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Father Toellner was appointed pastor two years after his ordination. Soon after he arrived at the parish, the staff and some parish volunteers noted significant challenges in working with him. Father Toellner seemed to not be listening and was easily distracted during calls or in meetings. He would leave projects and letters half finished, had difficulty prioritizing tasks, and needed extra secretarial assistance. The secretary also noted that he would avoid various responsibilities that required sustained focus or attention to details. Several parishioners complained that he was either late or would forget an appointment. Staff meetings became troublesome because Father Toellner would often interrupt others or ramble, ignoring others attempts to interject in the discussion. At times, he could also be seen fidgeting during Mass.
Father Toellner was referred to Saint Luke Institute for an evaluation and subsequently was identified through testing as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and needing to develop certain areas of emotional intelligence. He was admitted to the Flexible Length Program for medication management and skills training. While in treatment, Father Toellner acknowledged that he had grappled with undiagnosed ADHD since childhood and often struggled in school, at home, and in relationships throughout childhood and into his time in seminary. Having grown up with a father and a brother who had similar traits, it was assumed to be a quirk and that he would either grow out of it or it was just something unique about him.
Treatment options for ADHD include medication, psychotherapy, education or training, or a combination of treatments. For many people, ADHD medications reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve their ability to focus, work, and learn. Medication also may improve physical coordination. Father Toellner began taking the most common type of medication used for treating ADHD, a “stimulant.” Within 24 hours of taking Ritalin, he saw a marked improvement in symptom reduction. Although it may seem unusual to treat ADHD with a medication that is considered a stimulant, it works because it increases the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, which play essential roles in thinking and attention.
The work Father Toellner did in psychotherapy helped him to better cope with everyday problems. His therapy specifically focused on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is different from many other therapeutic approaches by focusing on the ways that a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are connected and affect one another. CBT aims to help a person change his or her behavior by examining cognitive distortions and challenging and reframing them into more realistic thoughts leading to healthier responses to their environment. It might involve practical assistance, such as help organizing tasks or completing work, or working through emotionally difficult events. CBT also teaches a person how to monitor his or her own behavior and give oneself praise or rewards for acting in a desired way, such as controlling anger or thinking before acting.
Father Toellner also learned in the Emotional Intelligence focal group how to read facial expressions and the tone of voice in others, and how to respond appropriately to others. Father Toellner participated in the Mindfulness Group as well. He learned how to be aware and accepting of his present thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness can help a person with ADHD become more aware of cues in their present environment so that they can attend to them in a healthy manner. His therapist also encouraged him to adjust to the life changes that come along every day, such as thinking before acting, or resisting the urge to take unnecessary risks; using skills from his Life Skills class.
Father Toellner’s therapist helped him learn how to organize his life with various tools. While at Saint Luke Institute, he learned the importance of keeping to a healthy routine and using a calendar for scheduling events and a to-do list to track tasks. He began to use reminder notes on his mirror and in his wallet. He expanded on this habit by setting alarms on his cell phone to remind him to take medication and about important events throughout the day. While in treatment, he practiced assigning a special place to keep his keys, bills, and paperwork. With the help of his therapeutic team he learned how to break down tasks into more manageable, smaller steps so that completing each part of the task provided a sense of accomplishment.
ADHD affects both the diagnosed individual and the people in their life. Recognizing this reality, a “reentry” meeting is a critical step in successful transition from residential treatment to home. Father Toellner’s Continuing Care liaison helped educate members of his support team about ADHD and its effects. The liaison encouraged the support team members and contact person to develop new skills, attitudes, and ways of relating to each other and Father Toellner. He continued working with a licensed clinical psychologist for about a year following treatment. Together they built off the skills from CBT, Mindfulness, and Life Skills. He continued to process the cues that he was now more aware of through his EI training and learning about this own feelings, reactions and healthy ways of responding and attending to his environment. Today, Father Toellner understands himself better, has the tools to navigate his ADHD, and his staff and those on his support team also have better insight and skills in working with him.
For confidentiality, reasons, names, identifying data, and other details of treatment have been altered.
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