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Saint Luke Institute has provided psychological assessments for applicants to the priesthood and religious life for nearly 30 years. The Saint Luke Institute Candidate Assessment Protocol (SLI-CAP) is a multidisciplinary team approach to psychological assessment using two clinicians and one trained spiritual director. This collaborative, holistic model integrates a variety of perspectives and provides the candidate and diocese/order with a richer, more positive experience.
A primary goal of a psychological evaluation is to screen for psychopathology, identifying obvious reasons that priesthood or religious life is not a good fit for a candidate. The evaluation can also be a tool for positively impacting the formation process of those coming forward for service in the Church. When done well, the combination of interviews, psychological testing, and specific feedback provides seminary staff and formation personnel with a clear understanding of how best to support a candidate in the discernment process and beyond.
Element One: Psychosocial History
A core component of the psychological evaluation is a thorough psychosocial interview. A psychologist obtains basic information about the candidate’s personal history. Content areas include family history, academic and occupational experiences, and peer support and relational history.
The psychosocial interview also includes a psychosexual component, i.e., a series of questions to explore the candidate’s understanding of his/her own sexuality and sexual identity, and a review of dating history. The interview explores potential areas of problem behavior related to sexuality, along with the candidate’s understanding of celibacy and how to live an authentic, chaste lifestyle. Facilitating healthy dialogue around this topic is critical. This not only opens the door to explore problematic behavior, but also encourages the candidate to think honestly about his or her own sexuality and how he/she envisions living out a celibate life.
Element Two: Clinical Interview
For mental health professionals, a clinical interview is a structured discussion, focused on the presence of mental health issues. Candidates are asked to share areas of difficulty either in their mood or behavior, and then the clinician determines whether this is diagnosable, along with forming a professional opinion about how this may or may not impede the individual’s ability to succeed. In addition to their own personal mental health history, candidates are asked to describe notable instances of mental health problems within their immediate and extended families.
Element Three: Psychological Testing
This core component typically includes personality testing and an intelligence measure. Psychologists rely on personality testing to gain objective data and important insights into the person being evaluated. These include: assessing the presence of acute distress at the time of evaluation, understanding how the candidate views his/her relationships with others, self-perception, problem-solving strategies, psychological makeup, and emotional strengths and vulnerabilities.
Intelligence measures provide the candidate and vocation director with an idea of the candidate’s cognitive abilities, ensuring that there are no areas of concern that would interfere with his/her ability to meet the academic demands associated with the formation process.
Element Four: Spiritual Assessment
For many clinicians, the psychological evaluation ends at psychological testing. The SLI-CAP includes an additional interview about the candidate’s spirituality and vocational history. Psychologists are not always trained in this type of interview, nor do they feel competent in addressing a candidate’s vocational story, which is why the spiritual director’s role is critically important. The candidate discusses his/her family religious background, image of God, personal religious practices, prayer life, and vocational call.
The inclusion of a spirituality assessment results in a more holistic experience for the candidate and provides the vocation director with a better sense of the candidate’s vocational call and spirituality. In addition, when integrated with the psychological interviews and testing, a more comprehensive picture of the candidate can be seen and understood.
Element Five: Discussion and Recommendations
The final component of a psychological evaluation is a written discussion of the findings and recommendations for the candidate and vocation director to consider. This often includes several paragraphs highlighting notable themes within the candidate’s life, areas of strength, and emotional, psychological, or behavioral vulnerabilities that warrant concern or intervention. Finally, clinicians may offer recommendations on how best to address areas of vulnerability.
Recommendations are tangible steps on how to effectively address the noted areas, thereby helping seminary personnel and formators develop ongoing formation goals.
Element Six: Verbal Feedback Summary
The final component of the evaluation process is a meeting between the Saint Luke Institute assessment team, the candidate, and his/her vocation director. This hour-long verbal feedback session is an important part of understanding and interpreting the evaluation findings. It is also an opportunity to model healthy, open dialogue about the candidate’s strengths and areas of growth. As clinicians, we hope that the entire process, from start to finish, is ultimately helpful for the candidate and can provide a clearer understanding of strengths and vulnerabilities as well as some tools to aid in a full and healthy discernment and formation experience.
Emily Cash, Psy.D., is director of Saint Luke Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
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