Facebook Twitter

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


By. Matthew Williams, Administrative Coordinator
Summer is a time of adventure, bringing with it a whirlwind of outdoor activities. If you live in Greater Pittsburgh, you know all too well that it’s a time of unpredictable weather. (You put your car heater on in the morning, but by the time you're driving home, you've flipped over to the air conditioner.) If you’re like me, you may end up with a massive sunburn, wondering why you did not break out that black market SPF 150 suntan lotion. #Ouch! You can always point us out. We’re the ones walking around looking like a reverse raccoon. We’ve burned our faces, but we’re pale around the eyes because we were rocking our sunglasses! It’s easy to forget the sunblock, but one thing we never seem to forget is to put on our shades. In fact, we seem to do it instinctively.

Wearing sunglasses represents more than a fashion statement meant to protect our eyes from the harmful rays of the sun. They represent our desire to protect ourselves from harm. If you think about, we are constantly keeping ourselves out of harm’s way. Prime example, if you remember from the last blog, “Parenting Series Blog – Issue #1, The Hunt for Happiness: Brush Back”, you may recall a certain nine year old taking a ball to the face. After that particular incident, do you think he moves his face out of the ball’s path? Um—yes! I’ve seen him do it. The point is, when we are cognizant of potential harm, we take preventive measures to protect ourselves.

So what does all of this have to do with mental health? Indulge me while I explain. We humans are controlling by nature. We like to control what happens to us and around us. (Some, maybe a little more than others!) Among many things, we control our schedules, our diets and our exercises. We work on keeping our bodies healthy—which is fantastic. However, one thing that many of us fail to exercise control over is the state of our mental health. We indulge all facets of life yet we fail to fine tune what makes us who we are! Although we’ve made great strides forward, seeking the proper treatment for mental health concerns still has a stigma attached to it. It's up to all of us to change that.

Human beings are also social creatures. However, we can find ourselves living in a façade. Why? We often project what others believe to be happiness. We ignore the turmoil inside ourselves, in hopes that it "just goes away," or because we fear what people will say or think about us. We suppress the pain within and embrace the artificial happiness we have constructed for ourselves. In essence, we ignore our innate responsibility to protect ourselves from the adverse outcomes bred out of unhealthy beliefs, thoughts and actions. It's like forgetting the sunscreen. If you do, there will be a painful price to pay.

The purpose of #Mentalshades is to change how we approach emotional and mental distress…to learn not to cling to our out-of-control anxieties, depression, trauma, unhealthy habits, etc., but instead, to take the steps necessary to protect ourselves from harm. We go about our lives forgetting about the one thing we should constantly be protectingour mental health. It should be something we do before we become emotionally scarred, broken and unhealthy. When we created #MentalShades, we did so with the thought of sporting our shades proudly. Proud to freely acknowledge that none of is perfect, that we all have our struggles. Proud that the shades are not a mask, but protection.

At Samaritan Counseling Center we are here to help you bring your best self forward, to propel yourself into great and joyous things. So when you rock your shades, don’t do it merely as a mask for you to hide behind, nor as a fashion statement. Let it be a reminder that every part of you is a work in progress. Every part of you deserves to be healthy. Because at the end of the day, you deserve to smile. (Like laughter, smiles are contagious, too.) So have courage and rock those mental shades!

We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments and TWEET a photo of yourself rocking your shades!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Parenting Series Blog – Issue #1, The Hunt for Happiness: Brush Back

By Matthew Williams, Administrative Coordinator

I am engaged to a wonderful woman with a young son. I am often asked, “How does it feel knowing you entered a relationship with a family already made?” Well, the answer is simple; it feels a lot like a “brush back.” A brush back is a term used in baseball that signifies a pitch that is intentionally thrown close to a batter to intimidate or misdirect, i.e. to "brush him back" from the plate. Some call this tactic “chin music” which I have witnessed firsthand on several occasions since little league has started. Most people’s reaction to me is summed up with other questions that include, “Am I sure I am capable of being a (soon-to-be) step-father?” eluding that I may be in over my head.

