Beware the work of Dr. Bob Schuchts, Sr. Miriam Heidland, and the JPII Healing Center
Stories of exacerbated harm and foundational problems, with more to come.
Over the last year, I’ve been exploring the work of Dr. Bob Schuchts and the John Paul II Healing Center. As dioceses continue to hire them (as well as Sr. Miriam Heidland who works collaboratively with them) to teach on healing, sexuality, and gender, it’s important to critically examine their work. Rather than presenting perspectives grounded in professional psychology and Catholic theology, they tend to offer teachings rooted in the protestant prayer healing movement and outdated (or simply inaccurate) psychological claims. While some may experience a certain degree of “healing” under the direction of Schuchts, Heidland, and the JPII Healing Center, others have shared stories of exacerbated problems and inhibited abilities to seek professional help.
In 2021, I shared a recorded conversation with Christopher Dowling, who in the past had promoted the John Paul II Healing Center and has since processed ways in which he had suffered from the conversion therapy he received from Dr. Schuchts. Dowling ended up in inpatient treatment, after the “care” of Schuchts and his ideologies (as well as those in Schuchts’s circles) culminated in a mental health crisis. (As will be shared below, others have had similar trajectories following their work with Schuchts.) Dowling ended up wasting more than $50,000 on the “healing” efforts of Schutchs and others who discouraged him from seeking help outside of their close networks of Catholic therapists who share their niche ideological views and methodologies.
A former seminarian from my own diocese (Saint Paul and Minneapolis) also spoke with NPR about how Saint John Vianney Seminary subjected him and other seminarians to the bizarre practices of Schuchts. I was able to gather materials from the workshops facilitated by the John Paul II Healing Center and identify how parts of them were modified forms of conversion therapy, grounded in the work of Protestant spiritual healers like Leanne Payne, rather than Catholic theology or professionally-informed understandings of psychology.
And this is a recent message I received from a Catholic woman in the Diocese of Lansing on her experience with Schuchts, Heidland, and the JPII Healing Center (shared with permission):
“Hi Chris. Please forgive the length of this, but I want to first explain in general what happened. I attended a Healing the Whole Person retreat in Lansing Michigan in September of 2017. At the time I was having an extremely rough time because I had been the victim of boundary violations and spiritual abuse by a newly ordained charismatic priest for two years. Imagine a lesser version of Fr. Morrier from FUS.
I was in a situation where I had spent time with a priest who emphasized things like deliverance ministry, Unbound, and constantly told me I had a problem with control and my inability to give it up kept me from closeness to Jesus. I felt that something about my very being had caused him to behave the way he did. So I went to Bob Schucht's conference in desperation just wanting to heal from that and I bought in hard.
I remember listening to Sr. Miriam talk about her own sexual abuse and how she couldn't heal until she forgave her offender and stopped acting like he owed her something. I participated when they asked us to focus on our own sin tree roots and how they were causing us to emphasize hurts, refuse forgiveness, or tell untrue storis to ourselves about the wounds we experience. I filled out the whole tree, I renounced my unforgiveness, ect.....and I still felt depression and extreme anxiety.
So i tried to forgive harder. I started renouncing all day long. I prayed the 5 keys every night. I had panic attacks every day and would just stay up at night sobbing wondering what I was doing wrong. Following Bob's logic about how our wounds make us believe certain things about what we experience or the behavior of others, I constantly gaslit myself. That went on for a long time and got increasingly worse. I felt unbearable shame over my ‘strongholds’ and inability to let go of enough control to let Jesus heal my wounds. It was suggested at one point that that was badly affecting the spiritual safety of my children. Not only was I a failure at my own healing, I couldn't protect my children. I wanted to die so I just stopped eating.
At the end, I lost close to 15 lbs in 3 weeks before I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital with the help of an actual therapist. I cannot adequately describe the pain and suffering involved in recovering from that. When I got there my nervous system was so fried that I shook violently on and off for days. It looked like I was having seizures. I had to deconstruct to survive. When I stopped spiritualizing my trauma and buying into all of that nonsense, I actually got better. I actually started healing and liking myself as a person thru proven therapies like EMDR.
Now that I've had time to look back on it I have multiple problems with Bob Schuchts and his approach. There are basic level problems such as a heretical view of forgiveness and a lack of ethics surrounding placing people in a state of emotional distress without follow-up or an understanding of their access to mental health care. I am truly alarmed at the newer conferences that ‘train’ attendees to use inner healing prayer on other people as a form of evangelism.
I ended up giving the JPII Healing Institue a review in 2021 . I'll just paste it here;
It's taken me in years to have the courage to write this, and I suspect that others who have been damaged by things like ‘Healing the Whole Person’ have the same struggle. This, added to the terrible direction I was guided by a spiritually abusive priest, destroyed my life. It teaches an unbiblical view of forgiveness that places the burden on those who have been traumatized, instead of their offenders. They're hiding behind an idea that makes it easy for the church to do ‘drive by’ evangelism and decline to actually address any of it's deeply rooted problems. It's an idea that means it doesn't truly matter what we do to each other because ‘gifted persons’ can pray it away, if you'll only surrender! If it doesn't work the poor, oppressed, and abused are the failures, not them.
