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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Hunt for Happiness
By Matthew Williams

Before we get started…Good Luck! I say this not as a nuance that you are never going to find happiness, but as a notion that this is a life long journey—one that does not end when you think you have found it. But once you’ve found it, working to keep it will probably show how elusive it can be. With that said, I am going to share something so you can truly grasp the idea of what I mean when I say a life long journey.

I sought some spiritual guidance from someone of prominence in my church. After our conversation, he looked at me and said, “You want eternal happiness? Then say, ‘Jesus, I trust in you’ and say it until you mean it. Until you truly believe it and live it.” I believed, so I thought—no big deal. It was not until after leaving that meeting when the dread fell over me like an avalanche of guilt and sorrow.

People have died in pursuit of the very thing I was told to do. Talk about a reality check! Religious or not, one can appreciate the magnitude of my grief when this hit me: I will never achieve happiness. Simply put! That was until I realized my source of happiness, which we can save for later. However, know this: everyone’s source of happiness is different. It can be your faith, your children or grandchildren, family, friends, artistic abilities…the point is that it changes for everyone and at different stages of your life, both physically and emotionally.

According to the Society of Happy People there are 31 different types of happiness. YES—31 types! But, what is happiness and what does it look like? Happiness, by definition, is the state of being happy and this can take many forms. Think of something you enjoy. Does it bring a smile to your face, butterflies to your stomach, or maybe just a sense of fulfillment? That is, in reality, happiness! It’s everywhere and highly contagious. It is up to us—you and me—to find it.

In one of our previous blog posts, we discussed how ATTENTION is the Essential Ingredient for success. When we succeed at something, it tends to make us happy. By paying attention to our goals and leaving the distractions at the door, we get that much closer to what makes us happy. However, what do we do when we find it (“It” being happiness)? One of the things that I personally believe in, is to simply nurture it and live in the moment, soaking in all the goodness that it brings in your life. Remember two things: 1) Happiness is what we make of it. We are in charge of our happiness—nobody else—and what we do with it is our own choosing. 2) Happiness is a life long journey. It will ebb and flow, and that is ok.

January 15th-21st is the HUNT FOR HAPPINESS WEEK! Yes, a whole week dedicated to happiness. One way or another, it is my mission this week to help share happiness with all of you. So in the comments of this blog post, I will be sharing some funny moments from my own life and trust me, when you come from a rather large family, there is always a story or two to tell. Along with this, I will be posting links to fun little activities you can do and share with your families. Just remember this—happiness is everywhere. It is all around us, and we need to make the most of what life brings to us. If you can smile just once a day, then you are one step closer to becoming the person who you were made to be!

~Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger~
My Happiness:
I was speaking to a colleague of mine, and asked her what made her happy. Her response mirrored in a way, what makes me happy. I said earlier I would disclose what that was. While I love my family, friends, and my faith, what truly makes me happy is knowing I made a difference in someone else’s life. No matter how big or small, to know that I touched someone’s life for the better. This reminds me that my time here will not be for nothing. At the end of the day, I can say, “Jesus I trust in you, to love people, as you love me!”

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Does Your "Life Balance Wheel" Resemble a Lumpy Tire?

Beth Healey, Director of Development and Marketing

We all do it from time to time—“fall out of balance.” If we don’t consciously take care of our bodies, manage stress nor seek to enrich ourselves spiritually, emotionally and socially, we risk slipping into a state of unhealthiness.

It can be difficult to identify exactly what is causing us to be out of balance. Mind and body are inseparable. It is not possible to experience whole health and wellness if a part or parts of your whole self are out of balance.

We hope and strive for a lot of things in our lives: a loving spouse and family, a successful career, financial stability, etc. In the midst of our journeys, we inevitably encounter rough spots that can make us feel our efforts are in vain. As a result, we begin to experience self-doubt and negative emotions that hinder us, making our dreams and goals seem that much more impossible to attain. Then, the physical maladies set in. These may include fatigue, headaches, insomnia, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, digestive problems and the like.* Enrichment, positivity and self-care are suddenly out the window.

When you reach one of those low, frustrating points in your life—and we all do—try putting aside fretting and ruminating on your troubles for a while and concentrate on finding what is out of balance in your life. The “life balance wheel” is a valuable tool to help you discover the answer.
Check out these resources to find out which one works best for you and give it a try:


You might be surprised what you learn about yourself. Better yet, you will have the information you need to develop a plan of action to achieve balance, harmony and peace in your life. Being on a balanced course empowers you to achieve the things that are important to you.

However, sometimes the things that are causing great pain and struggling in our lives are things that we cannot change by ourselves. Identifying the areas of imbalance is a good start, but knowing how to go about making the appropriate changes can seem impossible. You may be overwhelmed, anxious or on the verge of exhaustion. These are strong indicators that you may need professional help.

Getting counseling may be the best thing you will ever do for yourself. Even counselors see other counselors when the need presents itself—just like doctors see other doctors! Below is another valuable link to mental health screening tools to help you evaluate feelings you may be experiencing.


