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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

Monday, April 4, 2016

Child Abuse Is No Joke -- By Hannah Perry

I remember babysitting my elementary school neighbors back while I was in high school and serving them the leftover food their parents had designated for their dinner. The fifth grader wasn’t happy about this meal choice and grumbled something like, “This is child abuse.”

I was wondering how he even thought to string together a sentence like this, but then I sat down to watch TV with him that night. The shows were laced with jokes including children making fun of parents and parents making fun of children. There was sarcasm and humor about mental health, abuse, and diseases. Our culture so often covers real issues, real hurts and real pains with humor. I think we can all agree that real child abuse is not funny and it’s about time we stop joking and face reality.

In 1974 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was signed in as the first Federal child protection legislation and provided the states with assistance to promote programs to prevent, identify, and treat child abuse and neglect. A lot has happened since 1974, including the proclamation of April as the official Child Abuse and Prevention Month.

Clearly, child abuse is an issue that is still a problem today, and every day. What is most unique about this issue is that it can affect every single one of us as members of our community. One of the best things we can do as individuals is to speak up and be an advocate for the victims.

It is essential that we understand what child abuse is and what it looks like and call it out appropriately. Check out the local websites below for more information. Familiarize yourself with your state and federal laws and be willing to look beyond any humor or guise to see reality and act accordingly.

Allegheny County

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Myths, Truths and “So, What Do We Do?” [Part Two]

According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Many of the signs of depression and indicators of suicidal thinking are similar and can include:

·        Expressing self-hatred

·        Intense emotional distress, such as hopelessness, guilt, shame, abandonment

·        Unable to enjoy pleasures in life

·        Changes in eating, sleeping and personality

·        Preoccupation with death

·        Self-destructive thoughts and actions

·        Substance abuse

Someone considering suicide may verbalize the following:

·        “You would be/the world would be better off without me.”

·        “I’m a complete loser.”

·        “I’d be better off dead,” and/or “I want to die.”

·         “I won’t be bothering anyone for much longer.”

·        “I hate my life.”

…and do the following:

·        Give away possessions

·        Say good-by to family and friends

·        Start “making arrangements”

People who are considering suicide are focused on one thing: ending their pain. If depression has impaired their thinking, they are not reflecting on how their death may impact others, nor are they capable of thinking through logical solutions or making changes. Depression distorts reality. It produces an extreme sense of hopelessness from which a person sees no escape. Humiliation and despair overtake the mind. They build to a point where the person becomes so overwhelmed, he or she is desperate for the pain to end.

If you suspect someone—say, your sister—has arrived at this point in her mind, there are things you can do and say to help her before it’s too late.

·        Do not leave her alone. Reassure her of your love and support.

·        Try to get her to agree to seek immediate help—or call 911.

·        Be sure she does not have access to guns, medications or other items she may use to hurt herself.

·        Start a conversation! Talking about suicidal thinking will not encourage her to commit the act.

·        Listen to what she has to say without judgment! Do not try to quickly talk her into feeling better or telling her “things aren’t that bad.” Establish a genuine sense of empathy and understanding.

·        Gently remind her that her thoughts may be distorted—and although her situation is very painful, there is hope for a solution.

Depression and other factors leading to suicidal desperation can be successfully addressed and treated. Want to learn more? Register now for Soul Shop.


Linda and Charlie Bloom – September 10, 2013

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Food and Mood--Really...?

By Beth Healey
Director of Development and Marketing

Do the foods we eat really affect how we feel? Is it that significant? Can the consumption of healthy versus unhealthy food have a noticeable impact on our day-to-day lives?

If you have read any of my blogs, tweets or Facebook posts, you know I always base the information I publish on good research. I have done my research on food, nutrition and wellness—especially since the Samaritan Counseling Center and Catholic Charities are presenting a Food, Mood and More workshop on February 3rd at Saints John and Paul Roman Catholic Church.

