The National Catholic Review

Several miles from the State Capital in Albany, New York, the old building that was once an orphanage stands proudly as the Pastoral Center for the Albany Diocese, whose boundaries span the Catskill Mountains to the Adirondack Mountains. Playgrounds are now parking lots. Once inside, there are friendly welcomes and an art gallery whose splashes of color and Christian symbols rival stained glass scenes in any cathedral. The Bishop’s Coat of Arms features a sea shell close to the heart of the crucified Savior: symbolizing the Apostle James, a fisherman. For 33 years Bishop Howard James Hubbard has been the Bishop of Albany, and I have come today to visit and talk about the role and value of psychology and social work in the Church.

Of the more than 220 bishops in the United States Church, only a handful have had formal training in the helping professions. (Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles is one of these, with a Masters of Social Work degree.) After his theological training, Bishop Hubbard enrolled in a graduate program in social welfare at the Catholic University of America. For his internship, he returned to Albany to work at Hope House, where he became immersed in helping those caught up in the scourge of heroin addiction that blighted Albany in the middle 1960s. Bishop McCann viewed service to these addicted persons as a higher priority than Hubbard finishing his studies, and so a ministry involving street outreach and work within treatment centers began. Bishop Hubbard’s good work here was noticed by many and in 1977, at age 38, Pope Paul VI named him the youngest bishop in the United States.

Hubbard looks back with fondness on his years of direct service. “I learned community service, group work, and how to do effective counseling. Without this background, my later work as a bishop would have been much more difficult. Psychology and social work have become a resource, a wonderful service for our people who struggle with problems along the continuum of adjustment disorders and family problems to more serious disorders.”

Hubbard noted that the relationship between psychology and the Church has not always been a harmonious one, because many of the ideas of the founders of psychology questioned the role of religion. “We now know,” said Hubbard, “that the behavioral sciences contribute to our Gospel demand, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you don’t understand yourself, don’t love yourself, it’s going to be difficult or nearly impossible to love your neighbor. So if you are a fully integrated human being you can more effectively serve your neighbor. In this way the disciplines of psychology and social work complement the Gospel.”

There is a distinction between spiritual direction and counseling, said Hubbard.

“Spiritual direction,” he said, “makes one’s relationship with God as the center, while psychological counseling starts with the human person carte-blanche and seeks to heal conflicts within or those problems one may have with others. The role of spiritual direction is to deepen one’s own understanding of who God is, and how this impacts on one’s life.”

During the course of Hubbard’s priesthood, there have been three individuals whom he has admired tremendously for their work in Albany. “Father John Maleck, who was my spiritual director, is really my hero. He obtained a degree in psychology from Columbia Universirty and helped our diocese start its own counseling center,” he said. “Sister Serena Branson, who did a marvelous job directing and expanding Catholic Charities, and Sister Susanne Breckel, were both outstanding role models for me.”

One of the aims of my blog is to discover and encourage ways that psychology is helping or can be of even greater assistance to the Church. Thank you, Bishop Hubbard, for seeing the value in our profession and for helping so many people during your nearly fifty years as priest and bishop!


