Regina Boerio, chair of the Department of Psychology, spoke to Franciscan University students on Feb. 27 in a talk entitled “The Psychology of Suffering.” Boerio shared insights from her own work, as well as those of other psychologists on how people deal with suffering.
Looking through books by psychologists, said Boerio, suffering and pain are discussed without naming it.
“We all seek pleasure and don’t want pain,” said Boerio.
Boerio said many people avoid the topic of suffering because “they don’t want to talk to people who are grieving their losses because they don’t want to remember their own grief.”
Boerio said there is chosen suffering, such as exercise and dieting, but the more common type of suffering people struggle with is unchosen suffering.
“Even people who believe in God find unchosen suffering to be unbearable,” said Boerio.
Boerio said the first step to healing is building a relationship and recognizing when you need help.
“To heal, a person needs to work through their distrust,” said Boerio. “The important thing is you have to recognize the need to change and know that it exists.”
Boerio, citing from the Rev. Henri Nouwen, said many expert psychologists believe memory plays a role in how we view ourselves and our lives.
Boerio went on to say suffering is often part of wounded memories, and psychologists have to help them work through it.
Boerio emphasized her points by showing clips from the movie “Good Will Hunting,” using the main character’s brokenness and behavior in shutting others out to prove her point that healing means people must recall their pain.
“The therapist needs to be able to see the value and dignity of the human person and not just their behavior,” said Boerio. “When you know a person’s story, things make more sense.”
Boerio said many people identify themselves in the pain and have difficulties making changes in their lives.
“One must embrace the pain but have the courage to risk making change,” said Boerio. “This can be done with the companionship of the therapist and God’s grace.”
Boerio said much of the suffering comes from the person having to go back through the pain and anger.
“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Boerio. “What we’re asking them to do is return to the pain, and they are to believe the benefits of change will outweigh the losses.”
Boerio said when the person returns to the pain, that is when they begin to find meaning in suffering. But it is when they move through suffering they are able to take an objective look at themselves and discover new talents and become more confident people in the end.
“That’s the meaning in suffering,” said Boerio, “the fact that we can get people past that suffering to more positive things.”
The Gentile Gallery was packed with students from the Counseling Department, as well as many who were just interested in learning how to heal.
Mackenzie Heim, a freshman education major, said, “I really appreciated the steps and certain points for counselors to remember, about helping people with psychological issues and avoid going the wrong way by getting too attached and how to keep a healthy balance.”
Jacob Konkolics, a senior theology and catechetics major, said he also liked the practical side of Boerio’s advice.
“What stood out to me was the viewpoint she was coming from as a counselor and how a counselor works with someone through their pain; by going back into the suffering, they help to recall the memories and rebuild the relationships that were broken,” said Konkolics.