And remember, Samaritan’s caring therapists are only a phone call away at 412-741-7430.
*This is not intended to be medical advice. Please see your physician for your health concerns

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Essential Ingredient

By Matthew A. Williams, Administrative Coordinator, Samaritan Counseling Center

What if I told you that I have failed? More importantly, what if I told you that I have failed multiple times trying to achieve the same goal? Insanity right? (Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.) It may sound familiar. In fact, it is probably safe to say that we all have something in our lives we strive for and no matter how many times we try, we still fall short of our goal. Could it be we are lacking an essential ingredient to help push us over that threshold to greatness and success?
Most of us are currently in that yearly pursuit of greatness in the form of New Year Resolutions. How many times, over and over, do we set the same goal, year after year, and…nothing! What we lack is ATTENTIONthe essential ingredient in our quest for success!

Simply put, our lives are full of distraction. Phone calls, emails, text messages, kids, TV, the never ending trips to the fridge for snacks, and the big one—FACEBOOK! We give these things our time and attention without much thought.
Or, we multi-task, which has a tendency to get us into more trouble than we realize. The fact of the matter is, our attention is strained to the point of catastrophic failure—and who are we failing? Ourselves!
Bonne Artman Fox, a licensed therapist and founder of A Conscious Choice, offers some advice to help us better manage our attention in order to achieve success during the New Year:

·       Clear your desk. Even if you know where things are amidst stacks of papers, clutter slows down your creativity and productivity.

·       Respond to phone calls, emails, or text messages at designated times throughout the day. Your attention is the driver of excellence. Protect it by turning off ringers that may distract you from the task at hand.

·       Leave a daily message on your voice mail greeting about your day. Give an overview of your meetings, appointments, etc. By doing so, you are giving a personal touch to your callers and letting them know when you will be available to return calls.

·       Establish a timeline of how long you will work on projects before you move on to the next. Research shows our concentration is best when we work at 60 minutes intervals, and then take a 5-10 minute break.

By eliminating the clutter (distractions) all around us, we can hone in our attention to the task at hand and maximize our efforts. So go ahead—set a goal, clear your desk off, cut out the distractions and start the New Year off right by managing your attention. Don’t forget to schedule your snack run ahead of time!  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Patience, Practice and Paying Attention!

By Lori Cangilla, PhD - Licensed Psychologist

I recall learning as a child that Advent was to be a season of preparation for the coming of Christ, a time of joyful and patient waiting for change. Joyful and patient? Personally, my natural tendency is toward impatience. How can we develop a spirit of eager anticipation during these times of waiting, both in Advent and in other seasons of preparation in our lives?

Create Routines of Practice. You can prioritize the process of preparation by establishing routines of practice. Thus, waiting becomes an active, constructive process. Many people benefit from daily exercises like meditation or devotional reading. Make an effort to create and sustain a routine of practice to avoid quickly falling out of the habit. (Above photo: These sisters created a routine of practice with family members of dressing in silly PJs and playing board games around the dining table on Christmas Eve. Their spouses, grown children and family friends join in the fun!)

Make Waiting a Communal Experience. Imagine waiting alone in a slow-moving line for entry into an event you eagerly anticipate. Now imagine that same wait with friends who are equally excited. Through your relationships, you can encourage one another to face the challenges of patient preparation. While living with a host family in Germany, I joined them very Sunday to gather over tea and pastry, light the candles of the wreath, and share our journeys through Advent. This routine of practice was a cherished time for all, young and elderly alike.

Pay Attention! Preparation is best done mindfully, not on autopilot. Reflection, discussion, journaling and other means of contemplation can help us gain perspective. By stepping back from the immediate moment of waiting, we can contextualize our experiences and focus on the reason for our preparations.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Subject No One Wants to Talk About, But Should

Spiritual Gifts for Suicide Survivors - Lori Cangilla, PhD, Licensed Psychologist, Samaritan Counseling Center of Western PA

Did you know that it is estimated that more than 5 million Americans*** have been directly impacted by suicide—more than twice as many as have been directly impacted by homicide? These people are suicide survivors: people left to live in the wake of the suicide death of someone with whom they had a significant relationship.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and the theme is “Suicidology: A Place for Everyone.” What is the place for suicide survivors, and what is the role of the Christian community in creating that place?
These questions are near to my heart, because I am a suicide survivor. My father died by suicide 26 years ago, after decades of mental and physical health problems. At the time, the field of suicidology did not necessarily focus on the needs of suicide survivors.

We have come to recognize that suicide survivors need all of the same resources that anyone who is grieving needs—supportive people, a means to express their emotions, and acceptance of the normal range of emotions associated with the grief process. However, because death by suicide continues to be misunderstood and stigmatized, the suicide survivor needs additional compassion, information about suicide, and connection to other survivors. Child and adolescent survivors additionally need access to developmentally-appropriate supports and information.

The Christian community has the potential to be an advocate in the healing process. Clergy, lay leaders, and church members must first educate themselves about suicide myths and the needs of suicide survivors, then commit to reducing ignorance and stigma within their communities.

