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Creating a space for deep pain

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell heads up the spirituality work of the Jesuit Institute South Africa and is a spiritual director and psychotherapist working with victims of trauma. She gave the 8th SpIRE public talk entitled “Finding God when feeling low” in Milltown Park, Dublin on 28 September 2017. In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, Annemarie discusses the interface between Christian spirituality and psychology in a place that is still severely affected by the apartheid era.

“We’re still really trying to come to terms as a society with much of what happened in the apartheid era,” says Annemarie. In her position, she focuses on how people come to a place of healing and reconciliation in these circumstances. While acknowledging the important role of psychology, she says: “I think spirituality can really play an added role in the reintegration process, the making sense of what has happened”. She talks “of the one who loves them unconditionally, who knows what they need at their deepest place of pain.”

Despite the horrific lack of mental health services in South Africa, Annemarie finds that running parish retreats in group sessions can be very helpful: “I think the pain is so much there that just being offered a space enables it to come out and to be shared. People are longing to tell their story and to have it heard and that is really a profound experience”.

Annemarie is able to sustain herself in her work through a supportive network of relationships, a regular prayer life which includes participating in retreats, and availing of supervision, therapy and spiritual direction. She has made a commitment to consecrated celibacy in a private way, which gives her the flexibility to travel at a moment’s notice and to spend alone time in the evenings with God.

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell feels immensely blessed to be doing the work that she’s doing. Furthermore, she says: “When I see the impact on individuals and groups who really do find the space to encounter God and to bring that healing, I have great hope.”