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By The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

#mindbodyspirit #holisticcounseling #spiritualdirection #holisticcoaching

A lot of counseling centers talk about caring for people spirit, mind, and body. What does that mean, and how do they do this? It is something that’s deeply part of Samaritan’s vision.

There’s a reason I became executive director of Samaritan. For over 25 years I recognized Samaritan as a leader in offering counseling that includes the spirit—that isn’t just about psychological health, but also about spiritual health.

As executive director part of my drive is constantly asking how we can do better in the integration of spirit, mind, and body. As a counseling center it’s hard to address the body part fully, but it’s still part of what we do. We make sure that our clients seek psychiatric care (a psychiatrist is a medical doctor trained in the connection between brain chemistry, hormones, physicality and mental health), as well as medical care from their primary care physician, when it’s clear something physical is impacting their mental health. We also make sure that we don’t just psychologize problems, but take into account how diet, sleep, exercise, and more impact it.

Where we excel is in integrating the spiritual into our practice. Our therapists are trained in understanding spiritual issues that arise in therapy. But we don’t just apply a bland form of spirituality. We take into account our clients’ backgrounds and faith traditions. We don’t treat all the same. We treat them as they are, with whatever religious or even non-religious background they bring.

Over the past number of years we’ve endeavored to do even better integrating the spiritual and psychological. I’m a trained spiritual director, so I am part of this effort. Over past year we’ve taken even more steps.

In 2022, we hired a new life coach, Rachel Fagan, to help people who may not need therapy, but who do need guidance on how to cultivate a healthier life and develop skills that help them to flourish. Rachel has been a tremendous addition to our work, working with clients throughout Western Pennsylvania, while also serving as a resource for our therapists. What’s the difference between coaching and therapy? Therapy helps clients function better. Coaching helps them to flourish. As a master certified life coach, Rachel empowers people to uncover their strengths and use them to grow to live happier, more meaningful, and fuller lives.

In 2023 we’ve also added a new spiritual director, Dr. Amy Armanious. Amy was trained in a two-year spiritual direction program at the Pneuma Institute. Through her training, professional, and personal life she’s developed extensive experience working with Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches. Amy has Doctor in Nursing Practice and served as a registered nurse for 35 years in a variety of hospital specialties, home health nursing, hospice care, and parish nursing in a church. She became a spiritual director to help people grow in areas often neglected.

So what is spiritual direction? It’s a discipline that helps people become more aware spiritually of how God, the Holy, the Divine is acting in our lives to bring healing and health, and how we can become more spiritually open in ways that leads us to become healthier.

The key in all of this is that while many places talk about being spirit, mind, and body focused, we’re actively working to be a counseling center that deeply integrates all of these areas so that we can bring healing, mentally, spiritually, and physically.


The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

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By The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

#onewordresolution #newyearresolution

It’s late in the month to be talking about New Year’s resolutions. By now you’ve either made one or not. And if you made one, you’re either feeling successful, struggling, or have failed.

So here I am in mid- to late-January writing about New Year’s resolutions. Why? Because I want you to rethink them. For the most part we make resolutions that have to do with something physical such as losing weight, exercising more, sleeping better, or personal attributes such as being kinder, being more honest, being less critical, etc...

I’m encouraging you think a bit differently using a concept I’ve come across over the past year, which is adopting a guiding word as a resolution rather than adopting a resolution. The word can serve almost like a mantra that we repeat over and over to ourselves, and that over time shapes and changes our thinking, acting, and more in ways we want to change.

For example, instead of resolving to lose 20 pounds by going on a diet, choosing a word like “moderation,” may have a huge impact not only on losing weight, but on life. If we choose to moderate in all things, we may find that we’re not only moderating our food choices, but also moderating how we interact with people, the amount of television we watch, the degree to which we do too much stuff that doesn’t matter and not enough of that which does.

Think of what the impact of following words such as “kindness,” “generosity,” “appreciate,” “healthy,” “others,” and more might have on your life.

A one-word resolution can also have an impact on our lives spiritually. For instance, choosing a word such as “aware” might help us become more aware of God’s presence everywhere, and how every part of life has spiritual meaning. “Gratitude” can help us become more thankful and appreciative in life, making us more positive and enthusiastic. A word such as “compassion” can help us sparkle with a greater sense of care for others.

The key is taking time to assess our lives to get a sense of what could be enhanced, and if we have a spiritual bent, asking God in prayer what word we’re called to adopt. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve often spent time looking honestly at my life, thinking of all the things I’d like to make better, and then just ruminating on what one word captures it. Eventually a word seems to emerge.