Let me clarify something as we get started. Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Andrew McCutcheon, all struck out when they were at the top of their game. They have all been hit by a pitch or two but this did not stop them from knocking a few out of the park! Parenting is a 24 hour game with unlimited innings that is packed with a wide spectrum of emotions. Even as a man, it is hard to remain strong when you have a nine year-old looking at you for help because he just took a ball to the face!

In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to use a lot of baseball comparisons. The reason for this is baseball is a game of patience and mental fortitude (and sometimes just some good ole plain luck). These are traits that a nine year-old slugger, my fiancée’s boy, is starting to understand and develop--traits I wish to instill in him so he can achieve everything he ever dreams of. As a soon-to-be stepfather to a talented young baseball player, nothing brings me more joy (and anxiety) than watching "Biff" take the field game after game. It’s a joy because I get to see that bright smiling face as he hits that ball into deep left field, or that intense focus when he is on the pitcher’s mound followed by that beaming glow of triumph as he sends batters back to the dugout strike after strike!

As I mentioned earlier, parenting comes with a wide spectrum of emotions. When the child is happy, you’re happy. When he hurts, your heart breaks. With Biff, I am utterly exhausted after his games. I can’t help but think, “Is he going to get this hit…? Is he going to throw this strike…? DID HE JUST TAKE A BALL TO THE FACE?!” I believe it's how you handle these situations that determine how your child will feel or react.

For my fiancée and I, this is often where we differ. This was most prevalent when Biff took a fastball to the collar bone. Did it hurt? Oh, it definitely sounded like it did! My immediate reaction was to assure the boy was ok. I let the coaches check him out. He was good enough to take first base and continue the game. As he walked to first, I simply asked, “Are you ok?” His reply was brief and to the point, signifying he was ok.

Now, for my future wife, she jumped up and was all over that fence, like a baseball manager in the umpire’s face after a missed call. She was all over this kid, making sure he didn’t have a scratch on him. At that moment, for the first time ever, Biff uttered those words that a parent never wants to hear, “Mom, you’re embarrassing me!” The painful brush back that your kid is now embarrassed, and you are to blame!

As parents we all get that brush back pitch. This does not mean that we have failed, or that our child is doomed. It means that life has thrown us an inside pitch and we need to be ready for the sinker right down the center. Since those famous words have been uttered by Biff, my fiancée has taken a more laid back approach. Granted, we still worry. We are raising another human being. In fact, we are raising another human being to be a productive member of society. How we raise our children plays a vital role in how they will turn out. That's a lot of pressure, but at the end of the day, your children know they are loved. You have provided them everything they could ever need. How do you know this? Personally, here is how I know.

That same night that Biff took a ball to the collar bone, he was faced with one more challenge, a potential grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, down by one run. He hits this ball and they win! Now here is a nine year-old with an average batting percentage. The game is on the line, his team is counting on him. He is scared—you can see the look of dread as the ball whizzes by his face, STRIKE! He looks over at his mother and me and we give him our supportive smiles. He squares up in the batter’s box, the pitcher throws an inside pitch, brushing Biff off the plate—BALL. The kid has already been nailed twice tonight, he is not in the mood to get hit again. He swings at the next pitch that was low on the outside, STRIKE 2!

Nothing has prepared me for trying to lift up a child’s spirits after they have been crushed. I sat there, holding my breath, as well as my fiancée’s hand! I had to be prepared to be strong for him. The pitcher winds up and throws a sinker right down the center. Biff grounded it to first base. I will stop there because whether he was out or not is irrelevant. What was important to me was his reaction. After all was said and done, did he give it his all? Was he happy with his performance? The answer was a resounding yes!

As a step-father, I walk a fine line as a parent--especially to a young boy who knows and loves his father. I face brush backs every day. Sometimes I have to be the disciplinarian, sometimes I am the one sneaking out with him to the ice cream shop. Biff knows I love him, he knows I care for him, and that I will always be there for him. I remind him of all those things every day.

