This year we are celebrating our 20th year as a Clinic. We have grown from a small handful of clinicians with a bold vision to a fully functioning mental health clinic. We are proud to offer a wide range of professional services while upholding the highest standard of clinical care that is consistent with the Catholic faith. It is of utmost importance to us that our services make space for the fullness of the human person as understood by the teachings of the Catholic Church. We have inherited this vision from our founding members, who pioneered what it means to fully integrate mental health and the Catholic faith. We are grateful for their sacrifices and dedication which has paved the way for where we are today. It is an honor for us to continue advancing what they started. As we reflect on this special anniversary, we would like to take this opportunity to share more about our mission, history, and future with all of you who have been so crucial to our growth.
In preparation for this article, we sat down with our co-founders, Art Bennett and Kathleen Gallagher, to dive into the Alpha Omega story and hear their thoughts on where we are today. The stage for our story was set by discussing the landscape of the late 90’s/early 2000’s world of psychotherapy. As the gap between the faith and the culture broadened, many people of faith became weary of secular therapists. This is not a new dilemma as there has been tension between psychology and religion since its inception. What changed was the increasingly secular culture that had a real influence on the field of psychotherapy. This left the Catholic population starving for access to quality mental health treatment that respected their beliefs. This atmosphere created the perfect conditions for the development of a fully integrative, faith-based, model of psychotherapy.
We can’t talk about Catholic psychotherapy without talking about the work of Divine Mercy University (known as IPS at the time). Art emphasized this saying, “IPS was like a magnet, bringing in people around the country that were really committed to this integrative model of psychotherapy”. An essential piece of this emerging integrative model was taken from therapists who were in the trenches with their clients. These clients were very serious about their faith yet had very real human struggles. This dilemma primed clinicians to figure out what it meant to fully integrate faith and psychotherapy, seeking to provide clients with a space where their whole identity in Christ would be welcome. Much of this work was done by the clinicians who joined what would become Alpha Omega Clinic when it was just in its infancy.
This informal group of clinicians, most of whom were connected to IPS, were seeing clients in private practice at a few different locations. There was one office in Vienna, VA, another in Bethesda, MD, and a third in Crownsville, MD. Our co-founders were both part of that initial group and Art continued to recruit IPS staff along the way. Art joined Frank Moncher and Dr. William Nordling in Vienna and Kathleen joined Philip Scrofani, Mary Ann Hayes, Carrie Hansen, and Carol King in Bethesda. Eventually, Art took a risk and left his corporate job to establish the group as a formal nonprofit, co-founding Alpha Omega Clinic as it is known today. Art said that this decision was heavily influenced by his spiritual director Fr. Richard Gill. He expanded saying, “There’s no Alpha Omega story without Fr. Gill, he’s critical. He kept prodding me to do a total integration of faith and psychology. I was a little afraid but really interested” to which Kathleen was quick to respond, “Well, there was no Alpha Omega Clinic without Art Bennett’s ‘yes’”. She added, “When you’re developing something, you want good people to team up with because this is hard work. Art silently took on what nobody else wanted to and never complained, becoming the driving force that helped pull Alpha Omega together as an organization”. Both of our co-founders are so gracious and supportive of one another’s efforts that neither one wants to take credit for their role! This is so emblematic of our core mission as Catholic therapists; we have a heart for helping others access healing for the ultimate purpose of glorifying God.
Art stepped down as Director in 2008, joining the Diocese of Arlington Catholic Charities for what would become a long and successful career. Kathleen immediately took his place and has led the Clinic ever since. Art has been so supportive since his departure, constantly cheering for our success. As he watched the Clinic grow, he couldn’t help but credit his colleague, saying, “Kathleen loved the Clinic and its mission so much that she would do anything that she could. She always put the client and the faith first. She’s a very high integrity person, great to work with, and I really learned so much from her. She has a great way of being growth oriented while also focusing on quality. This has helped the clinic grow organically with the aid of the Holy Spirit”.
Kathleen’s leadership has stayed true to our mission, allowing us to stay open to God’s will as we ask Him to use the Clinic as a vehicle for His healing power. We are humbled and honored to see what God has already done. In reflection, Kathleen has also been surprised, “I wanted this to be a good place for people to work. I took over because of my heart for the clinic. I wasn’t sure how it would go yet God has expanded and surprised the clinic. It’s grown in ways that I never thought were possible. Humanly, I thought more wasn’t possible and yet it has become a place for both clients and clinicians to express the fullness of their longings and hope for healing”.
