Dr. Araceli V. Lardizabal-Carnazzo, MD, MA (Catechetical Diploma, ‘15; MA in Theology, ‘16), is a forensic psychiatrist and active in parish ministry in the Diocese of Monterey, California. She was working as a staff psychiatrist in a forensic hospital when she began studying theology at the graduate level and then added the Catechetical Diploma to better impart her enriched Catholic faith to others in an engaging way.
Forensic psychiatrists practice in the medical field that interfaces with the law and the court system and treat patients in a hospital, outpatient, correctional, crisis, or emergency setting. They must accurately diagnose patients; soundly prescribe psychotropic medications and/or psychotherapies; and make proper clinical judgments as the team leader in the treatment planning conferences that are held with the psychologists, nurses, social workers, psychiatric technicians, and each patient. They are also responsible for safely managing, with the ward team, the aberrant behaviors of mentally disordered violent or sexual offenders and those who may be feigning mental illness for personal gain.
“Forensic psychiatry can gain much from Theology to promote the emotional health and the spirituality of the patients,” Dr. Lardizabal-Carnazzo says. “They have special needs, being burdened and handicapped not only by their serious mental illnesses, but also troubled by legal issues, including their incarceration, an impending trial, criminal conviction with a life or lengthy sentence, or facing uncertain futures with their families or basic survival once back in society.”
Studying theology helped Dr. Lardizabal-Carnazzo impart her work with the virtues of justice and charity. “As a Christian Catholic forensic psychiatrist, in justice, from which flows the virtue of religion, I give to God all the glory that is His due for all that is good in me, including my gifts of medical acumen and competence, moved by love for Him above all as I serve Him through my psychiatric patients,” she explains. “And in justice and charity, I give to the patients what is their due, moved by love that wills their highest good, in serving them, in imitation of the Divine Physician, as their psychiatrist.”
In addition to making appropriate consultations on complicated cases, a grounding in Theology and Catholic social teaching also facilitates her interactions with the other specialty doctors, forensic colleagues, pharmacists, probation and parole officers, prison and county jail staff, district attorneys and public defenders, custodial and community mental health management and support staff, and the patient’s relatives, who she treats with kindness and respect that stem from charity and justice.
Dr. Lardizabal-Carnazzo’s daily responsibilities include writing proficient psychiatric admission-intake evaluations, progress reports, discharge summaries, and medico-legal progress reports that are advisory to the court. She also appears in court as an expert witness on a patient’s competency, for example, to stand trial or to accept or refuse treatment; the need for involuntary treatment or commitment in a secure setting; the danger posed to self or others; grave disability; and whether a patient is not guilty by reason of insanity or can be safely treated in the community.
“Theology also helped me to appreciate having a holistic approach that includes the supernatural perspective in the treatment, healing, and care of the forensic patients, and thus, to counsel them accordingly,” she explains. “It includes appreciating the Trinitarian God as man’s end and that it is good for the soul to have a personal relationship with Him.”
It was not easy to counsel patients to choose to live a life rooted in God in the institutions where she worked. She says, “If a patient responded positively to the greeting ‘God bless you,’ I usually took it as a safe opening for a follow-up on the godly way of life. But often, I could not reach them due to their fragile mental stability, and so I just commended them to the merciful God.” She continued to pray for their special healing needs, conversion of hearts to the Lord, and the salvation of their souls.
Dr. Lardizabal-Carnazzo feels that Divine Providence had a plan for her career path. Psychiatry was her best rotation in both medical school and in her post-graduate internship. She went into internal medicine residency training in the Philippines but lasted only six months, as she and her brother had to come to the U.S. to be with their mother. After passing the medical board tests and requirements for medical postgraduate hospital training in California, she learned about a possible opening for General Psychiatry residency training in the Bay Area. “I took a chance, applied for it, and was accepted after the interview,” she says. After completing the training, she applied for a Forensic and Correctional Psychiatry fellowship, was accepted, and eventually received the Sustained Superior Achievement Award at the forensic hospital where she worked.
Dr. Lardizabal-Carnazzo is grateful for her studies in Theology and Catechetics. “I feel very blessed and enjoy what I am doing currently as I am at last able to apply and to share what I learned to serve others,” she says. “I am privileged to be part of the faith journey of the children and the adults in the parish.”
As a certified catechist, Dr. Lardizabal-Carnazzo co-facilitates the children’s First Confession-First Holy Communion preparation classes and the adults’ Sacramental Prep-RCIA-Continuing Religious Education classes. She also helps facilitate the weekly Bible Study Group. She especially enjoys her work with the children. “I find it heart-warming to see them apply what they learned and to experience personal joy when going for their First Confession and First Holy Communion. It is gratifying, as well, to see how their parents and relatives feel blessed for what their children have accomplished through their efforts and faith,” she says. She enjoys hearing affirmative feedback from her adult students. The quiet ones may start speaking in class or tell her that they are learning more, have a better understanding of the tenets of the Faith, or appreciate the knowledge shared.
Dr. Lardizabal-Carnazzo is also a co-facilitator of the Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreats in northern California for those in need of post-abortion healing. Her studies in Catholic healthcare ethics training sponsored by the Catholic Medical Association via CDU have allowed her to be a resource for relatives, parishioners, and a priest on difficult and gray areas in this field. Her Catholic social doctrine training at CDU and CUA has helped inform the conscience of her family to invest exclusively in pro-life stocks. She is also working with fellow Catholic healthcare professionals to start parish ministries on emotional health anonymous, Catholic healthcare ethics, and a Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreat program for California’s Central Coast, which is home to several college campuses.
A cradle Catholic who attended Catholic schools through high school, her faith was enriched after attending a Catholic Life in the Spirit Seminar in the Bay Area. She also credits CDU with fostering her Catholic spirituality. She enjoyed the convenience of online learning with its necessary technical support, being nurtured with orthodox Catholic teaching, the outreach program to alumni, the spirit of Catholic family togetherness among the students, alumni, and staff, and the privilege of giving back to CDU via its ad hoc prison ministry program advisory and alumni association.
She is also blessed with a loving family. “I married a medical colleague-businessman who is a Catholic revert like me,” Dr. Lardizabal-Carnazzo says. They pray together daily and are blessed to have a daughter who is a hospice nurse and two sons who are priests of the Catholic Melkite rite. Both sons are married, and each have seven children who are homeschooled. Before becoming priests, both sons taught online seminars at CDU, and she was first introduced to CDU when she took one of their courses. Both priests continue to serve souls and teach online.
“I feel deeply blessed for my training in Theology and Catechetics at CDU, a gift that keeps on giving—to have a servant’s heart in the Lord, through service to His Church, all for His love and glory!” Dr. Lardizabal-Carnazzo says.