Monday, November 14, 2022

Play as Preventative Care At Any Age

by Vanessa Mortillo, LPC

    “The opposite of play is not work—it’s depression.” — Brian Sutton Smith

As a play therapist, I support young people through anxieties and hardships. Using their natural language of play, we act out struggles and work through them in the present moment.  Play offers a unique way of processing difficult feelings in the presence of a connected adult.  What surprised me the most about my work is that even in the midst of darkness and trauma, joy can and does enter the play.  One minute I am defending myself in an angry play sword-fight and next moment I am bouncing a balloon. Through the magic of play, I can travel between levity and heaviness with my clients, and we weave more light in as we go. Children often do this naturally, but adults can do this too.
Relearning this skill through my training as a play therapist has changed my life as an adult. Once very serious and intellectual, I now have more balance. I have gained the confidence to be ridiculous, silly, and to let go. I make sand castles regularly, I dance and wear costumes. I am less afraid to play in front of others.  I laugh more and feel closer to those that I play with. In the midst of hard things, I remember that play is available at any moment. 

This phenomenon has been beautifully described by play expert Stuart Brown, “Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humor.”  Dr. Brown became passionate about play when he studied mass murderers and found that most had been severely deprived of opportunities for play in early childhood and beyond. He calls this scenario a play deficit. While these represent the most extreme cases, his continued research on play found that playing regularly leads to more spontaneity, creativity, resilience, hope, and social connection for people of all ages. Dr. Brown also found this to be true in the animal kingdom as many social species play throughout the lifespan.

Kevin Carroll, Philadelphia native, former athletic coach for the 76ers, author and motivational speaker, cites his access to play as a child as transformational. In childhood, he had access to few resources and was adopted by grandparents due to his parents suffering from addiction. The playground and a red rubber ball changed his life. He has gone on to help organizations reignite creativity and inspire adults to play. At Tedx Harlem, he invited adults to formally resign from adulthood for a few moments.
“Here are my checkbook, my car keys, my credit card, my bills, my 401k statement. Because you know what? You’ll have to catch me first!  Because tag! You’re it!” I’d like to tag you into the magic of play by inviting you to join in.
Join us at the Resiliency Center for a workshop. From laughter yoga, movement, writing workshops, or our new Fun Therapy Happy Hour, we offer something for all types of players. Check out the helpful links and books below for a plethora of ideas of ways to play in every day life. 

Vanessa Mortillo MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor that provides individual and group therapy to youth and young adults. Utilizing mindfulness, expressive arts, and play therapy modalities, she harnesses creativity and imagination in the service of growth and healing. Specialties include children and teens, mindfulness groups, play therapy, and expressive arts. Contact her at (267) 507-5793 or

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Restorative Practices in Therapy

by Drew Underwood, M.Ed.

Restorative practices aim to reduce harm, resolve conflicts, and facilitate healing. If you are thinking, “this is very similar to the goals of therapy,” then you’d be right! The non-punitive nature of the therapeutic setting makes it the perfect environment to implement restorative practices. The restorative practices in therapy combine both high empowerment and high support and are characterized by doing things with people, rather than to them or for them. There are many therapeutic models consistent with restorative justice practices. Internal Family Systems Therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and Solutions Focused Therapy are just a few. Elements of treatment such as creating a safe space, facilitating authentic connections through discussion and action, and seeking restoration are all things restorative justice and therapy have in common. You can use restorative practices clinically through affective statements, information conversations using restorative questions, using talking pieces (helpful for all levels of development/abilities), and formal restorative conferences. These can be implemented in a circle or group setting and is a great way to build community.

In education, circles and groups provide opportunities for students to share their feelings, build relationships and problem-solve, and when there is wrongdoing, to play an active role in addressing the wrong and making things right (Riestenberg, 2002). According to Restorative Solutions, a UK-based organization committed to making restorative justice more accessible to communities, the “Five R’s” of Restorative Practice, namely relationship, respect, responsibility, repair, and reintegration, have many applications. You can read more about this here: The 5 ‘R’s of Restorative Justice: Are They Always Applicable? .

For more information about how restorative practices can be used in schools, watch this video: Restorative Practices in Schools Have Power to Transform Communities or click here: School Counselor’s Role in Restorative Practices.

As therapists, we are asked to de-center ourselves and act in the best interests of our clients. Restorative practices allow us to do the same for our communities, prioritizing community-led healing regardless of the setting. In my work with clients, I found in most cases there is a genuine desire to get better. When clients experience distress, they can be bound to depressive feelings that make healing hard to do. This brings them out of touch with their humanity, with their (and others) human capacity to make mistakes. I have found extending grace to clients as foundational to reestablishing that link to their humanity. Grace helps us effectively balance acceptance and accountability with the potential to change, for example, “I’ve made a terrible mistake and it is not okay, however I do not have to spend a lifetime allowing it to define me, I can heal from this and live a happy, healthy life.” Extending grace as a therapist is important, but helping clients give grace as a gift to themselves is even more so. It allows clients to accept their humanity and become ready to embrace the potential for transformation in therapy.

Drew Underwood, M.Ed., is a Master’s level therapist who provides trauma and grief counseling and support to those experiencing anxiety, depression, and other difficulties navigating school and career challenges. He believes in the potential for radical growth and incorporates mindfulness-based approaches to provide culturally sensitive care that centers clients’ diverse experiences. He works under the supervision of Licensed Professional Counselor Jen Perry. To learn more about his work, contact him at 267-499-3970 or


Restorative Practices and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Lessons in Empathy

by Tracey Smith, M.Ed.

