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A Psychological Interpretation of Genesis 2:24
by Dr. Emily Dowdell

“Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

In Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, he begins with Genesis. What better way to tell the story of what it means to be human then to start at the beginning. In the Creation account, it is revealed that man was not meant to be alone, and God created a suitable helper for him. The relationship between the man and the woman was designed to be one of mutuality and complementarity. There were significant differences, yet they existed in harmony and complemented one another.

One of the goals of Christian marriage is to rediscover that original unity between Adam and Eve, through sacrifice, self-gift, and a shared movement toward holiness. Yet often, couples find themselves feeling isolated and alone, experiencing solitude and even despair within their relationships. The idea of marital unity can seem so far off, like a distant dream, when the day-to-day interactions are grating.  In Love & Responsibility, Pope St. John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) wrote:

True love, a love that is internally complete, is one in which we choose the person for the sake of the person, — that in which a man chooses a woman or a woman chooses a man not just as a sexual partner but as the person on whom to bestow the gift of his or her own life. It is put to the test most severely when the sensual and emotional reactions themselves grow weaker, and sexual values as such lose their effect. Nothing then remains except the value of the person, and the inner truth about the love of those concerned comes to light. If their love is a true gift of self, so that they belong, each to the other, it will not only survive but grow stronger and sink deeper roots.  Whereas if it was never more than a sort of synchronization of sensual and emotional experiences, it will lose its raison d’etre and the person involved will suddenly find themselves in a vacuum.

Ideally, when a man and women enter a marital relationship, they are doing so freely and are able to make a full gift of themselves. Sometimes, however, this is not the case. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Theology of the Body, in order to give yourself, you must first have some sense of self-ownership.  

Some psychologists like to focus on “the unconscious” in their work and believe that the goal of individual therapy is to bring the things that are outside the person’s awareness into view. These are the therapists that like to ask, “so, tell me about your mother…” There is a sense that if we can become more aware of our true intentions, motivations, and desires, we can make more informed decisions and increase ownership of our choices. To uncover the truth about ourselves, we go back to the beginning, to our origin stories.

When we carry unresolved pain from our past in our unconscious, we can react to our current relationships and life events from a place of fear and self-protection without even realizing it. There is a defense system in place to keep negative past experiences from recurring. It is a very natural process. As a kid, you touched the stove and found out that it burns, and you will never touch it again… In our interactions with our parents as children, we were constantly using them as a sounding board, taking in and adapting to their feedback, and learning how to be. Our parents were not perfect people and sometimes their reactions were not the most reliable. In such cases, we developed beliefs and reactions that may have helped us navigate childhood, but do not generalize well into adulthood. The journey of self-mastery involves untangling the past from the present, recognizing when we’re reacting based on our history instead of the here-and-now. In order to be fully present to the person in front of me, I need to see the reactions that are coming from my own unmet needs or history and make a conscious choice to reorient myself to the person before me. It is a brave and difficult thing to explore some of the dark corners of your story, but once illuminated the fear no longer reigns.

So what does all this have to do with Genesis 2:24? My working theory is that most marital conflict is rooted in an inability to see past an original wound and truly orient to the other person. Maybe I’m reacting to something my spouse said and interpreting it through a lens colored by my past experience.  That coloration, while true to my experience, may affect my ability to see my spouse’s intentions clearly or interpret them accurately. I’ll give you a personal example. My dad was not around very much when I was young.  That generated an assumption in my mind that men are naturally selfish. For a longtime, I had no idea that I even had that assumption, never mind that I was using it to interpret the behavior of all the men in my life.  You can imagine how that filter might affect my interpretation, in moments when my husband would choose to do something for himself, instead of for our family. Thankfully, I’ve learned to identify when that thought-train is leaving the station and choose to reorient myself to my spouse ­– who by the way is incredibly devoted to family – and see that in the moments he’s choosing something for himself, it’s to replenish and rest, to make himself more available to us in the future. What a different reality! So, I like to think that to leave the father and mother and cleave to the spouse, can speak to that process of untangling the past from the present, ultimately restoring the freedom needed to fully commit to loving the person before me in the present moment.

Dr. Emily Dowdell, the Latest Therapist to Join the RWPS Team

We are excited to announce the addition of Dr. Emily Dowdell to the RWPS team.  She brings with her an exceptional training background, solid Catholic formation, and unique clinical experience.  Dr. Emily will be seeing patients at our main office on the West Side of Cincinnati.  She recently sat down with us to share a bit about herself. 

