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.

May is Mental Health Month: Addressing Mental Health B4Stage4

Friday, May 29, 2015

When we think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them.

When people are in the first stages of those diseases, and are beginning to show signs of symptoms like a persistent cough, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, we try immediately to treat these symptoms.

We don’t ignore them. In fact, we develop a plan of action to reverse and sometimes stop the progression of the disease.

So why aren’t we doing the same for individuals who are dealing with potentially serious mental illness?

May marks Mental Health Awareness month, a time when millions of Americans across the country become mindful of the prevalence of mental illness and its many means of treatment. This May, the theme has been B4Stage4, focusing on how people can address their mental health in its beginning stages, rather than waiting until symptoms are more severe and recovery is made a longer process.

When you or someone close to you starts to experience the early warning signs of mental illness, knowing what the risk factors and symptoms are will help to catch them early. Often times, family and friends are the first to step in to support a person through these early stages. Experiencing symptoms such as loss of sleep, feeling tired for no reason, feeling low, feeling anxious, or hearing voices shouldn’t be ignored or brushed aside in the hopes that they go away.

Like other diseases, we need to address these symptoms early, identify the underlying disease, and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health. Mental health conditions should be addressed long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process.

Many people do not seek treatment in the early stages of mental illnesses because they don’t recognize the symptoms. Up to 84% of the time between the first signs of mental illness and first treatment is spent not recognizing the symptoms.

Stairways Behavioral Health is raising awareness of the important role mental health plays in our lives and encouraging members of the community to learn more about their own mental health and to take action immediately if they are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness.

Mental illnesses are not only common, they are treatable. There is a wide variety of treatment options for mental illnesses ranging from talk therapy to medication to peer support, and it may take some time for a person to find the right treatment or combination of treatments that works best for them. But when they do, the results can be truly amazing and life changing.

Stairways wants to help people learn what they can do both to protect their mental health and know the signs of mental illness.

It’s up to all of us to know the signs and take action so that mental illnesses can be caught early and treated, and we can live up to our full potential. We know that intervening effectively during early stages of mental illness can save lives and change the trajectories of people living with mental illnesses.

If you or someone you know is struggling, talk about it! Call us at 453-5806.

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

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