Integral ecology

Mercedes Vallenilla: "As Christians, we need to understand our crises from faith."

The Mindove organization integrates the values of the Christian faith with psychological care. It serves Catholics, but is also open to all those who request it, "because that is how the Church is, it has its arms open to welcome anyone who needs help," says its founder, Dr. Mercedes Vallenilla.

Loreto Rios-December 18, 2023-Reading time: 6 minutes

Dr. Mercedes Vallenilla ©Mindove

The project Mindove was founded by Dr. Mercedes Vallenilla. It is an organization formed by Catholic psychologists aimed at integrating psychological care with the Christian faith. In this interview, its founder, Mercedes Vallenilla, talks to us about the characteristics of the project and the challenges they have encountered in the panorama of the mental health.

What do you see as the main challenges for mental health in the current landscape?

There are a number of current challenges in mental health care worldwide, but these challenges are magnified in the context where Mindove carries out its mission, which is in the church context.

The first challenge is the result of the historical divorce between science and faith, a core belief deeply rooted in Christians, and that is that the science of psychology can be detrimental to faith by questioning the Christian belief system. This is based on the same history of scientific knowledge, since in the early twentieth century Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, claimed that neuroses were caused by religion. The prevailing religion at that time was Catholic. This, together with other historical elements, represented a threat to Catholicism, a threat that was inherited from generation to generation.

The evolution of scientific work itself has demonstrated through the perspective of the Psychology of Religion the benefit of integrating the R/S Factor, for its acronym in English "religion and spirituality", that is, the patient's belief system, to the therapy. I would like to clarify that this perspective is not seeking to validate truths of faith, nor to question the existence or not of God, nor to say which religion is the true one. It simply invites mental health professionals to train themselves, either by including the R/S Factor in general in therapy, based on the knowledge of polytheistic or monotheistic religions, as well as some spiritualities, or by specializing in a single religion. In our case, it is the Catholic religion.

Having said this, in Ibero-America there is a great and profound lack of knowledge regarding these scientific advances. For this reason, not only have these advances not permeated the academy, but much less has this knowledge reached the "ordinary Catholic".

For this reason, the greatest challenge is this historical obstacle, whereby the believing patient believes that there are no Catholic psychologists who can professionally integrate his belief system into a therapeutic process that is based on science, but also on the Christian body of beliefs; because he has historically believed that this cannot really be carried out in a harmonious and integrated manner. In addition, when she has tried to go to a psychologist, the offer that exists is basically of secular psychologists, reaffirming this historical belief.

What difficulties do you encounter in addressing this issue within the Church?

The pastoral care of the Church, with the good intentions and the desire to provide a solution to the demand for healing of the "emotional wounds" of its believers, has led unqualified actors to assume the role of therapists without really being so.

It is well known that when we have a problem, as Christians, the first place we turn to for help is our community. As Christians, we cannot ignore the fact that we need to understand ourselves, and especially our psycho-emotional crises, from science, but also from faith. We need to understand God's will in that fact of pain and illuminate the human with the divine.

While it is true that the Church is not directly responsible for the emotional wounds of its parishioners, it is responsible for accompanying the Catholic of today in his emotional problems, with his real problems. Otherwise, he will only feel a theological discourse very distant from his own reality of pain, and that is where we lose the ability to welcome the Christian in his sorrows and sufferings, to give an effective response without changing the theological message of two thousand years ago, but responding to his human reality of today.

The challenge, therefore, is that the patient, not believing that science and faith can be unified and that he can receive an integral therapy by a professional who has studied 4 or 5 years at a university and who has also specialized, tries to solve his emotional problem by talking to a priest, or to a catechist or to his spiritual companion, and there the competencies overlap, creating even greater confusion in the problem.

The first is spiritualization: focusing on the spiritual while disregarding the psychological and physical; the second is fideism, that is, the tendency to disregard reason and the human will in order to give weight only to faith. In the end, mental health problems are not usually a problem of faith, but using faith alone to deal with them increases the crisis.

