The Divine Physician wants to heal you: Bob Schuchts to bring his message of hope, healing to St. Gerald in Omaha
April 7, 2021
When Bob Schuchts was 14 years old, his world came crashing down.
He, his mom and dad, and six siblings were a typical Catholic family, living in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Confident in the love of his family, young Bob felt “secure and happy.”
Then one day, after a period of family turbulence, his father left home. Just left. Seemingly without a trace.
It was devastating. Reeling from the loss, within a few months his older brother, Dave, took solace in heroin and embraced the emerging hippie culture. He left home as well.
With his two closest male role models and confidants gone, Bob – the second oldest child – was left to shoulder the emotional burdens of his large and distressed family. He became excessively concerned with their well-being, forgetting his own formidable pain.
It wasn’t until many years later, when he attended a “Christ Renews His Parish” weekend, that he began to face his deep-seated wounds. By then, he had already decided to devote his life’s work to marriage and family therapy.
Having received an undergraduate degree in psychology from Columbia University, New York, Schuchts (pronounced “shoots”) earned master’s and doctoral degrees in family relations – an interdisciplinary program involving counseling, sociology, marriage and family, and human development – from Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Before retiring from private practice six years ago, Schuchts spent nearly 35 years as a marriage and family therapist, while also teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in marriage and family relationships, human development and applied psychology. He has held adjunct professor positions at Florida State University, Tallahassee Community College and the Center for Biblical Studies, all in Tallahassee.
Over the years, Schuchts gradually integrated his Catholic faith and his charism of healing into his therapy practice and his teaching and training activities. Twelve years ago, he founded the John Paul II Healing Center in Tallahassee, from which he and his team now provide healing and training conferences for a variety of audiences, including priests, seminarians, religious, deacons, married couples and lay people all over North America.
He is also the author of six books, including “Be Healed: A Guide to Encountering the Powerful Love of Jesus in Your Life” (Ave Maria Press, 2014), which recounts his healing journey and those of family members, and describes his approach to helping people identify areas of brokenness in their lives and seek healing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
He and other presenters from the John Paul II Healing Center will give their popular “Healing the Whole Person” conference at St. Gerald in Omaha from April 29 to May 1. To find out more about his life, work and plans for the three-day event, the Catholic Voice interviewed Schuchts by telephone.
WANT TO GO?
What: “Healing the Whole Person” Conference
When: Thursday, April 29, 5:30 p.m. to Saturday, May 1, 4 p.m.
Where: St. Gerald Church, Omaha
Presenters: Bob Schuchts; Bart Schuchts; Sr. Miriam James Heiland, SOLT
To register: In-person attendance is sold out (seating is limited due to the pandemic); livestream and on-demand participation is available here.
Cost: $119, livestream
For more information, click here.
Q. How did you become interested in the whole area of family relations and healing?
I believe it’s a calling from God, but I can only see that looking back. My first awareness of being drawn that way was in a course in my senior year. It was a course taught by a priest at Chaminade High School (Hollywood, Florida), and it was on psychology and religion, and the themes were all around marriage and family. There was something in that integration of faith and psychology that really awakened my heart. I’m sure that my family situation, and my parents’ divorce, also were huge factors.
As I think about this, there were three main influences in my being led into this work. One is it’s an area of passion because of what I suffered, what we suffered as a family. (Second) it was an area of calling where the Holy Spirit was just leading and drawing it out. And then third, I think there was a natural gifting that I had as a therapist and teacher, being able to listen with compassion and helping people understand what motivates them.
Q. So you had already at the start a sense that psychology was not entirely divorced from religion. You already had a sense of this need for integrating the two.
Yeah. However, I got very frustrated going through college and graduate school. I went through secular programs in psychology and in family relations. And even though I took a course on psychology and religion at college, it was nothing like what I’d taken in high school. So I was pretty frustrated with not being able to have that integration of faith and psychology in my training.