we vnornm | 7/1/2010 - 9:50pm
Father John,
Do you have links for the group and their convention that you can post here.
Well, if you found my book you know I'm a big fan of psychological testing and of course some of my posting was rhetorical to get a discussion going. In the right hands psychological tests can sometimes greatly add to what is learned about a person. 
A religious superior wrote to me and noted that because of celibacy, the Church must be even more sure than professions like psychology or social work. Good point! And he knows much better than I who is applying to the seminaries.
It just seems so very sad, and extremely unfair, that there has to be so much suspicion now toward anyone applying to the seminary, or even priests for that matter. Cardinal Dulles dissented with the Bishop's "one strike" policy and said that justice required a more careful and nuanced series of judgments.
Thanks for hanging in there!  bill
John Stabeno | 7/1/2010 - 7:01pm
Much appreciated, Bill. I have really worked closely with many families. They have no clue what to do and are actually more difficult to deal with than the addicts themselves. Or, I should say, I become more easily frustrated with them, but we all laugh in the end at this insidous disease! People have become prisioners in their own homes with their own family and have little recourse to effective support in which they feel comfortable partipating. I am hoping to make some inroads at the National Catholic Council on Alcholism and Related Drug Problems, Inc. National Convention later this month in St. Paul MN. Hopefully we can present something to the bishops and pastors in how to reach out to this population.
As for the issue of psychological testing, I have been a fan of it for years. I was a psych major in college and have a masters in counseling. I enjoy taking them and utilizing them with clients and as a general topic. I looked up your book and it seems to be a really good text that can engage our ADHD and internet population that is so used to getting hit with so many visual and informational overloads that an "old school textbook" seems so out-moded. It usually isn't the test that is as effective as it is the person doing the interpretations and decision making on the outcomes. Anyone can find almost anything they want to raise issues on a person or to minimize or explain away somthing that surfaces. Most seminary formators, vocation directors and bishops, do not have expertise in this area and look for certain demand characteristics that may be pet peeves or red lights for them that may have less significance for the general population. Most seminarians probably know what they are and hopefully can manipulate some test questions to appease them. But that is part of the problem as well, the test are only as good as the person allows them to be a reflection of their true selves. It is a shame that many have to lie or not reveal stuff for fear of being witch-hunted or deemed suspicious.
we vnornm | 7/5/2010 - 3:42pm
Thank you, Mr. O'Leary. amdg, bill van ornum
JAMES OLEARY MR | 7/5/2010 - 10:36am
Nobody mentioned the classic by Father Felix Beisteck, S.J. called "The Casework Relationship.' I had to read a lot for my M.S.W. but this was the best. 
we vnornm | 7/2/2010 - 6:00pm
Kate and Janice,
Thanks for helping to make this an ongoing online community. best, bill
JANICE JOHNSON | 7/2/2010 - 1:12pm
David Brooks has a perceptive op-ed in the NYT this week.  A review of an essay by Brendan I Koerner in July2010 issue of Wired magazine-about Bill Wilson, one of the founders of AA.  Bill Wilson had a spirtitual epiphany at a time he was in the depths of alcohol addiction.  He was influenced by William James "The Varieties of Religious Experience: and designed a group " that would help people achieve broad spiritual awakenings, and abstinence from alcohol would be a byproduct of that larger salvation."    The program has worked for many, but for many it has not due to the distinctiveness of each human.  David Brooks suggests it is still worthwhile to design programs that will help some people and that AA embodies a number of counter-cultural beliefs --disempowerment , fellowship, surrender of control-that show insight into human behavior.   
Kate Smith | 7/2/2010 - 10:28am
There is sooo much I could say, knowing Bishop Hubbard for a long, long time.
But I'll keep it simple and easy.   One of the names in your blog is wrong.   You should have written ''Father John Malecki'', with an ''i'' at the end, not Maleck.
we vnornm | 7/2/2010 - 6:20am
Dear David,
One must be very careful about choosing a "guiding professional" so as not to be guided in the wrong direction. amdg, bill
we vnornm | 7/2/2010 - 6:17am
Father John,
Thanks for the info. There are some really good articles on the website. Re: Type I or Type II....I will have to look that up and refresh my memory! Thanks, bill
ps consider visiting Loome Theological Booksellers in Red Wing MN
John Stabeno | 7/2/2010 - 1:44am
Here is a the website for the conference Thanks for the support.
I always liked projective tests. I believe that psychological tests can and should do more to help people better understand themselves and offers others an avenue to enable that person a method for growth and maturity. If nothing else, it is a tool for human development, as your book appears to suggest. To often they are used to pinpoint pathology without exploring how it got to be pathological. At their worst, testing can alienate people from people and people from themselves. They become a diagnosis or a disorder. PEOPLE ARE HUMAN!! (Even if they are a standard deviation from the norm!) Avery Dulles was gentle person, I was fortunate to have him as a professor at CUA. But, I also believe that we need to keep children safe even if we make a type two error (or would that be a type one error?)
we vnornm | 7/1/2010 - 9:55pm
Dear Maria:
Astor keeps going strong. They have a great website:
In the tradition of your Aunt, I will note that donations are greatly appreciated and can be earmarked for certain purposes. Readers, call Astor at 845-876-4081 and just ask for the Development Office. :-) You can also leave something to Astor in your will.
thanks again. amdg, bill
Anonymous | 7/1/2010 - 9:23pm
Dear Bill

