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Catholic Voice
March 24, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA
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Psychology practice aims
to aid priests, vowed religious

The new psychology practice of Father Stephan Kappler, left, was blessed by Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, employing the blessing for hospitals and health care centers.
josÉ luis aguirre/The Catholic Voice

With a blessing from the bishop of Oakland, the Kairos Psychology Group has opened in the diocese. The practice, led by Father Stephan Kappler, who has a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, will offer psychotherapy, assessment and consultation, primarily to priests and vowed religious.

Father Kappler, a priest with 20 years of experience in the diocese, was recently named pastor of St. Jarlath Church in Oakland. Kairos Psychology Group will offer services in both English and Spanish.

At a small rite at the offices near Jack London Square, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, blessed the office on Feb. 21, employing the blessing for hospitals and health care centers, as he sprinkled holy water in its three rooms.

Present were Deacon Noe and Sylvia Gonzalez. Deacon Gonzalez will serve as the spiritual director of the group. Also present was Sister Dorothy Heiderscheit, OSF, who is CEO of the Southdown Institute, the Canadian facility at which Father Kappler completed post-doctorate work.

Southdown offers a multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of priests and vowed religious, mostly in residence for a 14-week program.

When the clients leave Southdown, they are often referred for continuing treatment in their home communities. In a first, the institute will be referring West Coast clients to Kairos Psychology Group.

Kairos Psychology Group



"It's good to have a branch of the Southdown Institute open in our diocese, the only one on the West Coast of the United States to give psychological and spiritual healing to priests and religious in particular," the bishop said.

It was clear to Father Kappler that he wanted to use his training as a psychologist to assist priests and vowed religious.

"For me there was something really special when I was working at Southdown, because I saw the need for providing space for clergy and religious for mental health treatment," he said. "It's OK to talk about the pressures of the job, so to speak, and for priests and for religious to honestly say, 'I need help.'"

At Kairos Psychology Group, that help will come from a variety of perspectives, including Father Kappler's as a psychologist, Deacon Gonzalez' as spiritual director, Sister Kathleen Laverty, SHJM, RN, and a psychiatrist.

The group will provide assessments, which are multiday sessions that will include visits with each of the providers. The clients are usually referred by their religious superiors or bishops.

"The assessment becomes richer when it is not just from the experience of one person," said Father Kappler, who will be responsible for making the final assessment.

Because the assessment takes place over a period of 2½ to three days, it also offers the person being assessed the opportunity to gain some trust, and perhaps to talk about topics that were uncomfortable when the person first arrived, Father Kappler said. Perhaps the person will feel more at ease speaking to the spiritual director, or to the nurse.

"It›s a fairly intense time for them," he said. "A lot of self-reflection happens."

It's also a reason he chose the location carefully. During breaks, the people can walk to nearby Jack London Square, enjoy the scenery and perhaps get something to eat.

Although Father Kappler's practice is focused on serving priests and vowed religious, it is also open to those seeking to enter the formation process, as well as others who may be involved in pastoral ministry or leadership.

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