ONE PRIEST’S WARNING ABOUT ST. LUKE’S INSTITUTE
An open letter to Fr. Paul Kalchik
Dear Fr. Paul Kalchik:
You have legitimate reasons to be concerned about being sent to St. Luke’s Institute (SLI). My experience of Saint Luke’s Institute indicates that SLI was set up for treatment of those suffering from addictions using principles of 12-step programs. While that kind of therapy may be valuable for some, it seems unlikely that it is the appropriate facility and treatment for you, Father. Not only that, I experienced a number of deficiencies with the intake and evaluation process that might cause you further harm. Allow me to explain.
I myself was sent to SLI in the spring of 2008. At the time I was suffering from improperly treated obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It will be difficult for anyone who does not suffer from an anxiety disorder to understand how debilitating and dangerous OCD can be when not treated with the appropriate medicine and therapy — medicine and therapy specifically tailored for OCD as it manifests in a particular person.
In the spring of 2008, my emotional condition had deteriorated to the point that I experienced prolonged states of extreme anxiety called hypervigilance. I was in a perpetual state of exhaustion, so much so that I did not feel safe driving my car; and most seriously, I was regularly having suicidal thoughts. As a consequence, I was unable to perform my priestly ministry. Clearly, I needed help — something different than the less-than-helpful counseling and medication I was receiving in Minnesota.
One Saturday afternoon in late March or early April of 2008, a senior priest who was an archdiocesan official appeared at the back door of my rectory. Over the next few hours, it was explained to me that I would be going to SLI in Maryland for an evaluation.
The next day, Sunday morning, I was dropped off at the airport by a staff member of the parish at which I served. I had a one-way ticket to Washington, D.C. and no one to accompany me. I spent the entire flight of more than two hours in something like a state of panic. The anxiety caused me to feel as if I were choking. If my memory serves me correctly, I spilled a drink in my lap and spent much if not the majority of the flight standing in the flight attendant cabin trying to manage the unnerving feeling that I was choking.
Once I landed in Washington, D.C., I was not met and welcomed by a familiar face, nor by a brother priest, nor by a medical professional from SLI. Instead, I was met by the equivalent of a taxi driver.Early on, it became clear to me that the majority of the resident patients were homosexual.Tweet
Once I arrived at SLI, I was given a basic medical evaluation. The nurse on duty indicated that my first night in this strange and unfamiliar place would be spent in the equivalent of a small dormitory room with a complete stranger. This declaration put me in the worst emotional state I have ever experienced. Despite my state of terror, I found a way to resist the nurse’s order that I share the room with the stranger — a man I would later learn was at SLI because he had acted on his homosexual attraction.
If my memory serves me, it was only after an hour or more of suffering with the uncertainty about where I was to spend the night that the nurse assigned me to a room in the wing of SLI used to accommodate SLI’s version of a halfway house for graduates of their inpatient treatment program.
The Sunday I just described was without a doubt the worst day of my life; the following week of evaluation at SLI was certainly the worst week of my life, and my first month at SLI under what is called “restriction” was almost certainly the worst month of my life.
Early on, it became clear to me that the majority of the resident patients were homosexual. It was the first time I had experienced being in a sexual orientation minority, and in group therapy, I expressed this in the supposedly confidential setting. One of the homosexual resident patients twisted what I had said in the small group and shared it with other residents, portraying me as someone who hated homosexuals.
This was and certainly is not the case. I was simply using the therapeutic process as it was intended to process my uncomfortable feelings because nothing I had experienced as a seminarian or priest in my own archdiocese had prepared me for living with such an openly homosexual population. The betrayal by the member of my small group caused me to become persona non grata with many of the resident patients of SLI, which led to increased anxiety and isolation.
This letter is intended to help you, Fr. Paul, and those who care about you to be aware of at least some of the difficulties you might experience at SLI. It is not in any way a condemnation of SLI. I met some extraordinarily good and holy people there; at least one of the nurses and the staff psychiatrist may have been living saints. I learned many helpful things during my six months of inpatient treatment at SLI and returned several times for continuing care. That said, because SLI did not have an expert in OCD at that time, I know with certainty that it was not the right place for me to be sent for treatment of my OCD, and I suspect it is not the right place for you, Fr. Paul.
All the best in Christ,
Fr. Brian LynchFather Brian Lynch is a priest of the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He serves as pastor of Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine, Minnesota.