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Meet the secret keepers

Priest. Therapist. Hairdresser

Published on Apr. 9, 2012 | Print | Share | Recommend ()

Take a seat – on the leather couch, in the quiet office, or the swivel chair in front of a row of mirrors or the chair beside a screen – and spill it. Every day, people enter the confidence of mere acquaintances to share their most private moments. And every day, people hear these secrets and listen. A local therapist, hairstylist, and priest share what it’s like to hear secrets as part of their jobs.  

The man on the other side of the confessional.

Two minutes. Maybe five, if he’s lucky.

That’s all the time Father Cassian Samas has to provide spiritual advice and penance for parishioners participating in the sacrament of reconciliation at St. Paul Catholic Center.  

Since he joined the parish in June 2011,  Samas has been leading reconciliations once a week on Saturdays as well as any time a parishioner calls to set up a meeting.

Samas listens to the secrets of anyone who comes his way. They might sit in the church’s confessional booth or simply in two chairs placed across from one another.  

“People come in with loads of stuff and leave weightless,” he says. “It’s such a humbling experience to see people’s desire to be good.”  Samas says he often keeps a box of tissues at his side during reconciliation.

Samas says he has noticed an increase in the number of people who come to confession each week. From the time he joined the parish, the number of people on a given Saturday has grown from two or three people each week to 12 to 20.

“Psychologists don’t have the power to forgive sins, and a priest is free of charge.”

Priests cannot repeat anything a penitent tells them. It’s known as the Seal of Confession. If they do, they are excommunicated from the church, and only the Pope has the ability to absolve that. This means if a penitent shares something about a criminal offense, the priest cannot divulge that information to anyone, though he may encourage the penitent to turn him or herself in or provide necessary evidence. 

In the same way, priests are not allowed to bring up what was said during a confession to the parishioner at a later time. The priest must be granted permission by that penitent or else the confession will never be mentioned again.

“A good confessor is someone who is able to listen well and ask the right questions in a short span of time,”  Samas says.

Because he is a recently ordained priest and is new to the parish, he says he was nervous at first for how he would handle hearing others’ most personal confessions. “That was my concern,” he says. “But it doesn’t affect me at all. It’s like God gives me the strength to do so.” Samas says not every confession is so easy to forget, though. “Sometimes I just can’t forget. And that’s when I know God wants me to remember to pray for them.”

If a priest is at a loss for advice to give,  Samas says he may ask a more experienced priest for advice so long as he does not reveal the confessor’s name and is more general about explaining the situation.

Despite the burdens that reconciliation can bring, Samas says it’s one of his favorite sacraments to perform. “You see a side of humanity you would otherwise never see. When you give absolution, you see the sigh of relief.”

All part of the job for this professional secret keeper.

This is what they are trained to do — listen to people’s secrets.

Nancy Stockton, director of Counseling and Psychological Services and a therapist for more than 30 years, says keeping secrets isn’t hard — it’s just part of the ethics and confidentiality that go along with the profession.

But there is some information therapists are legally obligated to tell. They are supposed to preserve human life, so suicide or intent to kill someone else are examples of information that needs to be shared.

Stockton admits keeping their clients’ secrets can put some pressure on therapists. But she says therapists can share information with colleagues within CAPS if they need advice on treating someone.

However, Stockton says the idea that therapists sometimes seek therapy themselves because of the pressures of their job is false.

“It’s not uncommon, but not because of the stres,” Stockton says. “It’s because they have their own problems.”

CAPS helps train resident assistants, says Stockton, because they could possibly be in a situation where they have to help someone who is suicidal. In those situations, therapists say not to engage in secret keeping.

Though there is information that shouldn’t be kept secret, Stockton says, “it’s part of human nature not to reveal.”

The scissors go up and the secrets spill out.

Senior Beth Morken, a Fort Wayne native, has been a stylist for five years and has heard plenty of personal information from clients. 

“I can think of times when people just all of a sudden tell me their background and how they got in trouble,” Morken says. “The things that they did, like, ‘Oh, I smoked this much weed and got this STD at a party.’”

The general studies major also knows that some things aren’t meant to be shared. Morken says she tries to put herself in her clients’ shoes and think about how it would feel if someone else started talking about her personal life.

“You don’t want your client to think you’re a blabbermouth,” Morken says.

Morken says she usually keeps the stories people tell to herself, but if it’s something funny she might bring it up in conversation with her friends. But with more serious information, she says something comforting and leaves it at that.

Because she has seen so many clients through the years, Morken says she’s learned to look at someone and know what kind of person they are and how quickly they will share information.

“You know what kind of conversations they are willing to have and what they want and what they expect out of the whole experience,” Morken says. “Right off the bat I can tell if this is someone I can talk with and they will be telling me things or if this is someone that has to warm up to me for a while.”

Morken considers herself a secret keeper, and says she feels an obligation as a professional stylist to not go around saying “he said, she said.”

“I just keep it a secret, shut my mouth, and whatever they want to tell me, they tell me.”

Story Image

Chaz Mottinger | Inside

Father Cassian Samas is a priest. As such, he must keep secrets.

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