I also remind him what is truly important in life. On that particular evening, he learned several things; patience, mental fortitude, luck--and with luck, sacrifice. That resounding “yes” came from sacrifice. See, Biff was called out at first, but the runner on third was safe at home and they won the game. My fiancée and I could not have been more proud.  Because at the end of the night, after all that emotion, we learned that Biff is one resilient little slugger.

We can all learn an important lesson from this--parents and children alike. No matter how many times you get brushed back, hang in there—you never know when you will face that sinker right down the middle and knock it out of the park.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What do Lady Gaga and Princes William and Harry Have in Common?

By Beth Healey, Director of Development and Marketing

In case you haven’t heard the story yet, here’s the short version: TALK about your mental and
emotional health issues and GET HELP—there's no shame in it!

Samaritan Counseling Center of Western Pennsylvania applauds Gaga, Princes William and Harry and other renowned people who publically advocate for erasing the mental health stigma. Concerns such as Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-Compulsive, Bipolar and many other disorders are serious—and treatable—but certainly not shameful. Our minds can become ill just as our bodies do, yet we don’t mind talking about nor seeking treatment for physical illness.

When folks like Lady Gaga (who struggles with PTSD) exhibit courage and forthrightness about their illnesses, it also illustrates that mental problems do not discriminate. People with fame and fortune are no less vulnerable than any of us. Prince Harry revealed that the death of his mother, Princess Diana, deeply and painfully affected him for years. He says he “shut down his emotions for 20 years.” At the urging of his brother William, not only did he finally reach out for help, but he also advocates for others to do the same.

Being well is not limited to physical health. The brain is the control center for our bodies, minds and emotions. These dimensions of ourselves affect the totality of who we are. A lung can collapse…a bone can be broken…a mind can become impaired. We are not wholly healthy when we ignore a problem, whether it be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.
We’ve come a long way to eradicate the mental health stigma, but we still have far to go. The only way we’re going to succeed is by continuing to speak out, get help for ourselves when we need it and encourage others to do the same.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


By Beth Healey, Director of Development and Marketing

Do you have a SICK feeling? Are you TENSE? RESTLESS? EDGY? Far too STRETCHED? STRUGGLING to make it through the day? Okay, I admit I’m attempting to be clever. If you take the first letter of each capitalized word and string them together, they spell STRESS. Everyone experiences stress to varying degrees. It is an inevitable part of our daily lives—and not all stress is necessarily bad.

However, when chronic and/or large doses of stress become unmanageable in your life, you are likely to become sick. In this post, I want to focus on recognizing when stress is making you sick and what you can do about it.

It’s important to know the symptoms of stress. Symptoms of stress are manifested emotionally, physically, cognitively and behaviorally. In short, a person who is getting sick from stress may experience aches and pains, depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue and other serious health concerns, including turning to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.

Let me emphasize serious. Clinical depression is a serious mental illness that can lead to suicidal thoughts—and attempts. Self-medicating often leads to addiction. Constant high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) can cause many critical illnesses such as heart disease, low immune functioning, high cholesterol and blood pressure, to name a few.

I am not a physican, psychologist or therapist, but I am someone who has experienced many of the above-named health concerns resulting from chronic, debilitating stress. I had reached a point when I knew I could not go on living that way. Finally, I had recognized that stress was making me sick—and I got help.

If you are reading this blog and clicking on the links, is it because you suspect that stress is making you or someone you know sick? If so, please continue reading.

If chronic stress is damaging your health, get professional help. No excuses. It’s true, a therapist or doctor cannot eliminate the stress in your life nor solve your problems for you, but a professional will be able to diagnose what is wrong and help you to restore health, hope and stability in your life. Once you gain some relief from your ongoing fight or flight response, you will be able to function better mentally, emotionally and physically. When hope and clarity return, you can work on taking the next steps toward getting yourself out of that terrible job, relationship or other circumstance that is the source of your stress. A trained professional will help you to see your way through.

