Brain Science and Updates From the Field

WRAP program a helpful tool for Stairways clients

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Stairways Behavioral Health is encouraging the use of an intuitive tool to help individuals.

The Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) is a self-designed prevention and wellness process that anyone can use to get and stay well. The WRAP is a way to identify upsetting events and develop an action plan to respond to these occurrences.

All WRAPs serve as a toolbox when dealing with stressful events or unwanted feelings. A Wellness Recovery Action Plan includes a daily maintenance plan, a list of triggers, early warning signs and indications of when things are breaking down. WRAPs also include a crisis plan and a post-crisis plan.

Stairways is implementing WRAPs throughout the agency to use a tool for clients when they are faced with unwelcome or difficult situations. Staff members from Stairways’ peer specialist program, such as Theresa Abbey, are helping to facilitate WRAP trainings and introduce the wellness program across the agency.

Abbey reports having significant success using it in her life.

“(It’s) a tool I use to help decrease and prevent intrusive feelings and behaviors,” Abbey said. “It gives me personal empowerment, improves quality of my life and finally achieves my goals.”

Those creating a WRAP are encouraged to take personal inventory of issues that could potentially pose difficulty and consider ways to mitigate their danger.

During trainings conducted at Stairways, participants are encouraged to recognize potential triggers as well as coping skills that may be used to address distressing events.

Abbey, who is a trained WRAP facilitator and presenter, said the ability to sense the signs of distress as well as ways to tend to them has been useful on a number of occasions.

“I remain in control through the process and I think this is important when you feel so out of control,” she said. “It helps me identify what I am like when well and when not so well and who I can use as a support.”

The methods people use to address these situations include those such as deep breaths, exercise and writing. Most people prefer to compile and keep their WRAPs in a binder or notebook for safekeeping and easy access.

WRAPs are designed to be portable, so that the user can consult with them whenever they need to increase feelings of hope, personal responsibility, education, self-advocacy and support.

The system was created by Dr. Mary Ellen Copeland and further developed by a group of people who were searching for ways to overcome their mental health issues and sustain recovery.

The WRAP is recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as an evidence-based practice and is listed in the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices.

Peer Specialist Program presents, makes impression at SCI Albion

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On July 24, 2015, SCI Albion employees hosted a Community Day for the inmates housed in the Residential Treatment Unit (RTU) and  Stairways Behavioral Health’s Certified Peer Specialist program was selected as the only provider  program to present at this event.

Marilyn Goss and Jason Young represented Stairways by giving a presentation to an audience of about 200 inmates.

Goss offered inmates information on the peer specialist program and other services the organization offers.

“It’s important to see peers as people who can assist others who might be facing the same issues,” Goss said.

Young, a certified peer specialist, delivered an impassioned talk in which he addressed the common issues  people with mental illness face despite personally never having had any legal problems himself .

“Even though I have no direct experience with the criminal justice system, it appeared from the feedback I received after the speech overall and from individual audience members that I had made a real connection,” he said.  “I explained to them that hope is real; this was my message to them.”

Every inmate that participated in Community Day signed a Community Pledge, an agreement written by inmates that has 11 actions and values they swore to honor.

Community Day, was developed to demonstrate a healthy sense of respect for social situations and to establish a sense of belonging among the inmates, and coincides with a renewed focus on the value of peer specialists within the state.

Starting last year, SCI Albion has trained inmates as Peer Support Specialists. On June 19, 18 inmates graduated from the program, bringing the total number of CPSS at the prison to 33. Following release from prison, these inmates are eligible for employment based on their training and experience.

Following Stairways’ presentation at Albion, Goss received a positive response from the inmates in attendance.

In a letter voicing his appreciation, one inmate wrote, “Please don’t forget the incarcerated in prison. We are human beings too with heart and feelings.”

Navigating College Emotions

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Prevalence of College Student Mental Health Concerns and Where to Find Help.

College years are filled with a constant ebb and flow of emotions, from hopefulness and exhilaration to frustration and chaos. As finals week approaches, these emotions become even more heightened. Thankfully, professional help stands at the ready. Awareness and recognition is the key for family, roommates and friends to encourage students to seek help.

The Research

Since 1920, the American College Health Association (ACHA) has linked the nation’s college health professionals, serving to advance the health and wellness of college students through advocacy, education and research.

