Southdown president and CEO Fr. Stephan Kappler.

Southdown making it easier to access help

By 
  • November 17, 2019

One of the world’s leading institutes treating the mental health of clergy, religious and lay people in full-time ministry is getting a little closer to the people it serves. The Southdown Institute will open an outpatient clinic in North York on Nov. 20.

“We hope that this makes it a little bit easier for somebody to seek out some help,” said Southdown president and CEO Fr. Stephan Kappler.

Southdown’s main office remains in Holland Landing, a 40-minute drive north of where the new clinic is situated across the street from Fairview Mall in Toronto’s north end.

Psychologist Michael Sy, who has for years done assessments of candidates for seminaries across Canada and for prospective sisters and brothers headed for religious life, will become Southdown’s new outpatient services team leader.

The modest, quiet and unassuming new office is “an important moment” in Kappler’s quest to take some of the fear, stigma and difficulty out of clergy accessing psychotherapy.

“One of my goals when I started here was to be helpful in making Southdown more accessible and have people see us more as a resource that’s there for them,” Kappler told The Catholic Register.

The process starts with a straightforward self-referral, said Kappler. 

“Even if you just want to have a consultation, or there’s something happening and you want to get a second opinion on something, you should see us as a resource,” he said.

A phone call or an e-mail to Southdown’s main office in Holland Landing is all that’s needed to get the ball rolling. OHIP does not cover psychotherapy unless it is delivered by a psychiatrist or a medical doctor, but the Archdiocese of Toronto covers the costs for its priests. Most religious orders have extended health coverage insurance plans.

Over the years priests and religious have been hesitant to go to Southdown because of the rumours generated whenever parishioners or other clergy learn a pastor has visited the famous institute. 

Concern about privacy has been baked into the DNA of Southdown ever since the late Msgr. Clem Schwalm came up with the idea for the institute in 1964. Schwalm believed the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous process held the key to overcoming his alcoholism, but he and the bishops he knew worried that AA wasn’t anonymous enough. By 1966 Southdown was up and running.

It amazes Kappler that people still whisper about priests seeking counselling, including other priests. None of them would react that way to a parishioner who confided they were getting psychotherapy.

“Would anybody in their right mind say to that person, ‘Oh, well, I guess you can’t make it on your own? Or maybe you don’t pray enough? Or maybe you’re not strong enough?’ Would you say anything like that?” Kappler asks.

“Priests are not exempt from being human,” he said.

Kappler hopes the new office on Fairview Mall Drive is the first of a number of modest moves to open up Southdown. Next up is group therapy at the North York office. He also hopes to create a support circle for survivors of sex abuse by clergy.

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