Q:  Can you tell us about yourself?

I’m Dr. Emily Dowdell. I’m originally from Rhode Island, born and raised Catholic.  I am currently married with three boys under four years old.  I earned a bachelor’s degree in multimedia communications with minors in film studies and theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. After college, I returned to Rhode Island where I worked as a barista, rock climbing instructor, dog walker, trivia hostess, and freelance graphic designer while building my own wedding photography business. Just as my photography business took off and I had booked twenty-three weddings for the year, the Lord had other plans… He introduced me to the Institute for the Psychological Sciences at Divine Mercy University in Virginia. 

During my doctoral training in psychology, I worked in a variety of settings. My first experience was providing social skills training to youth and adults with severe autism in a community integration program. I then went on to work with adolescent girls, providing groups and individual treatment in a residential addiction program through Phoenix House. I spent a year focusing on diagnostics and assessments at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, a private psychiatric hospital in D.C.

For my internship and postdoctoral years, I was a fellow at Riverview Psychiatric Center the primary state hospital for the state of Maine. While there I had the opportunity to work with both civil and forensically committed individuals with more extreme psychiatric conditions. I facilitated groups, provided individual therapy, and offered psychological testing.

I went on to work with the CatholicPsych Institute in their Rhode Island office providing individual therapy and mentorship. There I became the Director of Assessments, offering psychological testing for diocesan and religious discerners.

Q:  What inspired you to become a psychologist?

I was fortunate to participate in Franciscan University’s study abroad program in Austria. While staying in an old Carthusian Monastery, I had the opportunity to study philosophy and travel to many spiritual pilgrimage sites. I learned about Pope Saint John Paul II’s philosophy of the human person that inspired Theology of the Body and read Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Learning about the dignity of the human person as created in the image of God was huge for my own self-understanding in early adulthood. When I heard about the Institute for the Psychological Sciences at DMU and how their program is designed to integrate the science of psychology with a Catholic view of the human person, I was very intrigued. Finally, I had found an opportunity to learn how to help others learn about and cooperate with their innate dignity.

Q:  What does it mean to you to integrate the practice of psychology and the Catholic faith?

My faith informs everything I do and how I see the world. It’s important to acknowledge that every approach to psychology has philosophical roots and an understanding of what it means to be human at its core. The Catholic vision of the human person offers a more holistic foundation, incorporating the person’s mind, body, and spirit. I want to see and work with the whole person, so it gives me a more balanced perspective when one aspect of the person’s life is out of sync. When working with clients who are or have experienced significant pain and suffering, my faith provides meaning. It anchors the work and gives me the hope I need to continue moving forward. My faith provides me greater clarity, orients me, and gives me a framework to better understand my clients. I ultimately entrust the Lord with the care of my clients and pray that they are receiving what they need at this time to move forward, toward becoming who God made them to be. 

Q:  What types of patients and difficulties do you treat?

Over the course of my training and experience I have provided individual, group, family, and marital therapy. I am most in my element working with individuals (adolescent through older adulthood) as they navigate a variety of challenges including: depression, anxiety, grief and loss, adjustment related issues, post/peripartum disorders, relational issues, vocational and identity concerns, trauma-related disorders, substance use and other addiction, and personality disorders.

Q:  How would you describe your approach to therapy?

I approach therapy primarily from a relational perspective, meaning I focus on building a relationship with my clients. In terms of practice and conceptualization, I integrate different theories and tools from psychodynamic schools of thought (Nancy McWilliams, Lorna Benjamin, Peter Fonagy, Edward Teyber) and evidence-based treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Mindfulness. Regardless of the specifics, therapy always comes back to the individual. As we build our relationship, we will establish goals, and I will select the most relevant approach that suits the person and his or her individual needs.

Q:  What do you like to do for fun? 

For fun, I like to spend time with my three kids and husband. We enjoy spending time outdoors together and going on little adventures. I also enjoy knitting.

To learn more or to make an appointment with Dr. Emily, please call 513-407-8878.

Meet Our Newest Provider: Rod Dunlap, M.A., IMFT

RWPS is excited to welcome Rod Dunlap, M.A., IMFT to our team. He comes to us with a wealth of experience in ministry and a passion for the Catholic faith, especially Theology of the Body. He will be seeing patients at our headquarters on the West side of Cincinnati. Rod took some time to introduce himself to our community through a little get-to-know-you Q & A.