The most recent (Spring 2014) ACHA-National College Health Assessment (NCHA)* surveyed 79,266 students from 140 college, universities and post-secondary institutions across the nation, revealing the following statistics:

The Top Five Health-Related Factors Which Affected Students’ Academic Performance, e.g. lowered grade on exam or project; course dropped or incomplete; significant disruption in thesis or practicum work:

Percentage of students reporting disruptive health factor:

30.3%   Stress
21.8%   Anxiety
21.0%   Sleep difficulties
15.1%   Cold/flu/sore throat
13.5%   Depression

While a full 91.2% of surveyed students described their over-all health as good, very good, or excellent, they also reported the following felt experiences in the previous year:

86.4%   Felt overwhelmed by all you had to do
82.1%   Felt exhausted (not from physical activity)
62.0%   Felt very sad
59.2%   Felt very lonely
54.0%   Felt overwhelming anxiety
46.4%   Felt things were hopeless
37.4%   Felt overwhelming anger
32.6%   Felt so depressed it was difficult to function

Where to Find Help

For students attending 4-year colleges and universities here in Northwestern Pennsylvania, help is as close as a phone call or a short walk across campus. Families, friends and roommates can use the following list to encourage students to the seek professional help available on campus:

Crawford County Crisis Hotline 814-724-2732
Erie County Crisis Services 814-456-2014
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK

Allegheny College Counseling Center
Phone number: 814-332-4368
Location: Reis Hall, 3rd Floor, room 304

Edinboro University Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
Phone number: 814-732-2252
Location: Ghering Health and Wellness Center, McNerney Hall, 1st Floor

Gannon University Counseling Services
Phone number: 814-871-7622
Location: below Harborview House Apartments, 210 W. Sixth St.

Mercyhurst College Counseling Center
Erie Campus - Phone number: 814-824-3650
Location: Cohen Health Center, 4118 Briggs Avenue
North East Campus - Phone number 814-725-6136
Location: Miller Hall 7B

PSU Behrend Personal Counseling Office
Phone number: 814-898-6504
Location: Reed Union Building, First Floor, Room 1

* See the full data for the ACHA-National College Health Assessment survey here:

Inventive exercises help shake off effects of trauma

Monday, February 09, 2015

The word “trauma” is rooted in a Greek word meaning injury—damage to the body that triggers a natural response that regulates conditions to remain stable and constant.

Now, an inventive method of relieving the effects of trauma has shed light on the body’s natural healing abilities that are activated when releasing stress through physical exercises.

Trauma Releasing Exercises, or TRE ®, is a series of deep muscle movements that assist in ridding the body of stress, tension and trauma. The movements help people to return to a state of balance by encouraging shaking and vibrating.

Kevin Berceli, a therapist at Stairways’ Meadville Outpatient Clinic whose uncle, Dr. David Berceli developed the exercises during his work as an international trauma expert, is a certified TRE® practitioner.

Berceli is also owner of Counterpoise Solutions, LLC, which offers TRE® instruction and trauma education services.

As a way to supplement therapy, Berceli has incorporated TRE® exercises into his work with clients and has recently given demonstrations to Stairways employees and staff.

David Berceli developed TRE® after observing the responses of different traumatized communities while working primarily in Africa and the Middle East.

During mission trips, David Berceli witnessed the reaction of eight people who hailed from six different countries during a bombing in Lebanon in the 1980s, as well as observed natives during an air raid in Africa years later.

What he found among everyone subjected to a traumatic experience, though, was one shared behavior: shaking. To his discovery, many of the people presented with a trauma balled up and began rocking back and forth.

“So it wasn’t so much of a cultural response as it was a human response,” Kevin Berceli said.

The quivering response was more evident in children, it seemed, while adults, were more reserved and restrained in their reaction. To Berceli, this suggested that adults were conditioned to repress their natural response as a way to appear more confident and in control, instead of letting the body’s built-in system trigger.

“As we get older, we often suppress our natural healing response to stress and trauma,” Kevin Berceli said. “Children actually use the natural response more than adults, who deny it out of fear and shame.”