I had Catholic friends in graduate school with me, even though it was a secular program. We would meet and talk about the integration. That was the beginning of that integration, I think.
The real awareness of the inadequacy came just seeing the difference before and after my “Christ Renews His Parish” retreat, which was in my early 30s. I had already been practicing (marriage and family therapy) for say six or seven years, and I realized on that one weekend, how much change I experienced as opposed to when I’d been in counseling. And I was just kind of startled by how much the Holy Spirit could transform quickly something that you’ve been trying to work on over a period of time.
So that was the real catalyst for the work that I started doing, incorporating the spiritual into my work, realizing that prayer and the Holy Spirit were the keys to transformation, leading people into a relationship with Jesus and the Father.
Q. Could you say a little bit more? Because it’s fascinating how your approach changed with that “Christ Renews His Parish” experience in the way you carried out your care and your professional calling.
The training in psychology and in family relationships – the academic training – is very important, very necessary: a lot of good, useful concepts. But it kept me at a level of analysis and advice. … For the most part, you can analyze something to death and not change. I was finding that in my own life, but also in my therapy. When I gave advice to people based on my education, they really weren’t making significant changes in their life. I wasn’t either.
The reality is (that approach) is very self-reliant. We talk a lot about this in our conferences, the difference between ungodly self-reliance versus reliance on God. Change happens when we allow ourselves to bring whatever we’re struggling with into a real relationship with God. When that’s missing, we’re really just reinforcing our own self-delusion that I can change my life, I can be disciplined, I can make decisions, I can will myself to do things – but real change takes place in the heart and the spirit, and that comes from God.
There’s a phrase from the Catechism that we use in our conferences. It’s under the section on prayer and it says the heart is the place of encounter. It’s there that we meet God, and only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart to know it fully.
Q. What does it mean to be healed? On the one hand, it seems obvious. On the other, you have the need in your work to explain it and define it.
To be healed is to be made whole and to be brought into communion. Those two things are interrelated. Wholeness is integration. Before sin, we were totally whole, we were totally integrated. There was no suffering, there was no sin, there was no disease. … Sin separates us. It divides us, it divides our relationships, it also separates us from God. It also separates us from ourselves and wherever we are divided, we have mental, emotional and spiritual disease.
Whenever we’ve broken with nature, so to speak, we’re prone to viruses and other diseases. It’s at a physical level. It’s not just personally, but it’s interpersonally and universally. In terms of the whole universe, we have a break with nature. We have a break with God. We have a break with other people. We have a break with ourselves and we get sick and die. Healing is the experience of God bringing us into wholeness.
Q. So your whole person approach to healing really is based on your fundamental understanding of healing.
Yes. But you know, so much of what our world does is to treat symptoms in every respect by medicating our pain and suffering. That only goes so far. When Jesus heals, he always goes to the root. He always reaches the place that’s causing the source of the suffering, whether that’s physical, emotional or spiritual. So we see Jesus forgiving sins before he heals physical ailments. Not always, but often, because there’s a connection there between what goes on spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Q. How does that insight give you a better ability to practice, to heal people in your profession? Maybe you could just give us an example of that.
Yeah. I’ll give you an example of a guy who came to one of our conferences. His story is in my book “Real Suffering” (Saint Benedict Press, 2018). His name is Patrick – that’s the name I gave him. He had been suffering with debilitative depression since he was a child, but it really manifested as an adult. He had to quit work. He’d been in and out of hospitals. He’d been on medication, all kinds of treatments, and he could barely function. The antidepressants and the treatments helped him cope, but never healed his depression.
He had a long story, but it’s beautiful and gives insight into the whole person approach, integrating our Catholic faith with psychology. Patrick was not working at the time because he was debilitated. (A priest) asked (him and his wife) to come down to a conference, and we had a group prayer experience the first night. In the group prayer experience, Patrick was very closed: “This just isn’t going to help. I’ve been through everything; nothing’s going to help.” That’s kind of the nature of chronic depression: Nothing’s going to make a difference. And then in this group prayer experience, Jesus brings him to a memory when he was 12. And in this memory, his father … beat him to a pulp with a belt.
What Patrick realized in the prayer is that he closed his heart off to his dad, and he shut his heart down to caring about love, having no hope. So that hopelessness took root and eventually brought his whole body into a place of depletion. And even though he got married and had a family, he was living in that depression. So in this prayer experience, Jesus revealed to him his presence there, and actually went to his dad and had this incredible compassion for his dad in the prayer, which at first made Patrick really angry, but then melted Patrick’s heart. And he was able to forgive his dad for what had happened and see his dad’s pain. Then Jesus ministered to Patrick.
Patrick came to me the next day, told me the story and said, I think my depression is lifted, but I can’t believe it because I’ve had short-term relief before. He came at the end of the conference and said, “I still feel tremendous. It’s amazing.” He said, “I cried like a baby, which I haven’t been able to do.” A month later, he contacted me and said, “You’re not going to believe this. I told my parents about it. They live in a different country. My dad wants me to pray with him when I go visit.”
He ended up praying with his dad. Jesus brought (his dad) back to the same memory where he was beating Patrick. And he said to Patrick, “You probably don’t remember this, but I’ve never been able to forgive myself for this.” Patrick, for the first time, is crying in front of his dad. “Dad, that’s the memory that Jesus brought me back to, and I saw him forgive you and I have forgiven you.” It’s the first time he ever saw his dad cry, as Patrick is praying with his dad and his dad is back in that memory. Jesus came to his dad in the same way he came to Patrick, and his dad was able to forgive himself for what happened.
Then they got up and embraced each other. And both of them have been free since then. And the healing has just spread to the other members of the family. Oh my goodness! Only Jesus can do that. So that’s a tremendous story because it shows how re-integration on the personal level also spills over and involves a re-integration among people.
Q. What’s the role of one’s personal identity – the way we see ourselves with respect to God, others, and our own strengths and weaknesses – in the healing process?
John Paul II, when he was a cardinal, wrote his first book, “The Acting Person,” and talked about our ability to perceive our environment, but also how our self-perception was really critical to our whole spiritual life. Our identity is how we come to know ourselves: How do we see ourselves? How do we perceive ourselves? And I would say that another definition of healing is coming to see God for who he is, coming to see ourselves for who we are and coming to see people around us for who they are. Now, that’s a different definition of healing, but they come together.
It’s really what we believe that influences our lives. Take Patrick’s example. He believes that he’s unlovable and hopeless, and that his dad’s a monster. His dad believes that he’s a monster for doing what he did. (Their experiences) aren’t just momentary events. Long after the events, the beliefs stay with us. Our attitudes and perceptions about ourselves, our beliefs about ourselves, our beliefs about other people, and our beliefs about God are influenced by those kinds of experiences. Patrick took something into his identity in that experience, believing that he’s bad, that he’s unlovable, that things are hopeless.
Q. So to be healed is to live in the truth, whereas to be wounded involves accepting fundamental distortions about reality, about us and our relationship with God.
That’s right. Added to that are our judgments towards other people, and our judgments towards life. In healing, as we come to know the truth, we become integrated and whole. And to the extent to which we’re living in deception and lies of the enemy, we’re living in sin, we’re living in brokenness, we’re living in woundedness.
If you think about it in terms of the fall, before the original sin, there was an original lie. That’s the way that the enemy works. And then the distrust brings us into a lack of health, a lack of integration.
Q. What is the nature of a wound? Why is it so important to have that understanding in order to be healed?
The catechism says that every sin has consequences to wound us. Wherever there’s sin, there’s wounds, it’s the flip side of the sin. The sin is the cause and the wound is the effect. And yet there are some wounds that don’t have lasting effects in our life. We all know experiences of somebody being unkind to us and it hurts in the moment, but it doesn’t have any lasting effect. But the difference between a wound and a deadly wound is a deadly wound is one that takes hold in our heart and continues to influence the way we see ourselves and see God and see other people. It distorts our beliefs, our perceptions, and leaves us bound in the trauma. The beliefs are what keep us bound in trauma and keep us bound in the repetition of it.
Q. You’ve talked about seven deadly wounds. What are these?
These are events, experiences that take hold in our hearts and that bring us into spiritual death of some kind, or at least (the death of) some capacity in our life. They block our capacity to love, our capacity to hope, our capacity to trust, which is to have faith.
And they tend to be long-lasting. They’re debilitating. In effect they’re a taste of hell, because in hell I believe the demons, the fallen angels, and everybody who ends up in hell live in those constantly: a total sense of abandonment, total sense of rejection, total sense of powerlessness, total sense of shame, total sense of hopelessness, total sense of confusion, total sense of fear. Those are the seven deadly wounds. And I believe they started at the fall of mankind. I believe Jesus took them on himself at the cross to redeem us from them and experienced all of them. And I believe that heaven is the total freedom from all of them.
Q. So the only way back from being wounded with a deadly wound is Jesus Christ.
That is my belief, yes. Directly or indirectly. There has to be some encounter with love that frees us. Love and truth free us, and Jesus is the ultimate source of love and truth. I don’t want to limit how he can work. So I don’t want to say that prayer directly is the only way, but Jesus is the only way.
Q. Which brings us to the next question. How did you come to the understanding of the healing power of the sacraments, since unfortunately, they’re so easy to take for granted?
I was like everybody else for a long time. I think my first experience of that was pretty subtle, but it was after having gone to confession and receiving the Eucharist on my “Christ Renews His Parish” weekend. It was a few hours where I went from desolation to consolation. So I noticed that, but I didn’t attribute it to the sacrament yet. It was in the middle of Mass after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, receiving the Eucharist, hearing a teenager give witness about the power of the Eucharist in his life, hearing the Scripture that day, all of that was an immediate grace. But I was not completely aware of it in the moment. Later that night I had that experience that I described in Chapter One (of “Be Healed”) with the Holy Spirit and felt an experience of the love of God.
So it was after the encounter of the sacraments being in prayer, experiencing the fullness of that grace. And again, I didn’t reflect on this until afterwards … only after my brother (Dave)’s “Christ Renews His Parish” weekend. And I talked about him in the book, where he had been a heroin addict, got out of jail, was in recovery, was not walking with God, and had a profound experience in the sacrament of reconciliation: It was life-changing, way different than my own, which was less dramatic. He was a different man. He was a totally different man after that. He received the Eucharist for the first time in a while.
Several years later – two weeks before he died – he received the anointing of the sick. He was in a coma. But after being anointed, he was brought out of the coma and had an encounter with Jesus. He was able then to reconcile and say goodbye to many family members that he wouldn’t have seen if he had died earlier. My dad was able to come down (to see him) and more healing took place with him. There was so much healing that came not just to my brother, Dave, in the moment, but for all of us as a family.
The sacraments are not just for individuals. Pope Benedict XVI had said this in his book “Benedictus.” They’re not just for us individually, they are for all of us together collectively. They heal us by bringing us into communion with God and each other. As I’ve studied this, I began to realize that – and this is in my book, “Be Transformed” – the sacraments are the healing of the seven deadly wounds because they heal the original structure of sin from the fall of mankind.
Q. What do you want conference participants to get out of your healing conference, whether in-person or online?
I want people to experience encounters with Jesus that change their life. I want people to experience healing: physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally, and most of all, healing in their relationship with God. I want people’s lives and relationships to be transformed. I want people to be inspired and be given hope and be given tools for their healing journey going forward. I want people to encounter the Holy Spirit from the moment they come to the moment they leave and then to experience his presence after they leave. I want people to know that they have a good Father who loves them personally and intimately.