Q:  Tell us a bit about yourself. 

My name is Rod Dunlap, and I was born and raised here in Cincinnati, OH. I graduated from Moeller High School and went on to Ohio University where I earned my bachelor’s degree in Sports Science. From there, I moved to Cleveland where I worked for the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team for a season. It was during this time that I felt the Lord calling me to do something “more.” The idea of working for sports teams for a living felt like I was wasting the talents and gifts with which I had been blessed. I moved back to Cincinnati and took a job as a counselor at a group home for at-risk kids called Boys Hope, Girls Hope.

I spent almost seven years there, and it was during this time that I really encountered the Lord for the first time through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. His mercy was and continues to be so powerful to me. I told Him during this time that I would spend my life serving Him and “working” for Him. Shortly after this awesome experience, I began a graduate program at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Religious Studies. After two years, I graduated with my M.A. in Religious Studies, and a week after that, I got married to my amazing wife Maria!

A year later, I got my first job in ministry as a youth minister at St. John the Baptist parish in Colerain. I spent four years there creating junior high, high school, and young adult ministry programs. It was during my time as a youth minister that the Lord showed me so many people who were suffering and needed a path to healing. I soon began my journey to get my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. I was excited to begin this journey that would last 6 years. While working my way through clinical training, the Lord had more in store for me in ministry and called me to work for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, first in Sports Ministry then as the Coordinator for the Anti-Pornography initiative.

I finally graduated in 2021 with my M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy and shortly after became licensed in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. I began working for a private practice in Kentucky called Positive Pathways in Dec. 2021 up until I was invited to join the team here at Ruah Woods. I am excited about this opportunity and look forward to allowing the Lord to use me as his hands and feet to provide healing to those in need in our community.

Maria and I have been married 11 years now, and the Lord has blessed us with 8 beautiful children, one up in heaven, and 7 at home. Our faith is the foundation for everything we do. The Lord has been at our side through all the ups and downs, and we continue to go to Him with everything, submitting ourselves daily to His plan for our lives.

Q:  What inspired you to become a therapist?

I was inspired to become a therapist through a variety of factors. First off, people have told me throughout my adult life that I was a good listener, which is a huge requirement for an effective therapist. Secondly, for a long time I had an image of sitting in an office and people coming to me for help or guidance. I believe the Lord was putting this image on my heart. It wasn’t until my wife finally told me that it was time to start doing something about it that I took steps to make it a reality. And lastly, I know our world is full of suffering and that so many people are struggling with mental health issues and the stresses and strains of everyday life. My desire is to help remove some of these “roadblocks” as I like to call them so that they can grow in true health and have the relationship with the Lord He is calling them to.

Q:  What exactly is a “Marriage and Family Therapist”?

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) are defined by the AAMFT as “mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems.” As an MFT, I am trained to look at people’s struggles through the lens of the relationships and social structures in which the person is situated and not limit my view to merely the isolated individual. Basically, MFTs believe that the problems people bring to therapy do not emanate solely from within them but are often symptoms of the relationships they have with other people.

Q:  What types of patients and difficulties do you treat?

I provide individual, marital, and family therapy. I feel quite comfortable working with children, adolescents, and adults struggling with a wide range of issues including depression and anxiety problems, trauma and abuse, childbearing loss, OCD & scrupulosity, pornography addiction, relationship issues, marital strain, parenting challenges, family of origin wounds, attachment problems, and the like.

Q:  What role does your Catholic faith play in your work?

My faith is the foundation of all that I do including my work as a therapist. Every day before work, I ask the Lord to use me as His hands and feet and to let the Holy Spirit speak through me to the patients that I see. I pray also for my patients that their hearts will be open each session so that they can be a willing participant in the healing process. I believe that healing can happen in many ways, and therapy is one of them. I am very humbled that the Lord has called on me to help others find healing and peace.

Q:  What do you like to do for fun?

I really enjoy spending time with my wife and our seven kids. Our life gets pretty hectic at times, so it is great to just hang out with them. I also enjoy swimming, hiking, camping, fishing, watching sports (live or in person), good movies, and playing golf.

To learn more or to make an appointment with Rod, please call 513-407-8878.  