In ministering to suicide survivors, the Christian community should take a comprehensive approach, not leaving the task to clergy or a church subcommittee. A diverse group of people bringing the Gifts of the Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, reverence, and fear of the Lord, Isaiah 11:1-2) can best support the hurting suicide survivor as s/he moves through the grief process.

I speak from experience when I say that, if you or someone you know is a suicide survivor, there is hope for your healing. Counseling is available for people of all ages at Samaritan, regardless of how long ago the death by suicide occurred. The sites below may also be helpful. Most importantly, no survivor should walk the grieving journey alone. There is always hope.

If you or someone you know needs immediate assistance in a suicide crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
American Association of Suicidology

Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors


***All statistics taken from the American Academy of Suicidology’s website, www.suicidology.org.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Is Your Church Safe?

By Beth Healey

Sexual assault is a contemptible crime. Children and adults—male and female alike—continue to be traumatized by it. One in four females is sexually abused by her 18th birthday. For boys, it is one in six.

Sexual assault is a rampant crime. We will never forget the shock of the Sandusky scandal nor the public outrage over the Brock Turner verdict. Countless sexual assaults—those exposed to the public and those that are silently hidden—occur over and over again.

Educational programs, law enforcement, background checks, prison sentences, psychological counseling and other concerted efforts exist to address this dark brutality. Yet, it continues to ravage innocent victims in our schools, churches, streets, community organizations and—disturbingly—in our homes behind closed doors.

Sexual assault is a preventable crime. Despite everything that has been done to impede and punish, it is obvious that there is much more to do. When I learned about the Brock Turner case, I felt as though efforts to seek justice for rape victims (and respect for women) had been set back to square one. But I quickly realized that this horrible circumstance has taught us that more action is required.

Samaritan Centers across the nation are taking action. Here, in our region, the Samaritan Counseling Center of Western PA and the Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute are partnering to offer their second annual training program to address child sexual abuse and the healing of adult survivors—the SafeChurch Project—which is set to begin on September 10, 2016.

SafeChurch empowers faith communities to become leaders in the prevention of child sexual abuse. The training includes the development of policy to protect children as well as education on recognizing the signs of abuse, inappropriate behaviors and intervention. These principles are applicable not only in a church setting, but also in the greater community. Additionally, SafeChurch teaches how to foster a culture within the church that promotes the healing and ongoing support of adult survivors.

"Safe church was such a blessing! It enabled us to talk through so many of the realities of childhood sexual abuse and gave us the framework to create a meaningful policy and approach to change our church's culture to an ongoing space of safety for children." - Lori Bass-Riley, Director of Children's Ministry at Cross Roads Presbyterian Church

Last year, 45+ representatives from 11 Western PA churches completed SafeChurch training. Click HERE for more details and how to register, or call Samaritan at 412-741-7430. Download SafeChurch BROCHURE. Check us out at www.samaritancounseling.net.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

How Important Is Forgiveness?

– by Hannah Perry, Administrative/Marketing Assistant

When the word forgiveness is used, many of us think back to the playground as children. We are taught to say “sorry” if we push someone (if caught by an adult) and then the victim responds, “That’s okay, I forgive you”. This is a scripted conversation to so many pains of childhood. But, once we enter adulthood this script is a million times more complicated, with hidden motives, malicious behaviors, and selfishness. People are not as likely to voluntarily apologize and forgiveness is never offered. Or someone may apologize but forgiveness is not always readily given and expressed. Yet, if you call yourself a Christ follower, then forgiveness is crucial to how you should live, and it can also play a big role in your mental health.
The Bible tells us to forgive, and “not just seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). And this isn’t a casual suggestion but a command (Matthew 6:14-16). The reason we forgive is because we’ve been forgiven by our creator. We are told to “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).
Forgiveness is not always a feeling but a decision that we must make, sometimes without an apology at all.  Each individual’s timeline for dealing with a hurt and offering forgiveness will look differently, but many people seek psychotherapy for assistance. Therapists work to reduce their clients’ anger, bitterness and vengeful rumination but many studies have found that therapy needs to go beyond just reducing the feelings, it must include forgiveness. Several therapeutic models have been developed to promote forgiveness and a study done in 2013 summarized them all together and found the following:

“Participants receiving explicit forgiveness treatments reported significantly greater forgiveness than participants not receiving treatment…or alternative treatments. Forgiveness treatments resulted in greater changes in depression, anxiety, and hope than no-treatment conditions.” (Wade et al., 2013).
For some, forgiveness is easy, and for others it may take days, months, weeks, or even years. If you’re suffering from depression, anxiety, or loss of hope and don’t know why, then examine the hurts in your life and if there is forgiveness that needs to occur. It may not be simple so we suggest meeting with a faith based counselor at Samaritan Counseling Center and start on the road towards healing.
Wade, N. G., Hoyt, W. T., Kidwell, J. E., & Worthington, E. L. (2013). Efficacy of psychotherapeutic   interventions to promote forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical        Psychology, 82(1), 154-170. doi:10.1037/a0035268