Thank you so much for your kind commentary on my Aunt. Interestingly, I also had another Aunt, Sister Anna Marie, also a Sister of Charity, who also worked at the Astor Home. Serena was indefatigable. God bless you and all of your efforts. I am able to do the work I do because I see the face of Christ every day in my patients. Mother Teresa described mental illness as Christ's crown of thorns...

Father John: laughter goes a long way. I can't count how many times in a day that I am moved to joy and laughter by the suffering souls we call patients...
we vnornm | 7/1/2010 - 6:50am
Dear Father Stabeno:
You have an important ministry....those people and families "living with addictions" need so much support and specialized help, even keeping in mind all of the good that AA does...With all best wishes in your priesthood and work, amdg bill
we vnornm | 7/1/2010 - 6:36am
Dear Ms. Byrd:
Sister Serena was also the first Executive Director of Astor Home for Children in Rhinebeck, New York. Astor has grown tremendously and is now known as Astor Services for Children and includes clinics, day treatment centers, school based clinics, Head Start, and other programs.
Astor has been a big part of my life as I was an intern and had other positions, and was on the Board for 14 years.
I've heard Sister Serena's name often, always in a tone of awe and gratitude.
thanks, bill
John Stabeno | 7/1/2010 - 2:08am
Thank you so much for this article. I have always admired Bishop Hubbard for his insights into pastoral planning and the initiative he had undertaken in his diocese. This article confirms why I always thought there should be more bishops like him.
I have been a priest for 10 years. Additionally, I have worked professionally in the addiction/recovery field in some capacity or another for close to 25 years. (I was 22 when I started) I have found that there is little room in the church for ministry in this area, yet I believe it is desperately needed. It seems that many priests who have worked in this field leave active priestly ministry. At least that is what has happened to all the priests in my diocese. I struggle so much with where my calling is. I love both the church and I love working with individuals and families living with addictions. I am trying to find a niche. I am glad to see that a Bishop was aware of this need and utilized one of his best to do it. Where are these Bishops today?
Anonymous | 6/30/2010 - 11:29pm
Sister Serena Branson, now gone to Glory, was my Aunt. My Father used to say that she was successful, in part, because as she shook your hand with her right hand, she was taking money from you in her left hand...He also used to say that she could have been successful as a CEO.