Getting Unstuck in your Marriage
by Dr. Michael Murphy

When is the right time for marital therapy? When is the best time to commit the appropriate resources and seek a professional for help with marital problems? These don’t seem like questions that spouses ask themselves very often, and for understandable reasons. Similar to those who might consider individual therapy, married couples want to work at and solve their own problems before they seek outside help. Realistically though, how often do ongoing marital problems get the care and attention that they need to be resolved? And how bad does the problem need to be before both members of the marriage are cued in and concerned? It seems to me that rather than being addressed, the marital relationship is actually the very thing in some marriages that go unaddressed. Ignored. Taken for granted. For whatever reason, the bond of love between the two spouses gets sacrificed for everything else. The “right time” to refocus our attention, repair lost connection, and grow in love becomes obvious when we properly prioritize our marriage.

And for many, a formal recommitment focused on rekindling the marital relationship is difficult. Complicated. Because a lot can happen to that bond over the rough and harried years of marriage. Here at Ruah Woods Psychological Services we conduct marital therapy using a model that honors this bond, tracks how it has deteriorated, and guides the couple in regrowing it. The model is called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, or EFT for short, and was created by Dr. Susan Johnson. There’s a lot to say about how we use this model to help couples, but I’d like to highlight just a few things worth reflecting on in this post.

Call it marital atrophy, ongoing conflict, or falling out of love…  Whatever the term, the marital relationship often doesn’t feel the same as when it began years prior. Maybe it has gotten stronger in some ways, but for many, the relationship has endured consistent conflict and neglect that has wounded it and weakened the sense of closeness, security, and safety the couple shares. This automatic, repeated, injurious pattern within the couple is formally called “the cycle of conflict” in the EFT model. While this might seem like a strangely obvious insight to make, we are actually regularly surprised by how unaware couples are of their cycle of conflict (often referred to as just their “cycle”). And this is not to blame the couple! The truth is, the cycle is quite insidious! Such cycles are routinely formed in the context of both partners trying to secure the love and support they desire from each other. Though patterns vary, it often involves one partner trying to reach out to the other to reestablish a sense of security, often in a panicked or aggressive way, while the other partner tries to deescalate and withdraw from interaction in an attempt to preserve the relationship, prevent further damage, and protect a sense of safety and self-worth. This very common give-and-take sequence is called a “pursue-withdraw” pattern.

Both partners value the relationship and the other person, but their respective strategies aren’t always well understood or appreciated by the other. In both cases, there is a deeply rooted human need for safety and security that each is trying to acquire called “secure attachment” (more on attachment later). The stresses, trials, and wounds of the marriage (and past relationships) degrade a person’s trust and emotional responsiveness to their partner – in other words, they often bear wounds from current and past relationships deep in their hearts that make it hard to trust that their spouse will really be there for them when they need it. This mistrust then grows up over time like a nasty weed through many iterations of the cycle of conflict, each time pushing the spouses farther and farther apart.

So a very early task in our marital therapy is to take account of these deeper wounds (which will guide later therapeutic work), and, to become intimately knowledgeable and aware of the cycle of conflict. Not only has the cycle contributed to ongoing damage to the marital bond, but it is quickly and easily triggered in the context of marital therapy, making healing difficult. If the cycle can become acknowledged, understood, and rightfully be made the enemy of the couple, their conflict often cools off, and other productive emotions such as concern, curiosity, and compassion can be felt. “Why does he pull away just when I’m desperate to talk?” “Why is she so hard-up to talk, when we know it’s just going to lead to a fight?” Because under all the demanding criticism and thinly-veiled resentment, under the flat statement “I’m fine” and the shut-down countenance, are two wounded people that care about each other. But the cycle obscures this reality! Because of the cycle, each person grows in their conviction that their partner doesn’t care. And so the first task is to see this cycle clearly and to name it the great enemy of the couple.

The good news is, even for marital relationships that have been neglected or damaged, there is hope.  Prayerfully consider if now is the time to invest in your marital relationship – is couples therapy appropriate for you? An established, monthly date night? An hour, one night a week where you sit on a couch, look at each other, and talk about your relationship? Or maybe you could read a book together and learn more about the cycle and how to fix it? Consider Love Sense (we regularly suggest this to our couples in therapy) or Hold Me Tight, both by Dr. Sue Johnson.