Restorative Practice is a global movement used to build restorative communities and strengthen relationships. The practice has its roots in indigenous cultures. Just as the health of our planet depends on a thriving and diverse ecosystem, the health of our human communities relies upon hearing and respecting the strengths and perspectives of all members. Indigenous peoples understood the importance of this, but modern societies have been built on dynamics of hierarchy, power, and control. Restorative Practices remind us that we need strong and meaningful relationships to survive. The strategies can be found in U.N. negotiations and the Civil Rights Movement. This non-punitive and non-judgmental process encourages accountability and making amends. It can be used in a variety of settings and situations, such as workplace spaces, community organizing, healing retreats, schools, and high-conflict family situations. One example of this movement in action is exhibited in Philadelphia’s Restorative Cities: Porch to City Hall.   

Restorative Practices focus on personal responsibilities for repairing harm done, building relationships and community, promoting emotional intelligence, and teaching social skills. Restorative Practice developed out of a primary hypothesis that people are more cooperative and productive – and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior – when those in positions of authority do things with them rather than to them or for them. In the criminal justice system, Restorative Justice is an approach to resolving the wounds of violence and harm by focusing on restoring the dignity of both oppressor and victim, grounded in truth-telling and reconciliation. 

Using a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) lens allows for the process of getting to know yourself, building empathy, and transforming conflict skills. For leaders and participants,  DEI and Restorative Practices work can be daunting at times. Sharing one’s experiences of harming and being harmed, feeling included and being excluded – and listening to others share their experiences – requires resiliency, compassion, and courage. Self-care is imperative. Wellness and mindfulness techniques offer participants and facilitators ways to stay present and assist with burnout and trauma healing. DEI and Belonging programs are strengthened by using Restorative Practice Circles. Also called “Listening Circles”, this practice engages all community members in a structured and respectful practice of taking turns talking and listening, approaching challenging conversations with courage, compassion, and an appreciation of the value of every member in the community. In my programs on DEI and Restorative Practice with members of the Resiliency Center practitioner community, colleges, organizations, and conferences, learning happens in a supportive environment where self-care and community care co-exist with the brave vulnerability to have hard conversations. When we come together in safe spaces with open hearts and a true willingness to listen, we can see and be seen, take risks and find forgiveness, connect in meaningful ways, and repair the injuries that haunt and divide us.

Tracey A. Smith, M.Ed., CTRS, is a Certified Recreation Therapist, Wellness Educator, and DEI Trainer with extensive experience in behavioral health. She designs interactive, experiential, and trauma-healing programs that promote an atmosphere of "safe space" for participants to explore self-care, self-esteem, stress/anger management, spirituality, leadership, and recovery. She customizes diversity and workplace wellness programs for organizations and leads wellness retreats. Contact her to learn more at 215- 605-3221 or or

Restorative and Transformative Justice

by Drew Underwood, M.Ed.

“How do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” - bell hooks

This question that the late, great bell hooks poses is one that I have found myself asking in various ways over the last five years. When we encounter clients that have harmed others, or we ourselves find that we’ve harmed folks in our lives, feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt, and sometimes even penance can be the result. These responses are common responses, but they seldom result in healing our relationships or whatever is left broken in us.

I committed myself personally and professionally to the human potential for radical growth and transformation. This philosophy provided a framework that empowered me to do the necessary work of unlearning punitive responses to harm, but more importantly, it gave me hope that my efforts were indeed worth it. When we experience harm, we may feel like those responsible need to be punished, but I challenge you to think deeper about what caused them to commit the harm in the first place.  What might their actions reveal about what needs to be healed within them? Restorative and Transformative Justice offers an alternative that aims to heal rather than punish.

Restorative and Transformative Justice

Restorative Justice and Transformative Justice are terms often used interchangeably, but this isn't accurate. Yes, they both provide alternatives to punitive responses to harm, but there are some important factors that distinguish them. Transformative Justice is defined as an extralegal process engaging the harm doer, the person harmed, a facilitator, and their communities in shifting communal components to address current harms and prevent future harms from occurring on a systemic level. Transformative justice exists completely outside of systems so lawyers, judges, or even therapists won't be involved. This gives communities the autonomy to facilitate their own healing! Restorative justice is an approach to harm at an individual-level, rather than a systemic level. It is a dialogue between the harm-doer, the person or party harmed, a facilitator, and their communities (such as schools), at times resulting from proceedings in the criminal legal system. Restorative justice efforts are community-led that can include the legal system but don’t necessarily have to.  They work to restore the person harmed to their previously harmed state.

Drew Underwood, M.Ed., is a Master’s level therapist who provides trauma and grief counseling and support to those experiencing anxiety, depression, and other difficulties navigating school and career challenges. He believes in the potential for radical growth and incorporates mindfulness-based approaches to provide culturally sensitive care that centers clients’ diverse experiences. He works under the supervision of Licensed Professional Counselor Jen Perry. To learn more about his work, contact him at 267-499-3970 or

Monday, September 26, 2022

Signature Strengths - Building on Strengths to Increase Happiness

by Lindsay Roznowski

The final happiness practice I will share is called Signature Strengths. No two people are the same, and their strengths differ. Whereas sometimes we may be focused on areas where we feel we need to improve, Positive Psychology experts encourage us to lean in more fully to the areas where we are already strong — and build upon it, perhaps infusing some play, creativity, and innovation. New habits can be difficult to start, but simply choosing one of these practices to try on a consistent basis could be a profound investment in one’s own happiness and peace. Difficult life events like the pandemic can put things in perspective for all of us, and my hope is that we are all learning, one practice at a time, how to finally put our oxygen masks on first.

Instructions: Identify your top 3-5 signature strengths from the below list. For a week, choose one of your signature strengths daily and try to use it in a new way.

