This month for our Clinician Spotlight, we spoke with Dr. Cristina Melendez, who brings multicultural experience and an integrated clinical approach to Alpha Omega Clinic.
Dr. Melendez is one of our clinicians at our Fairfax office and enjoys working with children, teenagers, and adults. Let’s get to know Dr. Cristina Melendez!
Background and Education
Empathic listening came naturally to Dr. Melendez since the time she was young. With an affirming disposition, she found that others felt comfortable bringing their struggles to her for help and encouragement. Her introduction to the study of psychology in high school cemented her path towards a career dedicated to assisting those in need of support. She decided to pursue higher education for the necessary training and formation to help others in this way.
As she advanced in her studies, she was drawn to early intervention research, programs, and community-based presentations on mental health topics. Her graduate work primarily focused on working with children, adolescents, and their families, and providing psycho-educational presentations in both hospital and outpatient settings. While working at Children’s National Hospital, she had the opportunity to write her dissertation, a secondary data analysis, entitled, “A Parent Education Model Promoting Early Childhood Development in Children Suffering from Chronic Disease: An Early Intervention Approach”.
Following her work at Children’s National Hospital, she completed specialized pre-doctoral training at the Children’s Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, and worked at Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Arlington for her postdoctoral training. At Catholic Charities, she worked with the immigrant population, provided psychotherapy, offered presentations to the community, and contributed to work with the tribunal office. She is bilingual and has a heart for serving the Spanish-speaking community.
An Integrated Clinical Approach
Clinicians will generally focus their clinical practice using specific theoretical lenses. While Dr. Melendez is trained in clinical psychology that includes relationship enhancement, child-centered play therapy, trauma-focused therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, she tends to take a more integrative approach. She “sees treasures in all theories and modalities,” and believes that no single method captures everything. Sometimes an integrative approach is needed to “help the person grow in wholeness”.
Working at Alpha Omega Clinic
Dr. Melendez had a profoundly formative experience during an undergraduate practicum when she worked one-on-one with students at an alternative high school. A student from an abusive home confided in her that he needed someone to affirm to him that God was indeed good and did love him. It troubled her that she did not have the freedom to discuss anything spiritual or faith-based with him, given the state laws governing the public school where she was studying. This experience solidified Dr. Melendez’s desire to find a way to serve those in need with her extensive clinical training without restricting the opportunity to incorporate her Catholic faith when the client desired it.
It was providential, then, when she discovered the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, now known as Divine Mercy University. The Institute was created in response to the call of St. John Paul II to integrate faith with science, and this mission was exactly what Dr. Melendez was searching for as she continued her education. It was from this school that she received her M.S. in Clinical Psychology in 2009 and her Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology in 2017.
The opportunity to integrate faith with clinical psychology was one of the main reasons she felt called to work at Alpha Omega Clinic. The Clinic supports her desire to bring faith into sessions at the client’s direction, and she finds that many clients are eager to incorporate their faith with psychotherapy.
The Integration of Faith and Psychotherapy
For Dr. Melendez, and for all the clinicians at Alpha Omega Clinic, the integration of the Catholic faith and psychotherapy is an important yet nuanced aspect of the practice. Each client has welcomed to a clinical atmosphere and each clinician brings their advanced training in empirically-based methods and theories of psychology to facilitate healing for a host of mental health struggles. At the same time, clinicians remain faithful to the Magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church and leave room for faith to be incorporated into client relationships at the request of the individual or family.
Dr. Melendez makes the distinction that her training is in clinical psychology and not as a spiritual director or pastoral counselor. Her skills are in helping clients work through and resolve mental health struggles from a clinical perspective using proven modalities and theories, rather than spiritual counsel or advice. Discussing faith with clients is something she pursues only at the individual client’s request.
The client (or if she is working with a minor, the client’s parents) takes the lead on the integration of faith with their therapy. The level of spiritual discussion brought into each session- encouraging a client to frequent the sacraments, exploring obstacles in a person’s relationship with God, or affirming and encouraging family and individual prayer- is entirely left up to the individual and their comfort level. Dr. Melendez is careful to gauge her clients’ level of involvement in faith and tailors her recommendations and encouragement in a client-specific manner. For spiritual struggles or questions of morality and sin, she may refer clients to priests, spiritual directors, or confessors. Struggles like habitual sins or scrupulosity, for example, share spiritual concerns and questions that may need the additional assistance of a spiritual guide.
The Dignity of the Human Person
Ultimately, Dr. Melendez is passionate about helping her clients recognize and acknowledge their innate dignity. In all her interactions, she strives to respect and love the dignity of each individual and hopes “in some way, they encounter Christ and experience His love in the therapeutic relationship”.
Learn More or Make An Appointment
Dr. Melendez is currently accepting new clients over telehealth and in our Fairfax office. Learn more about her here and contact Alpha Omega Clinic if you are interested in making an appointment!