Based on the universal reactions he observed, David Berceli theorized that stress and trauma tends to cause muscles to tighten and become tense. TRE® exercises invoke a self-controlled muscular shaking process called neurogenic muscle tremors as a way to relax muscles and promote healing.

David Berceli has conducted studies and published research on the effectiveness of TRE®, which has reported particular success with veterans suffering from post-traumatic symptoms. In 2011, TRE® gained a level 3 status from the Defense Centers of Excellence, a military organization dedicated to veterans suffering psychological and traumatic brain injuries.

In using TRE® with clients, Kevin Berceli has noticed pronounced improvements in many cases.

“(TRE®) has been wildly successful,” he said. “People with some pretty severe anxiety have responded well to it and have felt calmer after taking part.

“I always give clients an option of whether to use it, but those who use the technique consistently seem to benefit from it.”

Having begun TRE a decade ago and achieved certification in 2013, Berceli said his TRE® work with Stairways has expanded to performing exercises with staff during lunch breaks. Berceli said TRE is even being incorporated into yoga classes and corporate wellness programs.

Learning TRE® from a certified teacher is a safe and effective way to reduce stress for most people, Berceli said.

“Anyone can pick up a book and do TRE® on their own, but, as we all have various exposure to stress and trauma in our lives, the safest way is to learn from a certified TRE provider,” he said.

To learn more about TRE® and trauma treatment, visit Counterpoise Solution’s at or

Tangled in the Web

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The teen who spends hours upon hours engaged in an online role-playing game each day. The husband who can’t stop downloading pornography at home and work. The mother who neglects her kids and maxes out several credit cards surfing the web for items she doesn’t need.

While the internet has been successful in connecting people across the world, relaying information at the click of a button and even changing the way we interact, the aforementioned scenarios represent the ugly side of the web: addiction and abuse.

For Dr. Kimberly Young, Ph.D., a member of the board of directors at Beacon Light Behavioral Health, a Bradford-based outfit with whom Stairways Behavioral Health recently affiliated, these situations arise all too often. Young is also a psychologist noted for her research and treatment of internet addiction disorders and founder of the Center for Internet Addiction.

Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is a compulsive behavior in which online activity interferes with normal life functions.

“It’s not about someone who is in front of their computer at work for most of the day,” she says. “What we’re really talking about is the teen who games for 10 hours a day or the guy who looks at porn or gambles to excess.”

Young, who has studied and treated internet addiction since 1995, created a treatment model called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Internet Addiction (CBTIA) that targets thoughts and feelings associated with IAD.

Internet addiction is a concept that has gained considerable traction in recent years as technology proliferates. As it becomes more available, the internet becomes an accessible place for diversion and refuge from life’s problems, not unlike the role drugs and alcohol play for others, Young said.

“The theme that’s common to the cases I see is escape,” she says. “Like any other addiction, people use the internet to get away from the issues in their lives and they put all their focus and absorb themselves in their computer.”

In addition to escape, those addicted to the internet have the added luxury of remaining completely anonymous to the web community with whom they’re interacting.

“Because they are able to become someone different in the character they become in games or the internet world, it becomes very enticing to take on a position of power, recognition and respect,” she says.

Indeed, many of the changes in brain chemistry that are present in substance abuse also occur in those who are abusive of the internet. For instance, the mesolimbic dopamine pathway—the pleasure center of the brain—becomes active for both drug and internet abusers.

However, unlike chemical dependence, internet use can be difficult to completely eradicate while functioning in an increasingly digital world. That’s why it’s important to assess one’s “digital diet” and establish healthy parameters for more controlled internet use, Young noted.

“I use the analogy of a food addiction,” she says. “It can be harder to treat addiction to food because we all need to eat at some point, whereas you can quit a drug or alcohol and never have the actual need for it again.”

Young stresses that “controlled and moderated” use of is key for anyone.

“For work and some things, you are going to need to use the internet, so moderating it becomes very important,” Young says. “(Internet use) becomes a problem when it is interfering with our everyday lives.”

Dr. Kimberly Young, Ph.D., is a professor at St. Bonaventure University and has been featured in numerous national media outlets including the New York Times, Good Morning America, USA Today, Newsweek and CBS News among others. She has also authored several books on the topic of internet addiction and recently gave a lecture as part of a TEDx event. You can view the lecture here

For tips or more information, visit Young’s website http://www,

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