Community Counseling Center Blog | Hermitage, PA

By 7016369785 05 Jan, 2018

Remembering or discovering how to be happy doesn’t come quickly. It doesn’t come all in one piece. It can start in hundreds of small short bursts; and yet, collecting those moments, and remembering them later so they build into something larger, is difficult to do in the face of real life and recovery.

As noted in part one, Wellness and Recovery: Choosing Adventures , “Wellness is an ongoing process of actively taking an interest in, and learning how, to improve your life. The focus is on improvement and making good choices, rather than trying to achieve some fixed idea of what it means to be ‘healthy’ – something that can vary widely among individuals.” Consciously working on making positive choices in various aspects of life can foster positive moments. Sharpening awareness and memory of those moments can eventually build a general sense of satisfaction in major areas of life. Satisfaction can make it easier to recognize and enjoy happiness when you feel it.  

Anyone making a recovery journey, or considering making one, may at times find the thought of being happy a bit challenging. Whether managing such things as substance abuse disorders, mental or physical health issues, or major life events, we may think happiness is something we understand, but cannot command. Sometimes even feeling satisfaction with any regularity may seem unlikely, rare, or elusive.

Having made it through the fall and major winter holidays, we may feel more familiar with being busy, hectic, frazzled, melancholy, or stressed. As Danielle Fritze explains in 5 Things To Do When the Holidays Aren't Exactly Uplifting : “There may be pressure to impress friends and relatives with a spotless house or the perfect gift. The need to travel and buy gifts can strain an already tight budget. The crowds in parking lots, shopping centers, and airports are enough to send anyone into a state of heightened anxiety.”

Even activities we'd like to think of as joyful, like visiting in person, over the phone, or via the internet can cause as much tension and strain as delight. Good or happy stress is still stress, adding to feelings of being exhausted or overwhelmed.

Given this environment, the common attitudes and expectations surrounding the new year can be absolutely intimidating. We are confronted with more events, more people, more expectations that we be happy on command. In particular, the tradition of resolutions and plans for reinventing oneself in the coming year can be daunting, and many of us are tempted to either ignore the whole idea or set grand goals, adopt goals from our youth, or adopt goals from others with little reference to our day-to-day reality. Trying to ignore any part of making evaluations, while also contemplating the new year or setting inappropriate goals, can increase stress and strain our resources as we battle others' expectations and our own.

Yet alternatives exist. Recognizing that we have multiple options is a fundamental part of any recovery journey. Instead of reaching to fulfill standards unrelated to our lives, we might contemplate the coming year by concentrating on increasing overall wellness through the use of self-care, compassion, and mindfulness.

Concentrating on wellness, with its focus on individual needs, rather than on arbitrary or abstract expectations, allows people to develop plans tailored to their lives. They establish goals and action steps reasonable to their situations. They avoid setting themselves up to fail, creating more stress or physical and emotional exhaustion from struggling to meet unsuitable goals, and derailing or delaying recovery amid self-created obstacles and conflicting tensions. People can avoid these trials while still engaging in the planning and the sense of purpose that often accompanies the start of a new year.

Engaging in wellness activities encourages conscious choice and planned actions. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in What Individuals in Recovery Need to Know About Wellness , divides the various aspects of wellness into eight dimensions. In particular, the emotional, spiritual, and environmental aspects of wellness include tools and ideas for helping encourage the awareness of ourselves and our surroundings and activities that can contribute to overall satisfaction and reasonable happiness and contentment.

When considering the emotional dimension of wellness, SAMHSA highlights coping “effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships” by being aware of and listening to your feelings and by expressing your feelings to people you trust. SAMSHA describes the spiritual dimension of wellness as activities that involve “expanding your sense of purpose and meaning in life” by making “time for practices that enhance your sense of connection to self, nature, and others,” and by taking “time to discover what values, principles, and beliefs are most important to you.”

A person’s environmental dimension of wellness involves encouraging “good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being,” developing an appreciation of “the nature and the beauty that surrounds you” and seeking “out music and other experiences that have a calming effect on your well-being.” Every one of these activities involves paying close attention to your feelings, the ideals you value, and the factors that influence your feelings.

Delving into your feelings and what influences those feelings can be uncomfortable. This is where wellness can intersect with self-care, compassion, and mindfulness. In order to begin exploring such potentially disruptive subjects, people should approach defining and establishing goals for these three areas while engaging in a compassionate, non-judgmental look at who they are, who they have been, what they are currently doing, and what they now value.

As Deniz Ahmadinia, PsyD explains in Practicing Mindfulness Through Kindness and Compassion , “The reality is that the great majority of us struggle with a judgmental voice when we don’t live up to our own expectations, and it is this voice that judges others as well.” And she suggests, this can lead “to persistent negative emotions, doubt, feelings of worthlessness, shame and feeling disconnected from people around us.” People can be aware of this voice, recognize that it is not the whole truth, and practice examining these dimensions of wellness without the judgmental attitude the voice encourages – devising activities and wellness goals from a perspective of compassionate self-care, rather than one of self-criticism.

