Julia Marie Hogan, MS, LCPC, a mental health therapist in Chicago, recently published a book on self-care called It’s OK to Start with You. An alumna of Everest Academy in Lemont, IL, and Divine Mercy University, Julia has been active in ECYD and Regnum Christi. We asked her about her new book.
What led you to write a book about self-care? It isn’t the first topic many people would think about. What excited you about the topic?
Julia: I think that’s a good point: this topic isn’t talked about a lot, especially in Catholic and Christian circles. Also, popular media uses a different definition than I would. At the same time, as a therapist, I saw the impact that not taking care of yourself could have. This combination led me to this topic.
You need to take care of your physical, emotional and mental health, your relationships, and your spiritual health. I’ve seen how not taking care of all those areas can really impact your quality of life: you’re at an increased risk of stress, and your self-confidence takes a hit. And I think it can lead you away from what you’re called to do.
It isn’t a topic that jumps to mind for a book, but I think it’s a topic that should be talked about more. I saw writing this book as a way to get the message out there.
What kind of things would count as self-care? Generally and also, for Catholics, specifically?
Self-care is the external expression of how we feel and think about ourselves internally. As Catholics and Christians, we believe we are loved by God, and He loves us as we are right now. That means He loves us even when we’re making mistakes. He’s not withholding His love for us. It’s not conditional.
When we recognize that God loves us how we are right now and that He wants the best for us, then we express that in how we act externally, with other people and with ourselves. If we don’t like ourselves very much and we see ourselves as unlikeable and unlovable, then we treat ourselves in a way that matches that. That means not getting enough sleep, not eating healthily, not getting enough exercise, being in unhealthy relationships, ignoring our spiritual life or being immersed in anxiety and worry.
On the other hand, if we see ourselves as lovable because of God’s love for us, then that means – especially as Catholics and Christians – immersing ourselves in a strong prayer life, that means taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally and in our relationships. A concrete example of that is practicing gratitude: it brings together emotional health and spiritual health, too. Other examples would be getting enough sleep, eating properly, exercising, and setting boundaries in relationships so that they’re heathy.
Can you give me a picture of what the reader would expect picking up your book?
My book has two parts, which I’ll summarize.
For the first half of the book, I explore why self-care matters. I talk a lot about how it’s the external expression of how we think about ourselves internally and how it is a response to God’s love for us. I think everything should be a response to God’s love for us. If we really recognize that and we see self-care as a way of living that out, then it makes sense to focus on self-care.
I talk about the misconceptions about self-care, such as that self-care is selfish. It actually isn’t – if you take care of yourself first, then you can be the best version of yourself in serving other people. A small example of that is my work with my clients. If I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, then I’m feeling tired and I’m not focusing on my clients, I’m not being the best therapist for them. If I make sure I get enough sleep, I am a better version [of myself] for my clients. Since this is what I’m called to do, it is a way of fully living out my vocation.
The second half of the book begins with a self-care self-assessment. The reader can go through and see the different areas of self-care, with different questions, so they can get an idea of what they’re already doing well and what they can focus on. Then I walk through each one of those areas, and I talk about why it’s important, pull in some research, and give examples of what it might look like. I conclude with making your own self-care plan.
What do you think a Regnum Christi member or an active Catholic could get out of your book?
I know that, for someone who is in Regnum Christi or someone who’s an active Catholic, the spiritual life will be the driving force and an important factor of what they do. It fits naturally into self-care. When you take care of yourself, you’re better able to live out your vocation in every area and nurture the talents that God gave you. My book shows you in a concrete way to take care of yourself without going on a weeklong vacation to the beach. My suggestions are crafted in a way that someone can fit them into their busy schedule and see the benefits. We can’t all run off and be hermits.
How has your formation at Everest Lemont and at Divine Mercy University helped you prepare for this book and for your life as a psychologist now?
My education was foundational. It allowed faith to be part of my life from a young age, when it was integrated into school, where we’d have religion class and we went to Mass. It seemed like a natural fit.
For undergrad, I went to the University of Dallas. I knew that I wanted to be a therapist, but I [also] knew that I wanted to continue to incorporate the faith, so Divine Mercy was an excellent fit when it came time to choose my graduate school.
What makes DMU unique – and what makes Alpha Omega Clinic, where I did my internship, unique – is that they seamlessly incorporate the faith into psychology. I can’t edit the faith out of someone’s life when they’re my client, when it’s the foundation of the way that they live. DMU trained me to incorporate the faith with psychological theories, strategies and resources. DMU is really the only place that does that.
One important thing that Divine Mercy taught me was the concept of human flourishing. In therapy, our goal is to eliminate negative symptoms but also to help the human person flourish. Human flourishing is achieving your highest potential through your vocation, your spiritual life or in relationships. I really loved that added layer, because it means we don’t stop at making you less depressed or anxious, but we also want to help you live a full life. What does that look like for you? How can I help you get there?
You’re currently a therapist in the Chicago area. Where are you located and what are your specialties?
I work in Park Ridge, just outside Chicago and right down the street from Relevant Radio.
I specialize in faith-based counseling: a lot of my clients specifically want to incorporate their spiritual life into therapy. My other focus is working with people struggling with anxiety – it’s so common. I really enjoy being able to provide people tools to be able to manage their worry and anxiety. Once you learn those, it’s very freeing and it’s exciting to see those changes in my clients.
People ask me how I can sit and listen to people talk about their problems all day. I think it’s something that you’re called to do; to me, it’s so meaningful.
If Divine Mercy University sounds interesting to you, they offer a 25–50% tuition reduction for Regnum Christi members. Find details here.