CHARLESTON — Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Charleston offers a special service to people in need of professional counseling. Mara Calderon, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who wants to bring her much-needed science to people of all walks of life and in a language they understand.
Calderon is a native of Chile and is fluent in Spanish. She holds a degree as a diplomate-psychologist from the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile. She worked in the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University learning psychometric techniques for patients with well-controlled surgical brain lesions.
She studied under Dr. Nancy Waugh of the Stanley Cobb Laboratories of Psychology at Harvard in Boston and obtained her doctorate in psychology from Boston University in 1976.
She spent nine years in Boston, becoming chief psychologist at the Fuller Mental Health Center. She worked in both the outpatient department and the screening and evaluation unit, where she dealt with a large Spanish and English speaking population.
Some of her responsibilities consisted of screening, evaluating, hospitalizing and referring psychiatric patients. Calderon participated in an on-going individual therapeutic process with multiple clients and client systems.
Since moving South with her husband, a neurosurgeon at the Medical University of South Carolina, Calderon’s professional and bilingual abilities have provided a valuable resource to many diocesan departments, such as the tribunal and the communications office.
In an interview with The Miscellany, she said she was hired to organize counseling services in 1991 by Msgr. Edward Lofton, then-director of Catholic Charities, which is now led by Deacon Edward Peitler. She started out with one client a week, and in her first year she saw 500 clients. Now that number has increased to approximately 1,000, she said.
Calderon works with immigrants adapting to this country and their changing family life. “The cultural adaptation that immigrant people have to face, especially the social economic difficulties and language, is a colossal challenge that will affect profoundly their psychological well-being,” she said.
People undergoing such challenges can negatively affect their families, which will impact generation to generation, she added.
But as a Catholic psychologist working for a religious institution, Calderon’s process infuses faith into her work.
“I like my job very much because it gives me the opportunity to deal with the psychological aspects of the human condition and the spiritual dimension.
“The beauty of working in the diocese is I am able to work in a spiritual context or milieu of somebody who is grieving or abandoned,” she said.
Calderon works with individuals from adolescence to adulthood, and engaged or married couples.
She said a network of agencies works with Catholic Charities counseling services, including mental health facilities, hospitals, and the Department of Social Services. She also works with English and Spanish speaking psychiatrists who refer clients.
“We are not isolated in the community,” she said.
Calderon also collaborates with priests, often inviting a client’s pastor to participate in sessions if the situation requires it and the client allows it.
“Being a Catholic-sponsored service also has implications for cases that involve reconciliation with the church,” she said.
“This is not a typical office. It’s a diocesan effort. The main goal of our office is to provide quality services to those in need and advocate for justice in social structures working with faith, hope and love to help build a compassionate and caring society,” she said. “I see all faiths. We are all God’s children. Everybody is welcome. I see every human being as a child of God, and we understand marriage as a sacrament, as a sacred union.”
Another important aspect of Calderon’s work with Catholic Charities is helping people who don’t have the financial means for therapy. Most insurance programs are accepted, but Calderon urges people without insurance to call her anyway to see what she can do for them.
“We don’t want to turn people away because it is very important,” she said. “My client population is white, black, Filipino and Hispanic. I have some indigent clients. We are able to provide services for some indigent people thanks to the generosity of donors.”
Calderon is inspired by all of her clients, particularly the elderly.
“The wisdom of the elderly clients has moved me to no end, their wisdom and courage to become older and not to give up,” she said. “It’s admirable how these elderly individuals can teach us so much.”
Calderon sees clients during the weekdays and has been known to work in the evening to help people after work. She also works a half day on Saturday by appointment. The office is located at 1662 Ingram Road.
For more information about diocesan counseling services call (843) 402-9115.