A key part of Kathleen’s leadership is her ability to draw on the strengths of others. This is most evident in her partnership with our Associate Director Ann Samperio. Ann joined Alpha Omega in 2010 and immediately began using her experience in nonprofit administration to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Clinic. Over the past 11 years, she has continued to work together with Kathleen to strengthen and expand the Clinic’s reach in terms of how many people we can serve. Their leadership has advanced the singular focus of Alpha Omega: assisting more people who need healing in their lives. Our growth and purpose is directly tied to helping as many people as possible while retaining the highest quality of care.
We now offer services at four different locations (Bethesda, Ellicott City, Fairfax, Alexandria), staffed with 27 clinicians! We are working hard to streamline our processes to better serve our community. This includes optimizing our intake procedures to provide services faster, strategically opening new office locations, and expanding clinical specialties to meet current areas of need. It is indeed humbling to see all this hard work pay off. Art was able to capture this so kindly by saying, “I’m so happy to see Alpha Omega not only survive but thrive. It’s now everyone’s go-to in our area and is held in such high regard in the Catholic community here. All the regular ways of measuring success: expansion, more people coming, different locations, professionally run, and attracting really good people are a 10/10 which says a lot about the leadership of Kathleen and Ann”.
The Power of Faith-Based Therapy
“You can make the argument that Alpha Omega is laboratory for integrating the faith with psychotherapy to address the severe problems of our culture. The Church has a boldness (humility with a confidence in God) to go after the roughest stuff. With the prevalence of mental health issues in this world, it’s a key place for the Church to be where the healing is really necessary” – Art Bennett
Its wasn’t always an easy road and many were still rightfully weary of this bold new vision of psychotherapy. Art and Kathleen worked tirelessly to provide a space where the Catholic community could feel safe and trust the treatment they were receiving. As she reflected on this, Kathleen said, “Our clients are very serious about their faith yet struggle on a human level. The Clinic has allowed me to use our faith in ways I’d never been able to before. Our shared understanding of what love is allows us to launch deeper into healing instead of pathologizing their struggle. This added dimension has become an undeniable strength in the therapy room”.
We believe this approach to therapy provides us with a more holistic perspective on healing. Kathleen’s words capture this beautifully, “For me, because I worked in a secular practice for 20 years. I had to help people tolerate, ‘this is as far as we can go’. I don’t have this limitation with Alpha Omega. We can clearly say, ‘healing is possible because God is THE HEALER. We can do our best on a human level and let God do the complete healing. The best outcome is that someone clears up their human struggles and is more open to God’s grace. This better allows complete healing and feels as though we’re less limited as clinicians”. This is what makes Alpha Omega Clinic offers. Our clients can express their religious experiences and connect them with their healing. Identifying God’s healing work in our clients’ lives is part of treatment.
Our Mission Statement
From the beginning, the mission was clear: a radical integration of faith and psychology. There was no period of adjustment; it was either you were all-in on identifying what it means to be Catholic and work with human healing or we didn’t hire you. Art saw this as an asset, saying, “The great benefit of being a leader in the beginning days was being clear what the mission was, and no one joined that wasn’t fully on board”. This was crucial because of the monumental task they faced. He went on to say, “This is something that had never really been done before. We were really making it up along the way but in a responsible and accountable way. The faith was greatly honored and respected, focusing specifically on being consistent with the Catholic view of the person. Come to find out, there was a great appetite for this model”. Kathleen echoed this saying, “This is our leading edge; we are constantly seeking to hire clinicians who are fully dedicated to the mission”. We are truly proud of all our clinicians and the good work they do daily.
Our goal is to become the DMV’s premier provider of Catholic faith-based mental health services. We strive to accomplish this goal by staying true to our mission and continually expanding our reach and services to better serve our community. Our guiding vision will be to consistently reflect our motto, “The Glory of God is the human person fully alive” – St. Irenaeus. Our growth cannot be separated from our humble submission to God; our bold goal reflects our trust and confidence in His saving power.
Below is our current mission statement:
“Our mission is to promote mental health and marriage & family flourishing through quality, affordable mental health services that are integrated with the fullness of the Catholic faith. We offer individual, couples, and family psychotherapy, as well as psychological and psychoeducational assessments. Our clinicians are trained in the resolution of a broad range of psychological, emotional, social, and educational problems, and remain faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. We seek to aid clients to overcome human barriers to living their faith, and thus offer a holistic perspective that works with their faith rather than against their faith. Our client’s relationship with their parish and their spiritual life is an important component of working with them to promote their dignity and value as a whole person.”
We pray God continues to bless our work as we consider how to reach more people and increase access to care. In the future, we hope to expand our group therapy offerings, offer workshops, and increase community outreach through articles and blog posts. Lastly, and most importantly, we are indebted to all our wonderful clients. We would not be where we are today without you. It is the greatest honor and privilege to come alongside all of you in your moments of struggle. We are truly humbled by the trust and grace that has been extended to us in the therapy room. It baffles us to see God working through the Clinic as a vehicle for His love and healing.