24 Signature Strengths Examples (Peterson & Seligman)

Appreciation of Beauty – Appreciating beauty or excellence in various domains of life 

Spirituality – Drawing strength from a higher purpose, or greater meaning in life

Gratitude – Being aware of, and thankful for, the good things that happen around us

Hope—Expecting the best to happen in the future, and working to attain it

Humor—finding joy in laughter, and bringing such joy to others 

Forgiveness – being able to forgive others, and grant second chances 

Humility and Modesty – allowing one’s accomplishments to speak for themselves

Prudence – not taking unnecessary risks; not doing things that might later be regretted 

Self-Regulation – regulating what one feels and does; being able to manage and control one’s emotions 

Citizenship – working well as a member of a group or team 

Fairness – treating others equally well 

Leadership – helping others reach greater heights 

Love – valuing close relationships with others  

Kindness – doing good deeds and favors for others 

Social Intelligence – having awareness of others’ feelings and internal processes 

Bravery – not shrinking from threat or challenges 

Persistence – finishing what one starts; not giving up easily 

Integrity – valuing genuineness; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions 

Vitality – approaching life with excitement and energy 

Creativity – thinking of novel ways to do things

Curiosity – being interested in experience for its own sake

Open-Mindedness – examining things from all sides

Love of Learning – mastering new skills, topics, bodies of knowledge 

Perspective – providing wise counsel to others


Optimism Practice to Increase Happiness

Positive Psychology encourages us to engage in optimism practices in order to increase our happiness in everyday life. It is natural, even hard-wired for our survival, to focus on the negative — either forecasting something negative in the future to try to prevent it or engaging in a detailed review of something that went poorly in the past in order to make sure it never happens again. When our goal is increased happiness (rather than survival from current day “lions and tigers and bears”, then we will want to practice being optimistic about the future and past instead. Two practices are explained below: A Positive Future and Reflecting on Success.

Optimism Practice #1: A Positive Future 

For the next week, set aside twenty minutes per day to journal about your positive future. Picture yourself five or ten years from now, and imagine that things in your life have gone as well as you could have hoped for. Your dreams have been realized, and you have achieved your deepest and most meaningful goals. Close your eyes, and spend a few moments conjuring this image. Consider different domains of your life, including your relationships, career, family, and hobbies. Allow yourself to bask in this vivid image, and to savor the feelings that come up as you do. When you are ready, begin writing about what you imagined.

Optimism Practice #2: Reflecting on Success

One of the best ways to remind ourselves that things will turn out OK in life is to reflect on times when we’ve already overcome hardship or adversity.

Instructions: Think back on a time from the past in which you’ve been successful at achieving an important goal. Take a moment and think back on various accomplishments you have reached in various domains in your life. Consider successes at school, at work, and in your relationships. Choose one of these triumphs and write about the success in greater detail. If you find it helpful, feel free to repeat this with various other successes you’ve had in your life. To help you get started, consider the following questions:

What was the nature of your success?
How hard did you work to attain it?
Were there times when you thought of giving up? If so, what kept you going?
Who did you receive support from during the process?
What did you learn from reaching this goal?
How does it feel to reflect on this success?

Connection Practices to Create Happiness

Positive Psychology researchers found that our happiness is increased when we engage in intentional activities to increase our positive connection with others. Two connection practices are shared: Gratitude Report Card and Loving-Kindness Meditation.

Connection Practice #1: Gratitude Report Card

Instructions: Over the next week, choose one person in your life with whom you have a close relationship, preferably someone whom you see regularly. This may be a romantic partner, a close friend, a child, or a colleague at work. Each day, write down at least one thing that you appreciate about the person, or something they did for which you are thankful. These appreciations can range in size or scope, but the important thing is that you identify at least one thing each day to write down. At the end of the week, have a face-to-face conversation with this person expressing your thanks to them. Share your list with them, and express how much they mean to you and how appreciative you are to have them in your life.

Connection Practice #2: Loving-Kindness Meditation 

Instructions: Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Sit upright and relaxed, with your hands resting on your lap. Take three steady and even breaths, and when you are ready, close your eyes.

Continue to breathe, slowly in and slowly out. Notice the feeling of the air entering through your nose, and observe how it’s slightly warmer on the way out.

Become aware of your body as you sit. Feel your body as it makes contact with the support beneath you. Feel your body resting comfortably, and notice any sensations within your body. 

When you are ready, form an image of yourself in your mind’s eye. Picture yourself as you currently sit, and feel your heart open up. Remind yourself that like anyone else, you wish to live happily and in peace. Connect fully with that intention, and feel a sense of warmth pour over you. 

Continue to picture yourself as you sit in this moment. Gently and in silence, repeat the following phrases to yourself: 
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be peaceful and at ease. 

Take your time, all the while maintaining the image of yourself in your mind’s eye. Allow the feelings of peace and tranquility to sink in, and savor the meaning of the words. 

When you notice your mind wander or your thoughts drift, simply notice this, and return to the present moment. 

When you are ready, form an image now of someone whom it is easy to feel loving kindness towards. It could be someone from the past or the present, and could be a friend, family member, or even a pet. A simple, positive relationship can work best to start with. Picture that person, and feel your heart open up to them. Remind yourself that like anyone else, you wish for them to live happily and in peace. Connect fully with that intention, and feel a sense of warmth and compassion pour over you. 

Continue to picture this loved one as you sit in this moment. Gently and in silence, repeat the following phrases to yourself: 
May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be peaceful and at ease. 

Once more, fully allow the words to sink in, and feel your heart open up with love and compassion towards yourself and towards this other person. Take a moment to savor this moment. 

When you are ready, gently open your eyes and return to the room.

Mindfulness Practices to Increase Happiness

To understand a little more about mindfulness — and why cultivating mindfulness is a mega trend for good reason, watch this video on why mindfulness is a superpower. Next, you may want to experiment with trying one or both of the exercises below: Mindfulness of the Breath and Raisin Meditation. Both are practices taught by the experts in Positive Psychology who discovered that happiness is state of being we can nurture through active practice.

Mindfulness Practice #1: Mindfulness of the Breath

Instructions: Begin by finding a comfortable, peaceful place to sit. Set aside around ten minutes to start with, though you can extend this as you wish in the days to come. Sit down in a manner that’s comfortable, either in a chair or on the ground. Keep your back straight, allowing your shoulders to relax. Close your eyes, or choose a spot on the floor in front of you to focus your gaze.

Begin by taking three easy and gentle breaths in through your nose, followed by slow and steady exhales. With each breath, feel yourself slowing down and becoming more immersed in the moment.

If you notice your mind wandering or your thoughts drifting, simply notice this and return your attention and awareness to your breath. You may notice your mind wandering at many points during this meditation; it’s simply what our mind does. Merely observe this tendency, and without judgment, return your awareness to your breathing.

Bring full attention now to your breathing. As you inhale and exhale, observe where in your body you notice your breath the most. Perhaps it’s in your chest, as you feel it rise and fall with each breath. Others notice their breath most strongly in their nostrils, as the air passes coolly on the way in, and slightly warmer on the way out. Still others notice the breath most clearly in their stomach and abdomen, as it rises and falls with each passing breath. Wherever it is, take a moment to simply notice where the breath is most clearly felt in your body.

Notice how it feels to fully focus on your inhale. As you inhale, notice any particular feelings of tension or strain, and notice the sensation of your lungs and abdomen filling up as you inhale. 

Now gently shift your awareness to focus more on your exhale. With each exhale, notice what it’s like to feel your breath passing out through your nostrils. And observe, without judgment, anything that you feel in your body. 

For the next few minutes, continue to breathe gently and evenly. Feel the breath as it comes through your nose, followed by a steady exhale. 

Notice what’s happening in your mind. If you notice your mind wandering or your thoughts drifting, don’t judge yourself or react self-critically. Simply notice this, and gently redirect your attention and awareness back to your breathing. 

After ten minutes, gently open your eyes and bring your awareness back to your surroundings. Allow yourself to bask in the comfort and tranquility of the present moment.

Mindfulness Practice #2: Raisin Meditation

To begin, set aside five to ten minutes in a quiet place. Ensure that you’ll have no distractions; be sure to turn off your phone, shut off the television, and put aside anything else that might take away your attention. For the next few minutes, you’ll be doing something that you do every day (eating), but in a different way than usual. Your intention will be to eat a raisin in a mindful manner, fully immersed in the experience.

Begin by taking the raisin and placing it in the palm of your hand.

Glance down at it, pretending for a moment that you’ve never seen anything like it before. Alternate between holding the raisin in your hand, and placing it between your forefinger and thumb to more fully feel its texture. Notice the weight of the raisin as it rests in your hand.

Now take a moment to really see the raisin, paying particular attention to its subtle details. With full attention and awareness, notice the texture of the raisin, and the shadow it casts on your palm. Notice its ridges, and the particular colors it contains.

Placing the raisin between your fingers now, observe all of its texture with even more awareness. How does it feel to brush your fingers over the raisin? Feel the ridges on its surface. 

Now bring the raisin up towards your nose. As you inhale, simply notice any smells or scents that you detect. Or if you cannot detect a scent, simply notice that as well, without judgment. 

Slowly take the raisin and place it gently in your mouth. Observe what happens within your mouth when you do; perhaps you’ll find yourself salivating, or notice your tongue “reaching out” towards the raisin as you place it in your mouth. Before chewing, simply notice whatever sensations come up in your mouth now that you’ve placed the raisin on your tongue. 

Take a single bite into the raisin, and notice how doing so affects your mouth and tongue. Notice the different textures that you can now pick up on. When you’re ready, continue to slowly chew the raisin. But before swallowing, again simply notice all that’s occurring right now in your mouth, mind, and body. 

When you’re ready, swallow the raisin, and continue to observe any feelings, reactions, thoughts, and emotions that come up for you as you do. Without judgment, bring full awareness to whatever is happening inside of you, and take a minute to merely sit with those reactions with your eyes closed.

Self Compassion Practices for Happiness

According to Positive Psychology Research and Trainer Dr. Jonah Raqette, practices that focus on deepening our compassion for ourselves also contribute to our overall happiness. Experiment with writing the letter below, one of many effective Self-Compassion exercises, and notice the possibility of softening to yourself, relaxing, and inviting more compassion, ease, and happiness.

Self Compassion Practice #1: Letter of Self-Compassion
In this exercise, you’ll begin exploring how to build self-compassion when it comes to areas of your life you normally criticize.

Instructions: We all have things about ourselves that we don’t like, or that we tend to criticize. These might include something about the way we look, how we perform at work, or how we behave or don’t behave around others. These feelings of inadequacy are painful indeed, but are an inevitable part of life for all of us. Take a moment and reflect on one of these aspects of yourself that you often focus on in a negative way. Feel whatever emotions come up for you and notice the sorts of judgments that arise in your mind when you reflect on this issue.

Next, think about someone in your life who is kind, caring, loving, and compassionate towards you. It can either be a real person with whom you feel closeness and trust, or if you prefer, someone you imagine. This person can see your best qualities, as well as your areas of weakness. They understand and care for you, in good times and in bad. They understand that you are a human being, with strengths as well as flaws. Above all, they accept you and love you unconditionally, imperfections and all.
For the next few minutes, write a letter to yourself from the point of view of this friend. Focus in particular on the issue you came up with earlier, whether it was something to do with appearance, career success, behavior, or how you are in a particular relationship. What might this friend say to you regarding your perceived flaw or failure? How might they offer you comfort and demonstrate caring towards you? What might they do to show you kindness and compassion? How might their voice sound? What feelings would they want to convey towards you? Imagine this scenario, and allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up.