Is STRESS making you sick? Call Samaritan Counseling Center at 412-741-7430.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Church Alive: Coping with Suicidal Desperation

By Matthew Williams
According to Mentalhealth.org:
·       112 Americans die from suicide each day on average
      112 x 365 (days in a year) = 40,880
      40,880 people die each year from suicide
·       Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of deaths between the ages of 15-24 years of age.
·       More than 6.4 million people have thought about suicide as an option
As we get started, think about that number, 40,880. That is 40,880 souls that knew no other release from their pain other than ending their own lives. That is over 40,000 individuals that believed their pain outweighed the resources available to them to get help. As we go through this post we all need to know two major things. One, suicidal thoughts or tendencies should never be kept a secret. They need to be talked about! Two, suicide is preventable; we just need to learn to reach out. As faith based communities, we are called to love one another, to reach out and help those in need.
Suicidal desperation has been a source of turmoil in our faith-based communities as leaders struggle with how to cope with their members who suffer from it. Many people still fear that talking about suicide will plant the idea into someone’s head. For starters, someone will not commit suicide because you gave him/her the idea. That idea has already manifested itself over time. In order to reach out properly and diminish that fear we have, we need to learn how to talk to and approach someone who is suffering from suicidal tendencies. Church is the perfect place for this talk to happen.
The Church is the living, breathing embodiment of God’s love for us. It is the source of hope, healing, forgiveness, and charity. These tenants help lend us the tools that a faith-based community should use to help its struggling members find hope and help. Often times the way we approach an individual struggling with deep seated problems, crises or mental illness sets the tone for how that person is going to receive the information we provide them. For example, if you tell someone, “don’t worry, everything will be fine,” it can come across that you are being dismissive of what they are feeling. It is crucial to truly listen and understand what they are relaying to you when you speak to them.
Active listening helps provide the individual in need the comfort of knowing that you are truly listening, understanding and can recall all that they are telling you. This helps build trust and ultimately the feeling of connectedness. Connectedness is one of the ways to help prevent a suicide. It promotes emotional wellbeing that includes belonging to something greater than ones’ self. This can include a community, family friends, and loved ones. Connectedness helps build relationships that has a value that some may not want to let go of.
Active listening can also help identify people in a parish that may truly be suffering from suicidal thoughts. The earlier you can get them help the better the outcome can be. The cost of suicide or even the desperation that comes along with it is often strenuous on a parish or congregation. Being able to navigate through the tumultuous times that suicide often brings can truly help save a life. However, to do this one needs the proper tools. Fortunately, there are programs out there like SOUL SHOP which is designed specifically for educating ministers, church leaders and anyone interested in how to approach and integrate the tools needed to save a life from the desperation of suicide.
Soul Shop is unique as it was designed to help people get through that “dark hour” and live to see another day, or as the founder Fe Anam Avis calls it, “A Second Day.” Soul Shop was built upon seven Key Ideas or Philosophy that help aid in suicide prevention. From, “Suicidal desperation can begin for anyone given an accumulation of losses combined with a reduction in resources to deal with those losses,” to, “As a faith community begins to adjust to the reality of suicidal desperation among its members, it must fundamentally alter the way members deal with one another.”
Soul Shop helps provide the tools necessary to make the greatest impact on those afflicted with suicidal desperation. More importantly, it helps educate the masses so they too can help save the 40,880 souls who lose the battle with their inner struggle annually. REGISTER today for Soul Shop on May 3, 2017.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When Words Will Bolster or Break