I can't think of a better way for powerful people in the church to stroke their own egos and give themselves permission to never truly engage with suffering. The people who are deep in the trenches with the traumatized know that this approach almost never works long term. They know that people standing in line to be prayed over feel pressured to make an experience of healing happen so they don't feel singled out in a crowd, or invalidate the supposed gifts of a person with more social power than them. After all what will that say about God's love for them if it doesn't happen? What will it say about their own worthiness? A year or two later these individuals find that they're still suffering and they can't understand why. Some hide it and suffer alone to avoid being on the outside of the healing community. Some blame themselves because they think they haven't forgiven correctly and that's why they aren't fully healed. Some, in a state of total despair with the weight of this responsibility on their back, commit suicide. As a Catholic advocate for traumatized persons I do not recommend this to anyone because it encourages vulnerable people to have low boundaries, expose themselves to triggers, and lacks transfer of care.
They never responded to it or reached out to me."
Others have shared how diocesan leaders and parish priests are pressuring them to attend these workshops to “heal” various mental and emotional wounds and struggles. In some dioceses, priests and Church leaders are increasingly promoting “spiritual healing” or “prayer ministry,” and are facilitating trainings so that Catholics can become prayer healers over others. This should be very concerning, especially because of the ways it leads vulnerable persons to seek care for complex problems from those not subject to any professional training, regulatory bodies, or accountability mechanisms. If the Church is concerned about the potential to facilitate abuse, these developments do not evidence such concern. I often come back to what one clergy abuse survivor had shared with me: “You can wound with just incompetence. There doesn’t have to be malice.”
To get an understanding of where Schuchts’s ideas are today, and how they inform his work and the work of others, I have begun reading Be Restored: Healing Our Sexual Wounds through Jesus’ Merciful Love (for which Heidland wrote the foreword). The book was originally sent to me by a seminarian, who had been given the book, found parts of it troubling, and asked if he could send it to me for my thoughts. Rather than giving a review of the book in essay form, I’ll be “live-Noting” (similar to “live-tweeting”) my reading of it in Substack Notes. What I’ve found so far validates and helps to explain the experiences shared above.
Some issues I’ve identified at a high level:
Schuchts misrepresents himself as a therapist.
Though the book received an imprimatur from Bishop William Albert Wack, C.S.C. (Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee), it consistently presents views at odds with Catholic anthropology.
Schuchts makes unprofessional and irresponsible claims about the success of his work. (In my professional life, I’ve advised on truth-in-advertising laws, and Schuchts’s claims read very similarly to the dieting advertisements that would lead to FTC enforcement.)
He shares details from sessions with former clients without indicating whether they gave consent for this, and openly opines about their sexual feelings towards him, while failing to acknowledge the ethical perspective of the therapist.
He uses leading questions and prompts that contribute to feelings of shame in ways that are deeply problematic for a mental health professional.
He repeatedly encourages people to “explore” past experience of “sexual violations,” without recommending seeking professional help.
He makes claims about what “researchers have found” or psychological “findings,” without adequately backing up these claims. Instead, he cites his own work, the work of those not qualified to make these claims, or reports that were not published in scholarly publications and which were criticized by scholars for misrepresenting and mischaracterizing the work of others.
He continuously relies on gender stereotypes, alongside claims that he rejects gender stereotypes.
His work is grounded in the Protestant prayer healing and deliverance ministry movements, rather than the Catholic tradition or professional psychology. In general, his books and workshops are uncritical developments of these non-Catholic movements, with occasional John Paul II quotes and pseudo-psychological clichés scattered throughout.
He treats both Christ’s mission and the sacraments in a reductive way, confusing and equating “salvation” with “restoration.”
Over the last week I’ve also been sharing these thoughts on my Instagram account. This is what one person shared with me after seeing some of those posts (reshared with permission):
“Your stories about Schuchts have been incredibly impactful for me today....I went to the Healing the Whole Person weekend last year. I spent the vast majority sobbing in the back of the church. There were a couple of things that didn't land for me....the soul ties and also that without forgiveness there is no healing. I'm no where close to even thinking about forgiveness, it felt so shaming and condemning.
I bought the Be Restored book, but hadn't yet brought myself to read it and now I'm happy I haven't. So many red flags...and I'm frankly disgusted that he would dare speak with so much certainty about me, as a victim, to be desecration or damaged.
This has actually given me an opportunity to give myself some power back....that I can say no, that is not so I am and you do not get to define me based on my trauma.”
You can read my ongoing reading and commentary on Be Restored here, or check out some of those Notes copied below.
If you have been subject to the work of Schuchts or others like him, and are seeking healing from its effects, one organization that may interest you is the Reclamation Collective, a group run by licensed therapists who want to help people with religious or spiritual trauma or abuse. Wherever you seek healing, just be attentive to what is working and what isn’t, knowing that there is no simple “one size fits all” “cure.” There is no miracle cure for our deepest wounds. But there is healing and transformation. It’s a long journey, but it’s worth it.
Some of my Notes on Be Restored (you can click each Note to read the text in full):