The Holy Father Francis during an audience this year recommended that priests not assume the role of mental health professionals such as psychiatrists or psychologists, emphasizing that they were not called "to play psychiatrist or psychoanalyst."

When all members of the Church recognize the limits of our competencies, then we will provide a root solution to the problem of mental health in the ecclesial context.

What does the project consist of? Mindove?

Mindove is an organization made by Catholics that seeks to give an integral response to the Catholics of the world by providing virtual Catholic therapy. We want to accompany today's Catholics through an integral professional response so that they can live their state of life, their vocation and be what they are called to be. But we are also professionally and ethically prepared to provide therapy to anyone who asks for help even if they are not Christian, because that is how the Church is, she has her arms open to welcome anyone who needs help.

How did the idea of creating this initiative come about?

The idea as such came up while I was praying on the beach. I live in Cancun and I was praying for my patients while looking at the sea. At that time I was attending priests, religious, consecrated lay women and I was an advisor to congregations and religious institutes. A very delicate and careful work.

At that moment, some ideas cascaded, one of them was to create an organization to scale the enormous demand that my office of Integral Catholic Psychology was already having, and the other was to create a School of Catholic Psychologists with the Model of Psychospiritual Accompaniment that I used in therapy.

Several years went by and I observed the effect that psychospirituality had on my patients. With that, the demand kept rising to disproportionate levels, so much so that I had to start having an assistant and other cell phones to handle all the demand, being unable to respond to it.

Those were the first steps 5 years ago to found Mindove, which were followed by many more.

What's new Mindove to the field of mental health?

Our most important difference that becomes a value compared to other mental health platforms is that, first of all, we have an innovative approach by integrating all the elements that science gives us from the psychology of religion, with the richness of Christian spirituality.

Secondly, we do not use video call platforms such as Zoom, Skype or Meet, we are an organization that provides an integrative approach and has been building a platform for more than four years that integrates various processes that facilitate the user experience, as well as the characteristic elements of our Christian spirituality, such as the phrase of the day based on the Bible, innovative tools in the management of the appointment, among many other things.

An example of this is that both the patient and the psychologist receive the appointment in their time zone, so there is no confusion of this type characteristic of virtuality.

Another example is that our video call rooms are HIPAA Compliance certified to ensure confidentiality.

What are the features of the new application and how does it facilitate patient care?

The application has, among others, the following features:

  • It intelligently filters psychologists by the type of condition the patient has indicated by previously pointing out their symptoms, which makes the options offered to the patient the most appropriate to attend the case.
  • The psychologist has the option of sending the patient before the first appointment a self-diagnostic questionnaire based on the American Psychological Association (APA). If the patient wishes to answer it, the psychologist has prior diagnostic information and arrives at the first call more informed about the case.
  • Displays times and dates of psychologists' availability based on the time zone of the patient and also of the psychologist, to avoid confusion with schedule changes.
  • It has videoconferencing rooms with HIPPA Compliance certification, which is an international certification for mental health that they are highly reliable rooms where there is data protection.
  • It has an internal chat, also protected during the call, for communication between the patient and the psychologist.
  • It has an automated collection system with cybersecurity certificates to pay from anywhere in the world by credit or debit card. Patients receive their receipts automatically.
  • The platform allows the patient to connect from a cell phone or computer indistinctly and from the comfort of their home or wherever they choose to have their appointment.
  • Instead of a password, access is by means of a code, which is the highest level of security, since it prevents password cracking. In mental health, data protection is much more important.
  • In addition, each psychologist's profile not only describes their training and professional experience, but also has a video where the psychologist explains why they are a psychologist, why they are Catholic, why they are in Mindove and what their patron saint is, as well as a favorite quote from a saint. This makes the experience of connecting and identifying the right psychologist easier.
  • Our platform offers the patient psychologists with different rates, as we have decided to promote meritocracy, which we have classified in Dover, Super Dover and Ultra Dover based on their studies and experience, which gives the opportunity to access a psychologist according to the economic possibilities of the patient without affecting the quality of service.
Read more
La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.