But I am writing today to reveal my own personal experience with food, mood and feeling well.

I used sugary snacks to uplift my mood and reduce stress. Kind of like a reward for my hard work. Or a break from work. My brain always told me how bad this was for me, but my craving for that quick sugar fix always seemed to win out.

Since December 30th, I have been eating much healthier. Because I need to lose weight, I have cut my calorie and “bad” fat intake. I have virtually eliminated sugar from my diet. For me, this is a pretty drastic move.

As a result, I have lost six pounds so far. That’s great—but how do I feel? The answer is great! I used to wake up every morning with aching joints. I had very little energy. I could barely motivate myself to get moving on the weekends. I am thrilled to say that my joint pains have vanished. I get out of bed easily—and earlier than I used to. My energy level has gone up. And it hasn’t even been a month since I changed my ways.

Now, instead of a vicious cycle of eating poorly, feeling poorly, and losing the motivation to turn things around, I am now on a healthy cycle of eating well, feeling well and increasing my motivation to continue in a positive direction. Here’s something to ponder next time you reach for that tempting chocolate chip cookie: You may love sugar, but sugar doesn’t love you.

Do the foods we eat really affect how we feel? Unequivocally Y-E-S. Want to learn more about food and mood? Sign up for our Food, Mood and More workshop. Tasty, healthy snacks will be served!

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Myths, Truths and "So, What Do We Do about It?"

[Part One of a Three-Part Series] - by Beth Healey

How often have you heard people remark that those who commit suicide are “cowards… selfish…just looking for attention…are guilty of something?” If you’re reading this, I hope you do not agree with hurtful comments like these. (They are made by folks who are seriously misinformed.) Whether you do or not, please take a little time to learn the truth about suicide and the most common reason why people are driven to do it—which happens to be depression.
Chances are good that you know at least one person who has taken his or her life or someone who has survived the loss of a loved one through suicide. (Personally, I know three.) After you have read this three-part series on suicide, you will hopefully have a better understanding of this tragic, worldwide problem. (If you are a ministry leader, clinician or someone who wants to learn how to help others—from a faith perspective—who are suicidal, now is your chance to register for Soul Shop.)

First, let’s start with some facts about suicide.
·        38,000+ people in the U.S. take their own lives each year

·        Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in U.S. (homicide ranks 17); it is the 3rd leading cause of death worldwide for those aged 15-44; and is the 2nd leading cause of death among college students

·        Males have nearly four times the suicide rate of females

·        Baby boomers (born 1945-1964) have a higher rate of suicide than any other age group

·        There are more deaths annually of young people by suicide than auto fatalities

·        There has been a 128% increase in suicides among children aged 10-14 since 1980

·        One in 12 high school students attempt suicide

·        More young people die from suicide than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, strokes, pneumonia, and lung disease combined!

·        15% of clinically depressed people commit suicide

o   80-90% of adolescents that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully using therapy and/or medication.

o   Only half of all Americans experiencing an episode of major depression get treatment!
·        80% of those who die by their own hand have given warnings of their intentions to others
·        The suicide rate among military veterans is 50% higher than that of civilians
There are at least a half dozen reasons why people commit suicide. As I mentioned earlier, the most common one is depression—an illness that is often misjudged and misunderstood. 
If you were to tell someone afflicted by depression to “just snap out of it…things aren’t that bad,” you would be giving the most precarious kind of advice, even if your intentions were well-meaning. To expect someone suffering from depression to just snap out of it is like expecting someone who has just broken a leg to hop up on both feet and run around the block.
We understand that when a limb or an organ is injured or unhealthy, we are limited in what we can do until healing occurs. Yet, due to lack of knowledge and the lingering stigma, we do not seem to understand that when a person’s brain is not functionally normally, he or she is incapable of snapping out of anything! Depression is a mental disorder. It impairs thinking. It distorts and debilitates…

[Check back in a week for Part Two will include indicators of suicidal thinking and depression symptoms.]