While many see self-care as a luxury they cannot afford in their busy lives, in “The Self-Care Project: How to Let Go of Frazzle and Make Time for You,” Jayne Hardy argues that self-care is fundamental to being a responsible person, reminding the reader that “self-care isn’t selfish.” She points out that “self-care has mindfulness as its foundation. You can’t care for yourself, in the truest sense, if you don’t understand what it is that you need, what it is that comforts you and nourishes you. Self-care requires you to become hyper-aware of how you feel all day, every day. Being hyper-aware of how you feel then helps you to make choices based on those feelings, the right choices for you, what it is that you need to do to help you to feel good, both in the long-term and the short-term.”

Rather than treating self-care as an emergency escape from stress and feeling frazzled, Hardy suggests including self-care as a form of everyday maintenance that incorporates everything from brushing your teeth to setting good boundaries with people or taking time for activities that will rejuvenate and invigorate. She promotes self-care for preventing stress, rather than only as a way to relieve it or escape it. By connecting self-care to mindfulness, Hardy acknowledges that we need to evaluate what actually constitutes self-care at various intervals. People’s needs and associations change over time, and what was self-care at one point in their lives might be negative or stifling now. In order to determine how people might change their self-care, they need to take a compassionate look at their current activities, at how they feel, and determine how to take better care of themselves to improve their resiliency to stress as a way to contribute to their overall wellness.

No one is happy all the time. Life is naturally a mix of emotions and states that change—sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly. And sometimes, we all exist in states that seem very solid and fixed, when actually there are small bursts of alternate emotions happening all the time. One activity of wellness practice is to recognize those moments and sort them out to contribute to making future choices. Taking the time to attend to these details of emotion is a major part of being mindful of our health and wellness.

If you or someone you care for needs help managing wellness and self-care, or if you are someone who is interested in pursuing a recovery journey, please contact Community Counseling Center to make an appointment by calling 724-981-7141, toll free at 866-853-7758 or TTY at 724-981-4327. For more information about Community Counseling Center, visit our website or our Facebook page .



Fritze, Danielle. (2017 Dec. 15) “5 Things To Do When the Holidays Aren't Exactly Uplifting.” Mental Health America. Retrieved from:

Hardy, Jayne. (2017 The Self-Care Project: How to Let Go of Frazzle and Make Time for You .) [unabridged mp3 Audiobook] London: Orion Springs Publishing.

Porter, Christy. (2016, Oct. 17) “Wellness and Recovery: Choosing Adventures.” Retrieved from:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016) [PDF] “What Individuals in Recovery Need to Know About Wellness.”  Retrieved from:

By 7016369785 07 Dec, 2017

Any recovery journey is one of learning – not only about facts, appropriate medications and their management, and therapeutic methods, but also about a person’s own needs and strengths. A key element in recovery is support, whether from peers or from trained observers.

According to Pennsylvania Recovery and Resiliency , “Peer Support Services (PSS) are . . . conducted by self-identified current or former consumers of behavioral health services who are trained and certified to offer support and assistance in helping others in their recovery and community-integration process. Peer support is intended to inspire hope in individuals that recovery is not only possible, but probable.”

At Community Counseling Center (CCC), Peer Support Services are open to those who have a qualifying serious mental illness diagnosis that is severe and persistent, and who are referred to the program by a qualified doctor, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant or psychologist.

Building strong ties to the community is a fundamental part of a recovery journey, and yet obtaining clinical assistance and acquiring a clear plan of treatment – including an accurate diagnosis – can also cause a person to feel separated and different from those around them. This is true even of their own family members, who may or may not be a part of a person’s recovery journey. Each person’s experiences and life histories create both strengths that can be used in recovery, and barriers to be overcome or managed. Each person must find their time to combat the stigmas regarding mental health that exist in our society.

Yet any steps to engage in stamping out stigma and moving toward advocacy must be made in a way that supports the recovery journey, without threatening it during vulnerable moments. Peer support specialists can provide safe discussions about ways to disclose, when to disclose, and how to determine which people to offer the chance to share a recovery journey, while encouraging a peer to discuss such issues with their mental health provider. They can provide information and perspectives on good and bad experiences, and act as a sounding board for processing the feedback a person receives. One peer support specialist at CCC noted that her role involves “going out and embracing other peers with non-judgment, and helping them be in the community and function in the community.”

