OSHKOSH — As a licensed psychologist for the past 30 years, Dr. Chiara Simeone-DiFrancesco said her greatest joy is guiding individuals, couples and families to be happy again.
“I knew since high school and college that I wanted to serve the Lord in ministry,” Simeone-DiFrancesco said. “I wanted to help people get happy. I’m happy when I see them hugging, kissing, connecting, healing their family. It’s the greatest high you can have, helping people get healthy.”
But more than just helping people get happy, she wants to do so with a Jesus-centered approach grounded in her Catholic faith. “Jesus is the main healer,” she said. “All healing, all beauty and all grace ultimately come from Jesus. Without Jesus there is no full healing because we are also people whose souls and spirits need attachment that is more secure than with just each other.”
Jesus, she said, renews from the inside out. “I want to use the gifts of the Spirit and a therapy based on solid, cutting-edge and scientifically supported technique to help people in a way that develops them into virtuous human beings. It’s the Lord who gives those gifts,” added Simeone-DiFrancesco.
She has done clinical work in settings such as Native American Indian reservations, prisons, rural mental health facilities, clinics and hospitals.
Simeone-DiFrancesco first came to the Oshkosh area as chief psychologist for the Oshkosh Correctional Institution. She has served in private practice for more than 25 years, with a specialty in marriage and relationships. She has offices in Oshkosh and Appleton and also manages Connect-Talk LLC and the Jesus-Centered Institute LLC, which is an approved lay Catholic organization within the Diocese of Green Bay.
To help coach and support others who offer psychotherapy and counseling for people of all faiths or no faith, she is involved in numerous initiatives. As the Wisconsin representative of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association (CPA), she is coordinating the CPA’s first event in the state of Wisconsin to help support mental health professionals and people in active ministry such as clergy, therapists and people serving in pro-life, pastoral care, chancery offices and Catholic Charities.
It is a coordinated effort involving all five dioceses in the state, Simeone-DiFrancesco said. It is aimed at supporting practitioners on how to integrate their faith into their practices and ministries.
There is no charge for the session, which will be held Sunday, March 15, at St. Jude the Apostle Church. There will be a potluck meal, and Bishop David Ricken will celebrate Mass with a number of visiting priests as concelebrants. Anyone interested can email Simeone-DiFrancesco at [email protected] with their name, parish and ministry area.
“Our first goal is to bring everyone together with their ideas and aspirations and needs of our faithful Catholic mental health providers in Wisconsin,” Simeone-DiFrancesco said. “We need to support each other and provide resources. We want to help people develop healthy relationships, personalize the Gospel, pray the Scriptures and apply them in their lives to create personal well-being, solid marriages, family and attachments.”
She also hopes to develop collaboration between the Wisconsin dioceses to determine ways to provide continuing education in areas relevant to mental health and healing, with solid underpinning of Catholic theology and philosophy. “We’re always developing and understanding how people can heal,” she said. “You want to stay cutting-edge of what works and develop your skills. Our understanding of how to heal the person with attachment to Jesus Christ grows. We need to learn how to help people have peace.”
She said Catholic Christian therapists need to be well-trained in therapy, but also have a model through Jesus to sustain their belief system. “People are calling chancery offices (for guidance to therapists), but there is a complete dearth of faithful Christian therapists who integrate their faith into their practices and ministries,” Simeone-DiFrancesco said. “We need to help people form healthy relationships in ways that model Jesus.”
She said that just as a medical doctor can assist in cutting out physical cancers, mental health professionals can help cut out “cancers” of the emotions, heart and soul.
“Our faith as Catholic Christians has to be grounded, rooted and based in Christ,” Simeone-DiFrancesco said. “He becomes our heart anchor. As Catholics, we know he is present on this earth in the Eucharist. Catholic Christians have many resources in the sacraments to form an attachment to God. He can be our best friend and give comfort, guidance and reconciliation between ourselves as humans. He’s our life support system. The Lord can use human beings in the person of a therapist to show us and collaborate with our holy priests and Catholic-allied professionals.”