By Beth Healey
Director of Development and Marketing
You have all heard the expression, “the elephant in the room.” At the Samaritan Counseling Center, no elephant goes unnoticed—they are all talked about. After all, therapy involves a lot of talking. In fact, not talking about the elephant perpetuates what is unhealthy and problematic.
One of society’s most popular elephants in the room is the subject of suicide. Chances are very good that everyone reading this blog has in some way been affected by it. One in 17 adults and one in six teens are considering suicide at this very moment.
When I was in high school, I knew two girls who attempted suicide. Later in my life, my husband’s nephew—27 years old—unfortunately, succeeded at it. At the age of 89, my grandfather died by his own hand. Too ashamed to speak the truth, my distraught grandma told others that he had had a heart attack and that “he was a good man.” As though suicide made him a “bad man.”
Here’s another misunderstanding I’d like to put to rest. It’s been said that someone who takes his own life is selfish because he’s only thinking of himself and not about how the act will affect others who love and care about him.
Trust me—that is not the case. Pain is a powerful motivator
A person may or may not have a high tolerance for pain. Regardless of one’s tolerance level, both physical and mental pain often rise to the point of unbearable, rendering the person suffering incapable of focusing on anything else except ending the pain.
One type of pain is the pain of hopelessness. You may argue, “If a person has faith, he knows there is always hope!” But you are assuming he is capable of reasoning and understanding. Those capabilities do not exist when the pain of hopelessness is a monster with its teeth clamped into you. 
As I think about it, it becomes clearer to me why most people are uncomfortable talking about suicide, or especially, to someone who is suicidal. When you are capable of reasoning and understanding, it’s nearly impossible to imagine why anyone would want to end his life. The words, “It will get better; this too shall pass,” want to escape from our lips. Or worse yet, “It’s not that bad. Snap out of it.”
Let’s circle back to hopelessness. Based on my own experience, hopelessness is a complex and scary state of being. It is something that continues to expand and become stronger with each reinforcement. It reminds me of that old science fiction movie— “The Blob”. The Blob kept growing and growing until it was uncontrollable, till it wrapped itself around someone and swallowed him up.
These reinforcements are often born out of a deep sense of failure and worthlessness (which, by the way, are often unfounded). Some of you will call it sickness; others will call it an attack from Satan. Whatever you call it, just keep in mind that snapping out of it is akin to snapping out of the pain of any progressing disease.
A path toward healing exists. It is paved with the right words, a supportive environment, love, prayers and clinical treatment. One last nugget of wisdom: suicidal desperation doesn’t develop overnight and cannot be healed overnight. But it can be healed!
Learn more by SIGNING UP for Soul Shop™ on Wednesday, May 3 from 9a.m.-3p.m. at Crossroads: A Campus of First United Methodist Church, Butler. Early Bird Fee: $40 includes lunch; Counselors: Add $10 for 5 CEUs

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Precious and Essential to Life, Though Often Taken for Granted

By Lori Cangilla, PhD

Think of something you use every day that makes it possible to communicate with other people, get information about the world, and make an impact on the people and things around us. This thing is very precious, difficult to upgrade, and without it, life as we know it would cease.

No, I’m actually not talking about our smartphones. I’m referring to our bodies. These invaluable physical selves allow us to experience all of the things that make us human. When we are healthy, it’s easy to take our bodies for granted. If we get injured or sick, we are quickly reminded of just how much our physical well-being means to us. When we care for a sick person or feed and clothe a baby, we recognize how fragile these human bodies can be.

But how many of us struggle to treat our physical selves as well as we might treat another person, or even as well as we take care of an important possession like a phone? Do we set ourselves up for future problems by taking our bodies for granted, ignoring their needs, or trying to endlessly modify them?

Perhaps we are called to learn ways to show respect for and honor these physical selves. What if we took the time to radically change our attitudes toward our bodies? We might begin to:

·       Notice what we are experiencing in our bodies, instead of numbing out, distracting ourselves, or ignoring sensations that don’t seem convenient

·       Respect the wisdom that our bodies contain, designed to be self-regulating systems that are balanced and signal our minds as to our needs for nutrition, movement, sleep, and play.

·       Accept that there is no such thing as a perfect body, and begin to develop compassion for the so-called imperfections each of us have.

·       Cultivate a sense of wonder at what our bodies enable us to do—laugh, love, play, work, and change our worlds.

For some people, the challenge of caring for one’s body can develop into distorted thinking about the body or patterns of disordered eating. If you or someone you care about is struggling to develop or maintain a healthy, respectful relationship to the body, please consider taking a screening as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This screening can help you or the person you care about learn whether an in-person appointment for further assessment of eating and body image could be helpful. Samaritan’s clinical team is waiting to help people on the journey to a more balanced, self-compassionate relationship with food and the body.

To complete the screening, visit:

For more information on National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, visit: