Michael Horne vertical cropToday, Dr. Michael Horne, Catholic Charities Director of Clinical Services, discusses a frequently asked question about our Catholic counseling program. Horne is a Catholic-trained psychologist and started with Catholic Charities in 2012, previously working in private practice and with other Catholic Charities agencies. He is a member of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception parish in Fredericksburg where he lives with his wife and three children.


What makes Catholic counseling different from regular, secular counseling?

It’s the question I get the most when I’m talking to people throughout the diocese about our Family Services mental health counseling program. How are we different from other counseling practices and how do we differ from other social service agencies?

At Catholic Charities, we strive to integrate the Catholic faith in our all of our services. Because we are defined by and motivated through our Catholic identity, we take seriously Christ’s call to treat all persons with dignity from the beginning until the end of life.

In our counseling program, we emphasize flourishing. An authentically Catholic approach to counseling is all about the difference between a “freedom from” approach versus a “freedom for” approach.


A secular counseling approach: “freedom from”

A “freedom from” approach looks to help people be free from symptoms, free from pathology, free from distress.

Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychotherapy, famously tells a client, “Much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness.” In essence, Freud thought that therapy could help with a lot of things, but it could not help people move beyond what he saw as a normal human state of sadness.

Now this is not why my colleagues and I went into the field of counseling. We are not interested in only helping people move back toward a tolerable level of disappointment in their life. We believe that people have the capacity for more. We believe that people can have their lives transformed by our services.


The Catholic counseling approach: “freedom for”

So, at Catholic Charities, we strive for a “freedom for” approach – a freedom for health, a freedom for joy, a freedom for following God’s call in our lives. We believe that our clients can completely change their lives, rather just stitching their wounds.

Pope Francis uses the analogy of the church being a field hospital. And it’s true – most of our clients initially need basic care and stabilization from emotional wounds or traumas. While a “freedom from” approach in counseling would stop the bleeding, insert stitches and move on, we know that our work doesn’t stop there.

We want to accompany them on their journey, not just returning them to health, but continuing to a new place… a place where our clients will see their dignity as stemming from their creation in the image and likeness of God… a place where our clients can flourish.


Practically speaking

But how does this actually affect the counseling session? One example I can give you is in the context of marriage counseling.

We often see married couples in crisis — some have come to Catholic Charities because of their desire to live within the faith. However, many of our clients come to us, not because they are Catholic or even Christian, but because they see the Church as a great refuge and source of help.

We do not impose our religious beliefs on any client; we use our faith to inform our work and inform our “freedom for” approach to counseling.

Instead of recommending a “freedom from” marital stress that would result in separation or divorce, we would use our “freedom for” approach, counseling the couple to push through conflict, helping them to strengthen their relationship and ultimately live their vocation joyfully.

At Catholic Charities, it is the way in which we serve that provides people the opportunity to flourish. Working with the love of Christ, the truth of His Church, and a deep respect for our clients, our services are fundamentally different from secular counseling agencies and non-profits. There must be something more for those whom we serve.


For more information on our Family Services Counseling, contact our Director of Clinical Services, Dr. Michael Horne, at mhorne@ccda.net or call our intake line at 703-224-1630 to make an appointment. Our Catholic-based counseling is charged on a sliding scale to allow our services to help those most in need. To enable us to continue to see suffering families, please go to our donation page to make a gift today.