On the CatholicPsych Facebook page, I once shared a post that ended up getting more shares, comments, and reactions than any thing I've ever posted. (Even now, years later, I still periodically receive notification of a new comment on that particular post!)
I shared this particular post because I’m a huge proponent of integration: the belief that our psychological and emotional lives are deeply united with, and deeply affecting, our spiritual lives, and vice versa.
So what did the image say?
It read "Depression and anxiety are not the result of not praying enough." Put another way, the message was that you can't "just pray" away psychological issues when there is a biological basis for your suffering.
This message struck a deep chord with many people, and resulted in the ensuing onslaught of comments and reactions from those who both agreed and disagreed with the sentiment. I
Whether subconsciously or consciously, many people continue to hold onto the belief that the reason they struggle with mental illness is because they have not prayed enough or that they "just need to work harder to be holy."
But this is a dangerous and incorrect way of viewing mental illness. You cannot just pray away psychological issues when there is a biological basis for your suffering!
It's not that you shouldn't pray if you're feeling depressed or anxious. (It's a really great thing to do!) It's just that that's not the only problem.
You might be praying a lot ... and still suffering. That doesn't mean you're doing a bad job in your spiritual life! Both prayer and the sacraments in conjunction with getting professional mental health help is oftentimes necessary to relieve mental and emotional suffering.
One organization seeking to promote this kind of integrated care is a non-profit called Made in His Image (MIHI), which provides resources to women struggling from the effects of trauma, abuse, and/or eating disorders. Founded by Maura Preszler, MIHI seeks to normalize the need for therapy and medication while also recognizing faith in God and an active spiritual life as essential to recovery and healing from mental health struggles.
Maura is actually the original author of the aforementioned Facebook post I shared which garnered so much attention. She has also now become an author of her first book, titled Choosing to See Beauty - the newest publication from the CatholicPsych Press!
Maura's personal journey through mental illness and trauma is one of deep pain, but also of hope and healing found through both faith and mental health help, and I wanted to help Maura get her story and message out. As a way to help introduce her and her work to you, I asked Maura to answer a few questions:
Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
My husband Michael and I now live in Denver, Colorado with our three little boys (5 and under), but I actually used to be a pastry chef while living in San Diego (I love the ocean!). We are a very active family, and in addition to my love of running, hiking, and swimming I also still enjoy baking. (My four year old describes himself as a “foodie” and we frequently bake things together.)
Tell us about the inspiration behind starting your non-profit organization, Made in His Image.
I started my non-profit when I was almost finished with my own therapy journey because I had such a strong passion to help other women who were suffering. I desired to help them find meaning and healing the way my doctor was helping me.
During my journey of therapy, I found an incredible amount of healing in discovering my worth as a daughter of God and who God is as my Father. Everyone desires to be known and seen and through my relationship with God the Father I found what my heart was looking for. We were created to be in a relationship with God and my heart rests when I live in this truth.
What kind of help do you offer through Made in His Image? Any goals for the future of your organization?
I speak nationwide, and we offer support groups and help connect people with mental health professionals in their area. We also provide positive and hopeful messages and stories on all of our social media platforms. Ultimately, we aim to be a light in the darkness.
As for the future, I have huge goals. I'd love to build the first Catholic inpatient therapy center for women to help in their recovery from abuse, mental illness and eating disorders. This medical center would be one-of- a-kind, with Mass and Adoration offered daily. Women would also be able to learn how to cook and nourish their bodies with healthy food and exercise.
What inspired you to write your new book, Choosing to See Beauty?
During one of my last therapy sessions, my doctor looked at me and said “Everyone suffers, Maura. It’s what we do with our suffering that will make us a saint.”
I hope to use my life to inspire others to know the love of the Father. Through my work with Made in His Image I have received thousands of messages from women asking about my therapy journey, mental health, relationships, eating disorders, etc., so I wrote my story in hopes that God will use it to touch others and to inspire them to step forward in their own pain and find healing.
I really want to help to break the stigma and shame associated with mental health and Catholicism. Many Christians believe you can “pray away” a mental illness, which is a dangerous mentality to have, and I hope my book helps normalize therapy and medication. I also hope it helps break the cycle of abuse in families and inspire others to become wounded healers.
Maura was my guest on a recent episode of the Being Human podcast! Listen to our conversation HERE.
Read more from Maura and others on the Made in His Image blog HERE.