For example, the word for me this year is “engage.” What does that mean? For me it means making sure that whatever I embark on that I’m engaged in it rather than just participating in or doing it. It means bringing passion, consistency, resiliency, perseverance, and more into my life. This is a highly personal word for me that has more meaning that I can really convey here. It’s a word that came to me while walking in a mall several weeks ago as I reflected on what word captures what I’m seeking.

So, I’m encouraging you, for your physical, mental, and spiritual health, to consider a one-word resolution, even if you’ve already made your resolution.

As always, if it leads you to seeking help from us, we’re always here with compassionate counselors, coaches, and spiritual directors.

Be blessed!

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By The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

#mentalhealth #mentalillness #schizoaffectivedisorder #compassion #generosity #charity

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, while most of us were still recovering from our Thanksgiving feasts, Bobby Vandrak gathered with his family as he prepared to do a 10-mile run around North Park Lake. Bobby wasn’t training for a marathon, nor was this part of his normal Saturday morning exercise routine. Bobby was running to make a difference. Before I share why he ran, let me tell you about who Bobby is.

I’ve known Bobby since he was four years old. I was pastor of his family’s church for 22 years, and they joined the church early in that time. I watched Bobby grow up from a four-year-old to a wonderful man. He and his family were heavily involved in the church.

They worshipped most Sundays together. He was involved in our children and youth programs, as well as our yearly youth mission trips. We were involved in our dynamic drama program, appearing in plays such as Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Honk, School House Rock, The Sound of Music, and

even a review that included songs from

Rent and Hamilton.

Bobby’s family were steadfast believers in turning faith into action. His mother, Heidi, is a therapist. His father was a doctor at Jameson Hospital in New Castle, PA. Generosity and service were central to their lives. Whenever one of the kids turned 17, Heidi had a tradition: each could choose a mission trip that she would then take her or him on. Bobby chose to go to Mexico City, helping in a medical mission doing eye exams and treatment for the poor.

Bobby’s father, Bob, died unexpectantly and suddenly in 2015, which had an impact on Bobby. Bob was not only a great doctor, but also always willing to help anyone in any way he could. Quite often he would bundle the kids on a Saturday morning into the car to do something new and exciting or to go help someone in need.

I asked Bobby in a recent interview that we posted last week on YouTube how his father’s death impacted him (For the full interview, visit Bobby said, “So with him passing away it showed me that with life you just have to keep going, you just have to continue to . . . I feel like I had a moment where I was like ‘I’m going to be bitter and sad and mad about this.’ But it really ended up turning into a switch of like, ‘I’m going to use this to the best of my abilities to make a difference.’”

This leads us to now. Bobby was diagnosed a few years ago with schizoaffective disorder, which is a really complex mental disorder where people can have elements of schizophrenia (hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders) and mood disorders (depression and/or mania). Each person’s course and symptoms vary, making it difficult to diagnose.

As you can imagine, receiving this diagnosis is traumatic. Who wants to hear that she or he has a serious mental health issue. Even the term itself, schizoaffective, sounds damning. Remember what Bobby said about dealing with the death of his father. He could become bitter and mad, but he chose “use this to the best of my abilities to make a difference.” He stopped drinking, which had been a form of self-medication, and chose to seek treatment, take his medication, and then use his natural gift for gab to be a positive influence to make people aware of mental health issues.

Recently he took another step toward health, which brings us back to his 10-mile run around North Park Lake. He decided he could use his illness and influence to raise money to help others. He set up a GoFundMe challenge for people to sponsor his run around the lake to raise money for Samaritan, as well as the Schizophrenia and Psychosis Action Alliance.

He raised over $6000 that Saturday morning, which included $3000 for Samaritan. But he did more than that. He raised awareness of mental health issues with so many people. Over 200 people have watched his interview in just the week it’s been posted, and many more have been touched through his Instagram and Facebook posts about it. Even more, he used his own generosity to improve his own mental health.

Generosity, gratitude, enthusiasm, passion, possibility, joy, faith, service, and so much more make a difference in our mental and spiritual health. We are so appreciative of what Bobby has done for Samaritan, but even more for what he’s done for himself and others. By being generous in sharing with others his diagnosis, challenges, and response, he is leading others to discover how they can make a difference for those struggling with mental health issues. His gift, as well others’ gifts, to Samaritan are a tangible way to make people’s lives better.

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