When you are ready, fill your letter with the sense of compassion and love that this friend has for you. Once you have finished writing it, re-read the letter to yourself, letting the words sink in. Close your eyes, and feel the warmth and compassion flowing over you. Feel it growing and welling up inside of you. It is yours now, an infinite and renewable source of love and support, here for you whenever you need it.

Kindness and Compassion Practices for Greater Happiness

Positive Psychology Trainer Dr. Jonah Paquette teaches us that practices to show kindness and compassion to others have the additional benefit of contributing to our own happiness. Two kindness and compassion practices are described below: Acts of Kindness and Volunteering. When we are kind to others, it generates a positive feeling for them but also for us and contributes to our overall sense of well-being.

Kindness and Compassion Practice #1: Five Acts of Kindness

Instructions: In our everyday lives, we all perform acts of kindness towards others, and receive similar kindness as well. Some of these acts may be small, while others may seem much larger in scope. Sometimes the person for whom the kind act is being performed may not even be aware of the act. Examples of kind acts include donating blood, volunteering, helping paint a friend’s house, feeding a stranger’s expired parking meter, or bringing coffee to work for a colleague. Over the next week, choose a single day of the week to serve as your “kindness day,” and perform five acts of kindness towards others on that day. Repeat this practice for at least four weeks.

Example: Kindness Day/Date: Tuesday, November 11 

Kind Act #1: This morning, I brought coffee for the support staff at work.
Kind Act #2: Today, I sent a small donation for disaster relief efforts in the Philippines following a recent devastating storm.
Kind Act #3: At noon, I smiled and asked the grocery store checkout clerk how her day was going.
Kind Act #4: This evening, I sent a message checking in on a friend I haven’t seen in a few years.
Kind Act #5: Today, I tracked down and personally thanked a co-worker for their excellent and hard work with a mutual patient.

Impressions: Performing a few of these small acts of kindness not only felt good, it turned out to be fun, too. I especially enjoyed doing things that brought me face-to-face with other people so that I could directly see the impact of my kindness on them. For example, when I brought coffee in for our support staff, I could really see how touched and appreciative they were. I think in the future I’d like to keep coming up with ways to directly interact with others during my kind acts, because that seems to feel especially meaningful to me.

Kindness and Compassion Practice #2: Volunteering and Community Service in your community is also an option for a happiness building practice in the area of kindness and compassion. VolunteerMatch is a great website to check out opportunities in your community to help out.

Gratitude Practices for Increased Happiness

Dr. Jonah Paquette is a Trainer in Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology research studied the beliefs and behaviors of happy, content people to figure out what practices they engage in -- so that we can learn from them in order to increase our own experiences of happiness everyday. Dr. Paquette encourages us to practice gratitude as a way to build more happiness in our lives. Here are a few practices you can try. 

Gratitude Practice #1: Three Good Things

Instructions: Each night for the next two weeks before you go to bed, write down three things that went well for you that day. These good things can be relatively small or minor occurrences, or they can be larger and of greater significance to you. Below each positive event that you list, please write down an answer to the question “Why did this good thing happen?” or “What was my contribution to this good thing?” After two weeks, write a brief reflection on how this practice impacted your mood.


Good Thing #1: I had a fulfilling day at work and my sessions with clients went well.
Why this happened/My contribution: I made sure I got plenty of sleep last night and tried to be very present and attuned in my sessions today.

Good Thing #2: My partner cooked my favorite dinner, spaghetti and meatballs.
Why this happened/My contribution: I expressed gratitude and thanked her the last time she cooked, and told her how much I appreciated it.

Good Thing #3: It was a beautiful and sunny day outside when I was driving to work.
Why this happened/My Contribution: I took the time to notice and appreciate the weather, instead of being on “autopilot” on my way to work.

Gratitude Practice #2: Gratitude Letter/Visit


We all have people in our lives – friends, parents, teachers, mentors, colleagues, coaches, bosses, and so forth – who have helped us throughout the years. Think about someone in your life who has helped you along the way, but whom you have never properly thanked. For the purpose of this exercise, think about an individual who lives near enough to you such that you can visit them in the next few weeks. Write a detailed and thorough letter of gratitude towards this person, expressing your feelings towards them. Thank them for all that they have done for you, and how their kindness impacted your life. Revise the letter as needed, and when you feel satisfied with it, set up a meeting with that individual but don’t yet tell them the true purpose of your visit. When you meet this person, please either read them the letter aloud or have them read it in your presence. Talk to them about what it was like for them, and share your feelings with them as well. After doing this exercise, write a brief reflection about what the experience was like for you, and how it felt.

How this exercise works: We’ve all heard about the power of gratitude and the interpersonal component of gratitude may be the most potent ingredient of this practice. This exercise is essentially interpersonal gratitude on turbo power. Not only are we reflecting on and identifying people to whom we feel grateful, we are expressing it directly to them in both written and verbal form. Thus, we are opening the gateway for increased closeness and connection with that individual.

Getting started: I recommend using a fresh sheet of paper to write your letter (or better yet, using a computer so that you can edit as needed). To get started, I invite you to reflect on a few people whom you might have interest in writing your letter to. Think about someone who has helped you along the way, but whom you wish to thank in an in-depth and heartfelt way. Consider the following questions to generate ideas and start formulating the basis of your gratitude letter:

Whom do I feel gratitude towards?
What does this person mean to me?
What did he/she do to help me?
What would I like to say to this person?
What emotions come up as I reflect on this person?
How is my life different because of this person?

