important piece of advice didn’t come from a psychologist.

It came from God.

Studenny, who said she was abused as a child, has suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“It comes out in my sleep,” said Studenny, an Education senior. She still has vivid nightmares about her abuse, which lasted from age 10 to 17.

Studenny never pressed charges against in relation to the incidents, but she said the pain didn’t go away. She severed ties at home by moving to Northwestern, nearly 2,000 miles away.

But Studenny said she got a message from God the summer before her sophomore year to sort out lingering issues with her family.

“The Lord told me to go home for the Fall Quarter and reconcile with my parents,” Studenny said. “It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Studenny is among many college students who turn to their religious faith in times of suffering. Although religion and psychology have historically been at odds, both psychologists and clergy members say that gap is narrowing.

“Even a person with the most severe psychological or psychiatric problem, they still have a soul,” said the Rev. Kenneth Simpson, director and chaplain of the Sheil Catholic Center. “You can still accompany them in the spiritual realm without having to be a therapist.”

Simpson is one of NU’s eight “religious counselors” — clergy members, from a variety of religious traditions, who can talk through personal issues with students. For some religions without on-campus clergy, student-run religious groups offer support.

Different approaches

For students, approaching a religious leader is less intimidating than seeing a professional therapist, some religious counselors said.

Counseling and Psychological Services “has a stigma to it,” said Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein. “For most students, going to CAPS means going to the administration.”

Although they are not mental-health professionals, religious counselors can serve as a resource for students dealing with problems in academics, personal relationships, grief or just plain stress. Many do not focus on religion but instead listen to the problems and help students devise their own solutions.

“I’m not avoiding spirituality,” said the Rev. Julie Windsor Mitchell, director of University Christian Ministry. “But I think for some people it can be more of a turn-off than helpful, so I try to be careful about that.”

Sometimes it’s just the listening ear of a clergy member that can begin to mend emotional wounds, University Chaplain Timothy Stevens said.

“At the end of an hour they’re saying thank you, and I didn’t really do anything except listen,” he said.

But Lutheran pastor Lloyd Kittlaus said his faith always plays a part in how he tries to help a troubled student.

“I can’t separate my religious faith from who I am and I always respond as a person of faith,” he said. “Most (students) come because they know I’m a pastor. So I speak out of the context, and I do that explicitly and without apology.”

Collaboration with CAPS

But problems like depression, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts are often too much for clergy to handle.

“Students have walked in here who I’ve never met before and they’re seriously in crisis,” Windsor Mitchell said. “I am not equipped to deal with that.”

Jacqueline Schmitt of Canterbury Northwestern, the Episcopal campus ministry, said her intuition helps her know the line between where she can and can’t help.

“It’s sort of a gut feeling,” Schmitt said, “but it’s when I come upon a point where I don’t know what to say next.”

Clergy members sometimes collaborate with CAPS, especially during times of crisis. They also have an open system of referrals.

But Klein said the tie between religious leaders and CAPS still could be stronger.

“I can’t remember the last time CAPS called me,” he said. “You’d like to see a little more coordination.”

Ritual and tradition

Besides the discourse between students and clergy, other religious tools can aid students.

Religion offers community that can help someone suffering from feelings of isolation.

“A religious tradition helps pull people back into the fabric of family and community life,” Schmitt said.

Religious rituals can also add structure to a life that seems out of control.

Seema Shah, president of OM, the Hindu Students Council, said several rituals in Hinduism, such as reading and yoga, offer relaxation.

There are no Hindu clergy or counselors on campus, but Shah, a Weinberg senior, said taking part in rituals and interacting with other Hindu students can help alleviate stress.

Hon Sing Lee, a Kellogg graduate student and former member of the Buddhist Study Group, said meditation has transformed his emotional response to difficult situations.

“Now I’m less angry,” Lee said. “There are times when I meet with crisis and I respond to the crisis in a more calm way than I used to.”

Striking a balance

However, some psychologists and clergy members say religion can have a detrimental effect on a person’s well-being in some cases.

Some students may feel guilt as the result of a strict religious upbringing or a stringent adherence to doctrine. Religious faith also can prevent students from seeking therapy, according to Diane Lin, a CAPS psychologist.

“For some people, coming to counseling means their faith isn’t strong enough,” Lin said.

But religious faith also can bring relief. Studenny said she realized her own worth by reading the Bible and talking to other Christians.

“(The abuse) made me feel so dirty, thinking I deserved it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what other people say, it matters what Jesus says because he’s the one who made me.”

Asiya Bari, co-president of the Muslim-cultural Students Association, said she relies on the Muslim belief that God never gives a person too much to handle.

“The greatness of God and the mercy of God is such an important belief in Islam,” said Bari, a Weinberg junior. “You know that God is always on your side.”

Narrowing the gap

According to several NU psychologists, it is only recently that psychologists have become more receptive to religion.

Jennifer Panning, a post-doctoral fellow at CAPS, said many psychologists are averse to religion because they are less religious than the American public. But Panning — who has studied the religious attitudes of psychology graduate students — said many therapists now are trying harder to respect clients’ religious beliefs.

Studenny said that when she visited a non-Christian psychiatrist, there was a communication gap. She now sees a counselor who incorporates Christian beliefs into their therapy sessions.

Lin said at CAPS, religion is taken into account the same way culture is, and students have requested therapists of their own religion.

“To ignore religion or act like it doesn’t exist or not talk about it does a disservice, especially if it’s important to a client,” Lin said.

And students can utilize resources from religion and psychology simultaneously.

“I’ve never, ever said, ‘I can’t work with you, you should go over to CAPS, goodbye,'” Stevens said. “You can do two things at once.”

Reaching out to religion

Northwestern has eight religious counselors in a variety of faith traditions:* Timothy Stevens, university chaplain, 847-491-7256
* Erica Brown, assistant university chaplain, 847-491-2297
* Rabbi Michael Mishkin, Louis & Saerree Fiedler Hillel Center, 847-467-4455
* The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt, Canterbury Northwestern, 847-328-8654
* Father Kenneth Simpson, Sheil Center (Catholic), 847-328-4648
* Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, Tannenbaum Chabad House, 847-869-8060
* The Rev. Julie Windsor Mitchell, University Christian Ministry, 847-864-2320 * Pastor Lloyd Kittlaus, University Lutheran Center, 847-864-7849

Student-led religious and spiritual groups also offer support. Visit the Associated Student Government student group directory online at groups.northwestern.edu.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
DAY 6: Spiritual guidance (Cultural Factors)