Trying to maintain or regain ties to the community without access to others who have or are making a recovery journey can increase isolation, worsen symptoms, or stall progress in various stages. Working through a long period without change can be as difficult as managing periods of ups and downs in progress. Being able to work with someone who can help you set wellness goals, and even meet you out in the community to accompany you as a companion, friend, and advocate as you try to accomplish those goals, can help maintain hope, resiliency, and the recognition of forward progress on the path to recovery.

According to an article in Mental Health America , “Peer specialists model recovery, teach skills and offer supports to help people experiencing mental health challenges lead meaningful lives in the community. Peer specialists promote recovery; enhance hope and social networking through role modeling and activation; and supplement existing treatment with education, empowerment, and aid in system navigation.” This is not limited to navigating the health care system. Several peer support specialists from CCC said they provide support and assistance to clients by putting them in contact with other agencies that may help with housing or household needs, by working with them as they complete forms for food stamps, energy assistance programs, and employment services. One noted that many people don’t know what may be available to them, and that “you can’t recover if your basic needs aren’t being met.”

The needs of those accessing peer support services reach into the full range of the choices for wellness. Activities for meeting wellness goals have included things as wide ranging as helping a peer bathe a dog, helping put up or take down a Christmas tree, meeting peers at libraries or at a community event to meet social wellness goals, meeting at the park to help with fitness goals, and accompanying peers to meetings with doctors or medical care givers as an emotional support, as well as having discussions prior to such meetings to help peers outline goals, questions, and needs for the meeting. Peer support specialists can also assist those learning to manage public transportation if needed.  

In her article “ Peer Specialists are Not Clinicians ,” Patricia Deegan notes that the relationship between peers and peer support specialists includes a focus on “learning together rather than assessing or prescribing help.” The whole interaction is guided by the goals of the peer. Asking good questions, actively listening to the peer, and reinforcing the ideas a client has about those goals are all part of a peer specialist’s role. Knowing when to advise a peer to ask a clinician or a doctor a specific question, or for help in determining positive, realistic goals is also part of the job.

Pennsylvania Recovery and Resiliency notes that peer support services are “designed to promote empowerment, self-determination, understanding, coping skills, and resiliency through mentoring and service coordination supports that allow individuals with severe and persistent mental illness and co-occurring disorders to achieve personal wellness and cope with the stressors and barriers encountered when recovering.” Additionally, “Peer support is designed on the principles of consumer choice and the active involvement of persons in their own recovery process. Peer support practice is guided by the belief that people . . .  need opportunities to identify and choose for themselves their desired roles with regard to living, learning, working and social interaction in the community.”

While the scope of a peer support specialist’s role can be far reaching, it is guided by goals set out by the peer and is designed to help support the peer’s growing independence. CCC’s peer support specialists complete 75 hours of training prior to certification, and are responsible for meeting continuing education goals throughout the year. One noted that setting and modeling appropriate boundaries is challenging because their goal is to encourage the patient, not to do things or to speak for them.

Specialists provide support, encouragement, shared experiences, and true compassion and empathy. One specialist at CCC noted that with a peer support specialist “you have someone who can say they really get it. But you [the peer] have to be in the place when you’re ready to work.” Another noted, “We’ve been where you are.”  

Peer support services differ from traditional mental health services in some basic ways. It is a self-referring program focused on equality among participants (both peers and peer support specialists). The program provides a non-judgmental atmosphere, and the informality of the interaction between peers and peer support specialists avoids the artificial barriers such as those between “consumers” and “professionals.” Some of the program goals include individual choice in recovery, personal wellness or being as healthy as a person can be, self-advocacy, making friends that can be counted on, dealing with the stressors of finding and keeping a job, increasing self-esteem, and contacting community resources.

If you are interested in joining the community of peers, have your mental or behavioral healthcare provider or other doctor or qualifying medical provider refer you to the Community Counseling Center’s Peer Support Services program.

If you are interested in become a peer support specialist as you continue on your recovery journey, contact Susan Pozner at Community Counseling Center of Mercer County at 724-981-7141 or toll free at 866-853-7758 and TTY: at 724-981-4327. For more information about Community Counseling Center of Mercer County visit our website or our Facebook page .




“Defining Peer Support.” (n.d.)  Pennsylvania Recovery and Resiliency. Retrieved from

 Deegan, Patricia E.,  Ph.D. (21 June, 2017) “Peer Specialists are Not Clinicians.” PDA Blog. Retrieved from

Interviews with Peer Support Specialists. (2 October, 2017) Community Counseling Center.

“Peer Specialists.” (n.d.) Mental Health America. Retrieved from



By 7016369785 06 Dec, 2017
Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the "winter blues," is a subtype of depression or bipolar disorder that occurs and ends around the same time every year. Seasonal depression typically occurs when the seasons change and most symptoms begin in the fall and continue into the winter months. However, seasonal depression can occur in the summer or spring, although this is less common. [ 1 , 2 ,3 , 5 ]
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