Practicing Happiness in Unprecedented Times

by Lindsay Roznowski

These days, I have a special resentment in my heart for the phrase “unprecedented times.” The past few years have been unpredictable, confusing, and anxiety-provoking as we learn how to do pretty much everything differently. The need to constantly adapt and engage in novel problem-solving for situations that our life experiences have not prepared us for has us all feeling frayed and exhausted. As we emerge from the turmoil of the last two years, many of us have reflected on how we want to show up in the world moving forward. An unpredictable life event that undermines your feeling of security in the world has a way of urging us toward that kind of self-reflection. Personally, this time has motivated me to ask myself: “How do I want to live? How do I want to thrive in ways that I was not pre-pandemic?” Much of what came up for me was that I needed to find ways to prioritize myself in proactive and consistent ways. Everyone talks about self-care, but how often do we prioritize self-care like we would a work appointment or our child’s soccer game? How many of us fully grasp the “putting the oxygen mask on yourself first” metaphor, but still wake up every day and somehow put ourselves last?

The need for proactive and consistent self-care brought to mind a terrific training I attended a few years ago on Positive Psychology with Dr. Jonah Paquette. Positive Psychology is defined as “the scientific study of strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” Positive Psychology is founded on the belief that people desire meaningful and fulfilling lives and wish “to cultivate what is best within themselves to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.” (Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania). I came away from the training understanding that happiness can and should be invested in and built on a regular basis and that constructing positivity in our lives takes practice just as other life skills do. During the training we worked with this specific definition of happiness: “The experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” (Sonja Lyuborminsky, Ph.D.) Research shows that happier people are healthier people and that happiness has several significant causal effects including psychological (increased life satisfaction, lower rates of depression and anxiety, increased resiliency), physical (increased longevity, improved health, stronger immune system, coping with chronic illness), and life (stronger marriages, closer relationships, improved job performance). Happiness means different things to different people, especially generationally, but Dr. Paquette highlighted this important fact—no matter who you are, happiness comes with practice.  

Dr. Paquette discussed several notable barriers to our happiness including happiness forecasting, hedonic adaptation, and a negative brain. He explained that as humans, we are the only species that engages in happiness forecasting, a practice in which we predict that we will be happy when something specific happens or when we achieve a specific goal (like our sports team winning the championship or getting that promotion at work). One of the biggest problems with happiness forecasting is that we are very bad at it; we habitually hang our hat of happiness on the hook of external events out of our control. And further, we often associate the achievement of happiness with something external, instead of investing in the work internally. In addition, research has found that even when we do externalize our happiness and focus on achieving something we think will make us happier, once we do, hedonic adaptation quickly sets in and we return to our relatively stable baseline level of happiness. On the neuroscience side, it is clear that our brains are like Velcro for negative thoughts and Teflon for positive thoughts, so we must practice positivity more often and more consistently in order for it to finally stick.

Dr. Paquette introduced us to happiness-building practices in numerous areas including: gratitude, kindness and compassion, self-compassion, mindfulness, connection, optimism, and signature strengths. A series of exercises on each of these practices are included below. Have fun experimenting with one or more of these powerful practices to strengthen your happiness!

Lindsay Roznowski is a Licensed Professional Counselor providing individual and family therapy to children, adolescents, and adults. Specialties include trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy; yoga and mindfulness; therapeutic work with children and adolescents; and family therapy. Lindsay teaches her clients happiness practices and skills derived from positive psychology as a way to invest in themselves and their self-care, especially during these complicated times. She is a certified yoga teacher and uses her background dialectical behavior therapy, mindfulness-based approaches, and trauma-focused therapy to offer her clients informed, holistic care. She works collaboratively with each client to create a therapy plan that acknowledges the whole person and supports the fullness of each client’s personal goals. In addition to counseling, Lindsay also offers therapeutic groups and workshops. For questions or to schedule a session, contact Lindsay at 215-326-9665 or at

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Changing Seasons and Shifting Gears

by Kathleen Krol, LCSW, RPT-S

It is nearly Labor Day already! How did another summer go by so fast, when just yesterday seemed like Memorial Day? 

We may look forward to the cooler, less humid days, changing colors of Autumn and the children heading back to school. Even so, it can still be hard to shift gears from the more laid back, relaxed pace of summer to the more structured and busy days of fall with its fuller work schedule, children’s after-school activities, sports, and homework, and the soon-to-be holiday season. We may appreciate the cooler weather and yet still dread the thought of longer nights and more time indoors, especially post-pandemic. 

Humans are wired for familiarity and comfort, so change is challenging for all of us. This article focuses on three parts as we shift gears and transition to the fall: (1) Preparation (2) Mindset, and (3) Coping and support strategies for ease with the process.  

Preparation: Our bodies need to acclimate to an earlier bedtime and rising. This can take time. Start planning a week or more prior to any changes in schedule. If you know you have to wake up an hour or more earlier starting the Tuesday after Labor Day, you may want to progressively go to sleep earlier in increments of 15 to 30 minutes per day; likewise, you’ll want to gradually shift your morning wake-up time.  Remember to get your body ready for a shift to “sleep mode” an hour before bed, by turning off electronics including TV, dimming lights, and winding down with a calming, sedentary activity. If you are having a tough time getting yourself or your children to turn off electronics earlier, start reducing the amount of time gradually during weekdays and add on extra time on Friday or a weekend day. 

We all need motivators when facing a transition, whether returning to work after vacation time off or to school after summer break. As encouragement or incentive, maybe add a little something to your children’s lunch bag or backpack to start and end the week for the first few weeks. It might be a favorite snack, stickers, an emoji, a note saying “Great Job! You finished your first week!” Adults need support with transitions too - and subtle reminders that fun doesn’t have to end with the fall equinox. Why not plan a hike in the mountains or an evening out with friends for early October? Families may find it fun to celebrate the end of the first month of school and/or the return to work from vacation by scheduling a family fun or party theme night. It can be something to look forward to and have everyone involved in the planning - from making decorations, deciding on food, and choosing the games to play and movie to watch.  

