Counseling and Catholic Social Teaching Using Laudato si By: Somer Kundla

Hello! My name is Somer Kundla and I am a Counseling and Human Services major planning to pursue my master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling upon graduation. I enjoy being present with people and listening to unique stories that encompass who people are and where they come from. I have a strong interest in learning about the ways in which I can help people seek the help they are looking for while not losing sight of who the person is holistically. The purpose of this presentation is to present to other counseling and human service individuals the ways in which our field aligns/desynchronizes with Catholic Social Teachings and Laudato Si.


The American Counseling Association (ACA) defines counseling as a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals. Advocating for patients and the profession, and ensuring ethical, culturally-inclusive practices that protect those utilizing counseling services has been a goal of mine since the beginning of this journey.


Throughout my experiences as an undergraduate student in the counseling field with The University of Scranton, I have been provided multiple opportunities to engage with the surrounding community and apply fundamental counseling principles. These experiences have taught me first hand what it means to apply the University's Jesuit mission of being men and women with and for others, which is a key part of what counselors strive to do for their patients and surrounding communities they serve.

The first placed I carried out community-based learning was at Keystone Mission in Scranton. Keystone Mission is an organization that provides community meals, after school youth programs, and food and clothing distribution to those in the community who are homeless or undeserved. Through learning about Catholic Social Teachings and reflecting on my experience of sorting and folding clothing, Keystone Mission has given me the experience of providing community members a sense of human dignity and respect in a way I never thought about before.

Life and Dignity of the Human Person: The first social teaching proclaims the respect for human life, one of the most fundamental needs in a world distorted by greed and selfishness. The Catholic Church holds the belief that every human life is precious and is a gift from God, and that every institution is measured by whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.

Cynthia Geppert published in the Journal of Federal practitioner: For the health care professionals of the VA, the article Discrimination, Dignity, and Duty. In this article she expresses that Tennessee became the first state in the union to pass legislation that gives a mental health care professional the right to refuse to see a patient based on “sincerely held principles.” HB 1840 reads: No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6366574/

Geppert's article relates to the first principle of Catholic Social Teachings (CST): Life and Dignity of the Human Person because it showcases the greed and selfishness that can be found in a profession whose professionals main job is to take their personal values and beliefs out of the clients work as a means to be a transparent springboard for clients to make necessary changes in their own lives with dignity.

Principle one of CST as it relates to Geppert's article also relates to an idea offered by Pope Francis in Laudato Si (LS). LS, para. 46 speaks to social dimensions of global change that include the effects of technological innovations on social exclusion, social break down, increased violence, and a rise in new forms of social aggression. While one in my field would like to believe that Tennessee unions did not pass a rule that dismisses counselors from working with patients due to a difference in beliefs/principles, it is not to say that counselors who have the ability to abide by this rule do not exhaust the rules power. Refusing to see a client due to cultural differences, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. may speak to Francis's concern that factors such as social exclusion and social aggression are signs that growth of the past two centuries has not always led to an improvement in the quality of life. I believe these are some of the reasons this counseling program stresses the important of multicultural counseling and the importance of taking ourselves out of the equation.

Calls to Family, Community, and Participation: The second social teaching proclaims that the human person is not only sacred, but also social. It stresses that how we organize society in economics, politics, and law or policy directly affects human dignity and community. The Catholic Church believes we have the responsibility to participate in society and to promote the common good, especially for the poor and vulnerable.


A big aspect of counseling is focusing on the individual and how factors such as economics, politics, and laws/policies directly affect their world view and how they experience the world. As it is the responsibility of CST to promote the common good for the poor and vulnerable, it is also our responsibility as counselors. We do this through advocating for our clients and their families, speaking out for them legislatively, and working with associations such as the ACA to promote change for those who's voices are often silenced. This speaks to LS para. 49, 50, and 51 about global inequality as well. Francis draws light on the fact that there is little awareness in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. In essence, inequality affects not only individuals but entire countries.

As previously mentioned, economics, politics, and laws/policies directly affect everyone's world view and how they experience the world. I completed service hours with Allied Services of Scranton in their recreational therapy department where these aspects had a direct and clear effect on the institutions patients. For example, patients were encouraged to attend daily activities as means to keep them engaged. They explained this was one of the means by which they worked to prevent further deterioration and isolation of those residing within their facility. It seemed as though the patients who had a positive outlook on their lives and whose family recently visited were much more receptive to socializing with both the staff and other residents. While this sounds lovely on the surface, it did not go unnoticed by me that those who lacked this same experience and did not put themselves out there to attend activities were left to sit where ever the last person left them. They most likely experienced not only the emotional/psychological effects of not engaging with family, but also the emotional/psychological effects of isolation experienced within the community of other residents residing on the same floor. I think as professionals we need to do more to ensure that we are trying to engage EVERYONE regardless of how their level of interest presents on the surface. It comes down to what is best for all of the residents. For this example, it should be that if the activities presented are not of interest to everyone, we attempt to find something that appeals to them as a means to remain consistent with attempting to prevent further deterioration/isolation and instill a sense of satisfaction among this population of people.