I am a Social Worker on a psychiatric unit in a teaching hospital in DC. A Psychiatrist with whom I work sought my opinion today with regard to the performance of one of our Residents. I gave her high marks and noted her good heart. I told him that the best Psychiatrists are, of course, smart by definition; however, the great ones are those with a heart. I found myself discussing Spe Salvi and the meaning of consolation. The great Psychiatrists are never afraid to enter into the suffering of others....
we vnornm | 6/30/2010 - 4:28pm
Crystal, thanks for mentioning these books, I'm going to look them up. amdg, bill
Anonymous | 6/30/2010 - 3:09pm
One book I especially liked that makes distinctions between psychology and spiritual direction is  by Jesuit and psychologist William Barry - "The Practice of Spiritual Direction".    A book I found to be not helpful at all was "Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach".   I've been to counseling/therapy  in the past and more recently  a retreat with spiritual direction - they were helpful in different ways.  I'm not sure either one alone can  repair what's wrong when something's wrong.
we vnornm | 6/30/2010 - 1:47pm
Growing up in a very Catholic neighborood,  Vincentians at DePaul (St. Vincent is patron saint of Social Workers), Jesuits at Loyola, work at Astor Services for Children, college teacher, writer and editor for Crossroad Publishing-the meld of these has given me ways to help people in my career, and of course parenting which is more challenging than all of the above. In particular, working with the most severely disabled, both developmentally and psychiatrically, has touched me deeply.
We don't hear as much about "non-directive counseling," but in my field, at least, it seems there is an undue interest in political causes, and many of these conflict Church teaching. Despite this, psychologists spend great amounts of time helping to heal "the poorest of the poor," as Mother Teresa called those who need are help, so we are out there in the front lines trying to help our neighbors, and I think this is in great harmony with the work of the Church now and through 2000 years. IMHO. Thanks for your inspiration!   bill
JANICE JOHNSON | 6/30/2010 - 1:15pm
Bill,, I appreciate very much this blog on your interview with Bishop Hubbard on the relationship between psychology and the Church.  I am aware of the huge contribution that psychology has made to the profession of social work and am looking forward to learning more about its contributions to the church.  I agree with you and Beth that there is an important distinction between spiritual counseling and therapeutic counseling.  The knack is knowing when each is appropriate and finding a competent spiritual minister or therapist!  The non-directive approach of the 70's was disastrous for many including my family.  I hope it is no longer practiced.
For me, over the years, Catholic, Social Worker, Parent have become so inextricably interwoven in the fabric of my being that I don't know where one ends and the other begins!  For this state of mind I credit (or blame) my education in social justice and devotion to the Eucharist  at St. Catherine University; my work at Catholic Charities and the enormous privilege of parenting two of God's most vulnerable children.  How does one ever express enough gratitude for such gifts?
we vnornm | 6/30/2010 - 12:35pm
Bishop Hubbard has a knack for getting right to the heart of things. Sometimes I think there is confusion regarding the "spiritual" and the "psychological" in terms of the many conflicts within the Church itself. There is danger in trying to "psychologize" but similarly one can go to far when trying to use spirituality as a tool to resolve martial problems, issues with kids, directions in one's own life, and for more difficult problems like major depression or bipolar where spirituality may have even a strong role but can't be enough in itself. There are many conflicts about doctrine which might not be so severe if everyone "knew oneself" as Bishop Hubbard is suggesting.
In the 70s many psychologists emphasized "non-directive counseling" with "unconditional positive regard" which when carried to its extreme may mean going along with actions against Christian morality. When priests or nuns or psychology departments took on this approach enthusiastically, there were problems. I know of one graduate program with an Institute for priests and nuns and the "non-directive" nature seemed to encourage dating (yes) between the participants and the program became known for a place where priests and nuns would enter the program but then end up leaving the Church, sometimes to marry each other, and the archbishop had to step in. Later, even Cardinal O'Connor (who supported psychology and had a masters degree in the field) would become worked up over the work of Carl Rogers and how in his view this encouraged too many to doubt their vocation and leave the priesthood.
There are ways to blend then two approaches effectively-Bishop Hubbard has done this in the many programs in his diocese. I'm glad you found somehow who knew the difference between these approaches and that it got you pack on your own right path. bill
Beth Cioffoletti | 6/30/2010 - 11:59am
Bill, since I was a little girl I have had a strong interest in all things spiritual, and throughout my life, though I haven't always been a regular "church-goer", I've always been searching, reading, probing. (And sometimes all this introspection, in itself, can be "not good" for me).
I'm also a fairly run-of-the-mill neurotic, with my share of behavioral problems and relationship hangups.  I can't say enough for the help that psychology brings to this kind of personal suffering (and it IS suffering)!  Once, in my early 40s, I was so confused, emotionally stuck, and down that I sought out the help of a counselor.  What a godsend!  She was able to help me uncover the insights that I needed to be able to see my way again.  I don't know why I waited so long! 
It's clear to me that spiritual direction was not what I needed at the time, but rather a trained therapist.  Knowing the difference is, I think, a very important part in bringing the gift of psychology to the Church.