Mindset:  The law of attraction suggests that our positive or negative thoughts have an impact on how we actually experience the moments of our lives. When we look for negative, we often find it. Conversely, when we look through eyes of optimism, we may find the silver lining in even the bleakest times. While we cannot control or stop all negative circumstances from happening and will undoubtedly be upset about disruptions, detours, and painful events, we do have some control over how quickly we are able to embrace the natural feelings that arise and move past them. We can also reframe a situation by expanding our lens to see the potential positive in addition to the downside. As we enter the fall, what mindset do you have about this transition? Do you dread longer nights and time indoors or do you see opportunities to catch up on movies and reading, call friends or family, enjoy hot chocolate and apple cider, walk through the leaves, or snuggle up in a cozy blanket or near a fireplace? 

Have you thought about how you want the fall and remaining months of 2022 to go? Maybe summer went by too fast and you don’t even know where it went? Often life is like this. Wasn’t just yesterday the beginning of the new year? Why is it we only talk about resolutions when we trade in one year’s calendar for a new one? What if you allowed yourself some time for brief reflection with each season throughout the year, accepting the seasonal changes as a reminder to set purposeful intentions for the months ahead?

Here are some questions you may choose to ask yourself: What do I hope for this fall for myself and/or my family? What is most important for me to happen so I will feel more contentment when this year ends? What has worked in the past that I want to continue? What did not work last year that I need to do differently? What is one step I can take to start within the next couple of weeks?  

You may want to empower your children and teens with related questions: How do they want the school year to begin and the year to finish? How can they make it happen? What ways can you support them? What worked well last year that might be duplicated and what would they like different for the coming school year?

Coping: Positive affirmations or mantras can be a wonderful way to start the day, as can keeping a daily journal and having a regular meditation practice. You may want to pick something that can be your anchor throughout the day and every day. Like an anchor assists a ship in remaining stable through a storm, your anchor is what you go back to when you start to feel overwhelmed, stressed, or distracted. Your anchor could include any of the following suggestions or be something unique to you. It may be breath, feeling your heart center, movement, a scent, or a visual cue. Like meditation, when you start to feel the sensation of being ungrounded, bring your attention back to your chosen anchor and the current moment.  

A similar concept to an anchor is having a relaxation cue. Usually this is a visual cue that you might see throughout the day. Each time you see the object, it cues you to take a one-minute body scan for any tension followed by use of breath and release of the tension or progressive muscle relaxation for the tense part. Your visual relaxation cue might be the time display on your laptop, a watch or a ring, a picture, or object. Periodically doing one minute body scans and taking a conscious breath to release tension can support you in reducing any emotional stress you are holding in your body and increasing self-awareness about times when you feel relaxed - and moments when tension begins to build.
Finally, remember to have compassion and kindness for your partner, your children, and, most importantly, for yourself. Transitions and change in life can be challenging. If nothing else, give yourself credit for making it through each day: You are managing the best you can and even better than you think you are!

Kathleen Krol is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified EMDR Therapist and a Registered Play Therapist/Supervisor with 20 years of experience in the counseling field.  She collaborates with clients across the lifespan including adults, children, teens, and families using a family focused and integrative approach to treatment. Areas of expertise include trauma, anxiety, phobias, depression, grief/loss and adoption and attachment issues. She specializes in EMDR for all ages, Family Therapy, Play Therapy, Sand Tray and Sand Focusing Therapy and Parent Coaching. To learn more, go to or contact her at or 215-289-3101#1 for a phone consultation.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Readjusting to Socializing

by Carolyn Abele, MS, LPC

Coming out of a pandemic has been one of the most challenging transitions I have ever encountered.  I constantly hear Gloria Estefan sing, “Coming out of the dark, finally see the light now, it’s shining on meeeeeeeee” when I enter the world and interact with others.  It’s like my brain picked the post random song to somehow explain to my system what is going on.  I am finding I now need to change my social battery less frequently, and it takes longer to recover after being social. Readjusting to interacting and socializing has showed me that my energy doesn’t match the output needed, and I must adjust how I move in life.

In quarantine I found I learned to slow down and just be.  Be quiet, be content, move slow.  Now as we return to some kind of “new normal” I am finding that I am giving myself permission to say “no”.  No to the party. No to dinner in a loud, crowded restaurant. No to my kids who want to go to Target on the weekend.  I mean, Target is my place, but never on a busy weekend day.  I want to quietly stroll the aisles and get the things I need versus want.  I’ve learned a sense of calm satisfaction to get just what is needed and nothing more.  No stockpiling extras, no “just in case” snacks.  Life can be simpler.  “No, thank you”, “No, thanks that’s really not my thing”, or “Nope” come out of my mouth more freely, without guilt.  

Just a few weeks ago my whole family went to a school event.  It was loud and insane.  Ahead of time, I was feeling a little peeved knowing I would have to leave in the middle of it to take my daughter to dance class.  I anticipated that she was going to have a really hard transition, and I didn’t want the drama or to have to make her leave unwillingly.  Funny enough, I worried about something that wasn’t even an issue.  My husband and I playfully argued over who GOT to leave the party and go to ballet that night (playing taxi was typically not a desired Friday night!).  After less than thirty minutes, both of us were done, and our daughter was too.  Leaving a highly stimulating buzz of activity midstream may have been a hardship two years ago, but now? We all adjusted to a quieter life, and in the transition back to the whirlwind of before, we can feel overwhelmed. It’s okay to let it be what it is now. And let ourselves feel what we feel now. Sometimes it is too much. We don’t need to be at all the events, all of the time, for the whole time.  