How does CST principle two and LS relate to counseling? For one, counselors need to be aware of the entire person as stated, meaning that cultural beliefs, relationships to religion/faith, family/community relationships, and how they participate in society must be considered. People in counseling sessions often time present to counselors as they present themselves in society. Ultimately this comes down to the reality that many people facing struggles will not seek the help they need simply because they believe the help for "their kind of people" is not there or their culture holds stigmas surrounding people disclosing the struggles to strangers. Geppert's article showcases this very real reality that help may not be easily available if counselors now have the authority to pick and choose who is worthy of their services. CST may suggest that these counselors are doing a disservice by adding to the stress that people already feel when it comes to the ways the world operates.

Rights and Responsibilities: The third social teaching proclaims that human dignity can only be protected if all human rights are protected and responsibilities of all human beings are met. The Catholic Church teaches that every person has a duty and responsibility to help fulfill these rights for one another, for our families, and for the larger society. Public debate in our nation is often divided between those who focus on personal responsibilities and those who focus on social responsibilities, but the Catholic tradition insists that both are necessary to respond to the basic and fundamental rights of every human being.

Counselors hold a responsibility to themselves and their clients just has clients hold responsibilities to the counseling relationship and to themselves. As counselors, there are fitness to the profession codes of conduct as well as ethical responsibilities that are expected to be upheld. In doing so, we are ensuring that we are being competent providers of care to our clients who are seeking change. Clients have the responsibility to be open and honest with their counselor and to implement changes discussed in the office into their daily lives. In counseling and CST, both entities in the relationship, no matter where they come from or what job they possess, have a duty and responsibility to help fulfill these rights for one another, for their families, and for the larger society.

Option for the Poor and Vulnerable: The fourth social teaching believes that the world is shaped by the division between growing prosperity for some and poverty for others. The Catholic Church proclaims that the basic moral test of a society is how the most vulnerable members are faring.

In counseling, receiving the proper care for a mental health condition is essential to recovery. The best treatments are the ones prescribed by a doctor or mental health practitioner, and that may include counseling, medication, support, diet and exercise, and alternative therapy among others. Unfortunately, visiting mental health providers and paying for many of these treatments can be expensive. Realistically, not all people have access to affordable insurance, which brings us back to the question of what we can do for the poor and the vulnerable. As like lawyers that are appointed by the court for people who cannot afford one on their own, counselors have the option of offering pro bono services or billing sufficiently less for clients who do not have sufficient means of paying for necessary sessions. LS, para. 69 suggests the priority of being over being useful. In this case, counselors can do good by providing services to the poor and vulnerable without using these clients for monetary gains.

The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers: The Catholic Church teaches that the economy must serve the people. Too often the marketplace takes precedence over the rights of workers. The rights to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative are all part of protecting the dignity of work by protecting the rights of the workers. Respecting these rights promotes an economy that protects human life, defends human rights, and advances the well-being.

CST principle four relates to LS, para. 128 that says we were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Furthermore, Francis says that work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.

Vocational counselors or career counselors help individuals find a job of their own. Through interviewing, testing and questionnaires vocational counselors are able to help the client choose a position or career type that will work for them. When linking Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers to counseling, it is important to remember that for most people, their job is part of their sense of identity. With this being said, I think it is fair to say that most people find work gives them a dignified life. https://www.psychologyschoolguide.net/counseling-careers/becoming-a-vocational-counselor/

Solidarity: The sixth CST proclaims that every human being has a responsibility to our brothers and sisters, wherever they live. We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. Solidarity is about loving our neighbors locally, nationally, as well as internationally.

LS para. 107 mentions that we have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups.


I relate both passages to the field of counseling and its use of online counseling services. For CST, online counseling helps to promote services to places that have limited access to services either because of the location or lack of professionals. It enables counselors to reach potential clientele and create a sense of solidarity. The issue LS speaks to is technology, which in online counseling has the potential to cause issues as well. For example, confidentiality is harder to maintain online and it may also be harder for counselors/clients to contact each other. I think that while technology opens social possibilities and possibilities for solidarity, it also limits social interactions with its convenience.

So far I have attempted to present our current situation within the counseling field by drawing attention to its parallels and incongruencies with Catholic Social Teachings and Laudato Si. I hope that the presentation of these teachings and the ideas Pope Francis bestows upon us can help to inform students and practitioners of how we can become better users of knowledge in relation to practice.


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