Mental Health Awareness Month: Meet Dr. Emily

 As we move through mental health awareness month, I’m excited to continue highlighting those at CPI who help facilitate the healing of mental health disorders our clients suffer with.

This week, I have someone else I’d like you to meet: Dr. Emily Dowdell. 

Dr. Emily is another one of the founding Mentors of IDDM, has been with CatholicPsych as a clinician for a little over a year now, and is the Director of Assessments. She works out of our Westerly, Rhode Island office and has a great passion for helping those who suffer from psychological disorders. Read on to learn more about Dr. Emily!

Dr. Emily, can you give us a snapshot of your journey to becoming a psychologist?

Let's just say, I took the long road to becoming a psychologist. I did not take a single course in psychology until I started the doctoral program seven years ago at the Institute for Psychological Sciences!

I completed my undergrad degree at Franciscan University, graduating in 2009 with a bachelor's in multimedia communications with minors in film studies and theology. I was set on becoming a graphic designer and photographer. Because I graduated in 2009, I became extremely comfortable with the side-hustle life and started working a variety of jobs. I worked hard for five years to grow my own wedding photography business, and by year five I was photographing 20 weddings a year. To support myself in the meantime, I freelanced in graphic design, walked dogs, hosted trivia, photographed proms and sports for LifeTouch, made lattes at Starbucks, and was a part-time manager at a rock climbing gym. This was sustainable until it wasn't... and I realized I needed a career change.

I loved being a wedding photographer but I felt called to do something more, to be with people, not only in their happiest moments, but also in their most difficult. I think I have always loved others and loved finding little ways to love them, whether it was making someone a delicious well-balanced grande two-pump vanilla latte, keeping their favorite pup company, or capturing the sweet moments on their wedding day.

I wanted to learn more about how to connect with people and witness to, love, and support them. So I decided to study psychology and found the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. It was an answer to my prayers in that the school united the science of psychology with my Catholic faith, which has always been central to my understanding of the world and the human person.

What do you love most about your work?

I love being able to connect with and support others through difficult times. I find the work very sacred, in that people will share things that they feel like they can't share with anyone else. It is really a privilege to see the parts of people that they feel they have to hide, and to help them feel more comfortable stepping out from that hiding place.

I know the question is what do I love most about my work but in the process, I will share one of the things I hate about my job... and that is coming face to face with the cost of original sin - shame. One of the things I have worked really hard to extract from my own heart, and try to help others work to fight against, is shame (which in session I sometimes lovingly refer to as a big black shadowy insidious monster that manages to cover and stick to so many aspects of our inner world).

What has working at CPI allowed you to do that you may not have had the chance to do in other organizations?

I think one of the greatest gifts is that I’ve been able to be a part of the creation of the brand new mentorship model (IDDM). That, and being able to share and incorporate aspects of Catholic philosophy and theology in what I do, is fantastic!

Back to mentorship though: I really appreciate being able to talk with my clients every day, to think about them everyday. It's also amazing because of the way we play with time. Because it's a voice-message exchange, I can listen and respond at my own pace, which works really well with the rest of my life. I'm a married mother of two little boys and it's wonderful to have the flexibility in my schedule to be present to my clients and to my family.

If you could shout something “from the rooftops" related to mental health, what would it be? 

You don't need to hurry, and you are loved! (These are two messages I've been working to receive and live out in my own life as well.) In our culture, with the instantaneousness of technology, it can be easy to slip into a pattern of needing to rush or respond to false urgency, when real life happens in the stillness of a moment. Sometimes it feels safer to keep running to meet the next deadline, or running to the next activity, or rushing to accomplish the next goal when we don't think we are good enough as we are.

This week on the podcast, I’m discussing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Scrupulosity. Do you have experience working with clients who have struggled with this and do you have any encouragement for those with OCD tendencies?

I have worked with a variety of people with OCD, some with more extreme forms of it than others. It can be internally paralyzing to get caught up in mental systems, perfectionistic expectations, and feel ruled by the “shoulds.” The most important step for someone suffering with OCD is to recognize that they are not their thoughts. Once some distance can be created between themselves and their thoughts - once they can become an observer of their thoughts - more self-awareness can be gained, and they can move more easily toward self-acceptance.

One incredibly powerful tool in developing the “neutral observer self” is Mindfulness. Once an ability to observe has been learned, a closer look can be taken, triggers can be identified, reactions without judgment can be analyzed. For those who struggle with OCD, I would say “Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Engage in the process of healing with a trusted mentor or therapist to help guide you, if you need it.”

What would you tell someone who may be reluctant to enter therapy?

“You may or may not feel like you need therapy at this time, but if you're suffering it can be really comforting to have someone in your corner who can help you and be there for you in those difficult moments. You deserve to feel supported and have someone walk with you, wherever you are, to help you become more connected with your true self.”


To learn more about IDDM and how it can help you, see here.  

To read more from Dr. Emily on the blog, click here.

And to learn more about Catholic Mindfulness, visit here.