Employee Awards and Accolades

Employee Spotlight: Denise Bunner

Monday, March 21, 2016

Denise Bunner’s resume speaks for itself. She spent 15 years as a Psychological Services specialist, 2 and ½ years as a therapist for the Community Abuse Response team (CART) in Meadville and most recently performed therapist duties at Stairways’ Meadville Forensic program since 2013.

Since becoming clinical supervisor for Stairways’ Forensic Outpatient (FOP) program at the start of 2016, Bunner has drawn upon her experience in the mental health field – as well as her expertise as a yoga instructor — to ensure a smooth transition at the helm of FOP.

Bunner intends to operate FOP by using a collaborative effort among staff, other programs and outside partners.

Q: What is a typical day for you? What are your day-to-day functions?

A: There is not really a typical day for me as the Clinical Supervisor.  I try to be prepared for just about any situation that may arise when I am at the Clinic.  I try to be available for questions from all staff members including therapists, medical staff, front end staff, and the forensic contacts in the community.  Our clients are very diverse and have some very complex needs.

Often a staff member just needs to bounce an idea off someone.  I love to listen and be a sounding board. I also want to be available to consult with Program Directors as needed.  I want to be able to communicate questions and answers back and forth among staff as quickly and clearly as possible.

There are a lot of changes taking place at FOP at this time and I want to help make the transition as easy as possible.  Change is never easy for people.  We all like to settle into a routine and operate from a sense of comfortability.  When that sense of comfort is challenged, we may feel off balance.  As a yoga instructor, I try to bring the principles of awareness and acceptance that I use in a Yoga class to my workplace. These Yogic principles give me a sense of inner calmness and I try to extend that inner calmness and balance to the people I work with.

Q: What inherent challenges exist in the recovery for forensics population?

A: The forensic population that we serve at FOP, in many ways, is similar to other mental health clients. 

One of the challenges with this population, however, is their interaction with the legal system. In addition to mental health problems, the forensic population seems to have difficulty overcoming poor decision making and all too often our clients make poor choices in life which ultimately lead to incarceration or supervision in the community. The staff at FOP try to work with the clients’ Probation Officer or Parole Officer to help the client move in a positive, stable direction in life.  Also, some clients may be struggling with an addiction. Addiction combined with mental health problems create some unique and complex obstacles for these individuals to overcome.

The Forensic Program is fortunate to have the Dual Diagnosis Program in the same building.  Our staff is able to consult with the staff of this drug and alcohol program and vice versa.

Q: How does your experience as a therapist serve you in your new role?

A: I was a therapist for the Department of Corrections for 14 years.  I also had the opportunity to visit all the prisons in the State of Pennsylvania as an auditor for the psychology department.  I have learned a great deal about the lifestyles and challenges of offenders.  I have been in a position to help a lot of offenders deal with the problems inherent to incarceration and transitioning back into the community.  When I tell a client that I know what it is like to be incarcerated because I have worked in a prison, I have observed a sense of relief in the client because I can truly relate to their struggle.  I am hoping to be able to communicate to the staff at FOP this understanding in order to help them better serve this population.

Q: What goals you would like to see fulfilled in your new position?

A: One of the goals that I would like to work on is helping those clients with PTSD overcome some of the life altering symptoms that they are unable to cope with as a result of the trauma they have experienced.

The forensic population has a higher than average incidence of PTSD then the general population.  Our clients have endured severe physical, mental, or sexual abuse.  They have watched family members be abused or lose their life to violence.  They have observed drug abuse in the home since early childhood or they themselves may have experienced trauma related to their own drug abuse.  And some of our veterans have had the misfortune of making poor choices as a result of their inability to cope with their PTSD symptoms.

Several of the staff at FOP are being trained by Kevin Berceli , Director of LTSR, in TRE (Trauma Release Exercises) as a way to help our clients learn to deal with their PTSD.  This training began in May of last year and Kevin continues to conduct group supervision with the staff on a monthly basis.   I am also looking forward to an upcoming training on “Trauma Sensitive Yoga.”  Research is beginning to show that people with PTSD are not able to effectively talk about their experiences until they have reconnected their body with their mind. 

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?

A: My favorite part of the job is being able to conduct therapy with a client.  I very much enjoy the interactions that I have with the staff at FOP.  The staff here are outstanding and I appreciate each and every one of them.  Therapy, however, seems to give me a sense of deep satisfaction.  I am very much looking forward to providing Trauma Sensitive Yoga for this population as I truly believe it will be able to lessen some of the devastating symptoms that these individuals endure as a result of trauma.  I have a lot of hope that the forensic clinic will continue to provide the level of service that they have provided since this clinic started in 2009 and that it will be even better in the days to come.


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