I’m leaning in as my system and body tell me when enough is enough.  I give myself permission when I don’t want to do something social.  I chose events that appeal to me and to my family.  When I chose what to attend, I am almost always happy I went. I also love coming home again. I have “come out of the dark” (as Gloria Estefan reminds me), and I am much more tuned in to my internal energy and the experiences that feed and deplete me.
Carolyn Abele, MS, LPC works with teens and families as well as individuals.  She specializes in working with individuals with anxiety and depression, as well has helping adolescents and their families with behavior related challenges. To connect with Carolyn, please call 215-354-7941 or visit her website.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Sleeping through the pandemic

by Barbra Danin

Most of us are all too familiar with the anguish of waking up in the middle of the night, struggling to fall back asleep and worrying about how we’ll manage the next day without our rest.  During the pandemic, we slept more and less:  working from home allowed many of us to turn off their alarm clocks and sleep in, but the stress many experienced made it restless, poor quality sleep. 


A great deal of research supports the CDC findings that sleep deprivation has many deleterious effects on our health, physiology and overall wellbeing and quality of life.  This includes fatigue, irritability, mood shifts, and difficulty with learning, concentration and memory.  Our immune system becomes compromised, our metabolism changes, and blood pressure can rise. 


Although the amount of necessary sleep varies from individual to individual, on average adults require a minimum of 7 hours of per night. Estimates show that 1 out of every 3 adults do not meet that minimum.  


There are many reasons why we struggle with getting enough sleep, including our work schedules, stress, a sleeping environment that is not conducive to deep rest (noisy, uncomfortable temperature), use of electronic devices prior to bedtime, alcohol use, and other things.  The effects of sleep deprivation underscore the importance of practicing behaviors that promote healthy sleep and help maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle


Many often resort to medication usage to address sleep issues; however, there are many non-medical strategies have been shown to be equally if not more effective in helping us fall asleep and stay asleep.


Some recommendations by the National Sleep Foundation include:

-  daily exercise

-  maximizing light exposure during the day

-  consistent mealtimes

-  avoiding food and alcohol intake 2–3 hours before bedtime

-  limiting caffeine intake

-  limiting tobacco use

-  engaging in relaxing routines before bed

-  avoiding screens before sleep

-  keeping electronic devices away from sleeping area

-  creating a sleeping environment that enhances sleep:

   (reduced light and noise, cool temperatures)

-  maintaining regular bedtimes and rise times, even on weekends

-  getting out of bed after trying unsuccessfully for 20 minutes to fall asleep

-  using a mouth guard to manage grinding, gnashing or teeth clenching


Various relaxation practices, including meditation, mindfulness training, breathing exercises, and guided imagery can help reduce tension. Audio recordings and sleep apps can also be effective. Other products that could improve sleep include: white noise machines, anti-snore devices, sleep trackers, wedge pillows, and other products. Alternative therapies that people have found helpful include acupuncture, acupressure, massage, melatonin, valerian root, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, and Ayurvedic Medicine. Always check with a doctor before trying any new remedy. There may be adverse effects or interactions with medications.


Cognitive behavioral therapy: Known as CBT, this approach focuses on recognizing thought patterns that are interfering with relaxed sleep.  This therapy has shown positive outcomes in treating sleep disorders. 


If these measures do not help, consultation with a healthcare provider is recommended, especially if sleep deprivation is affecting the quality of life.


Barbra Danin, MA, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Clinical Art Therapist, and Certified EMDR Therapist.  She provides individual, couples, and family therapy.  Her specialties include treating children with anxiety, trauma, and behavioral issues – and empowering parents with concrete tools for lasting change.  Learn more at and Contact her at (314) 477-8585 or

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Transforming Sorrow into Connection

by Vanessa Mortillo


“When we come from a place of love, everything shifts for us.”

-Lama Palden Drolma


A powerful tool I have turned to when I find myself overwhelmed with the suffering of others is the Buddhist practice of Tonglen, or “sending and receiving.” This practice invites us to take in suffering and pain, and then move it outward into the world as greater compassion and joy. The first part of the practice includes breathing in the suffering. At first glance this sounds counterintuitive, but for many of us, the suffering is already stuck inside. In her book on Tonglen, Love on Every Breath, Lama Palden Drolma states, “many of us take in the suffering, and it simply sits in us, unprocessed, weighing us down.” She details the use of this practice to move the stuckness and hopelessness into greater compassion by turning our kindness outward. The second part of Tonglen, sending peace on the outbreath, invites us to deepen our connectedness to others in the world. This process in itself is healing. When we feel more connected we have access to our internal resources including love, compassion and empowerment. 


To get started, Pema Chodron guides us through a short Tonglen practice here

Practices for Keeping Our Hearts Open

Sometimes the pain of the outer world is so great that it can feel challenging to keep our hearts open. It has been a rough two years. Throughout these unprecedented times, we have found meaning and hope, inspired by our work and supported by our connections as a community. In a recent conversation of Resiliency Center practitioners, we talked about the impact of having great empathy in a time of tremendous pain. We explored the ways we keep our hearts open and caring and how we stay resilient in the process. None of us are perfect at this. Like everyone, it is a work in progress. Below are some of the practices we have found most helpful.

1.      Self-Care. Nutritious food, quality sleep, exercise, rest, play, and time spent in connection with friends, family, and nature. This also includes being mindful about our media consumption. Like the food we eat, the media we consume has a big impact on our mood and outlook. When we prioritize the basics of good self-care, we have a greater capacity to be present with others.


2.      Holding the “and.” Brittiney George highlighted the importance of holding the “and,” that bridge between the anguish and the joy, the hate and the love. She spoke about how important it is to let them co-exist. Biologically, we are hard wired for survival.  That means we are set up to pay more attention to what is wrong. However, if we only let ourselves register what feels bad and don’t allow ourselves to also feel what feels good, we will be stuck in that fight-or-flight fear reaction and miss out on all the gifts life has to offer. Brittiney describes the “and” as “the color in the black and white world, the 64 crayon box with the sharpener in the back.” During times of acute distress, personally or globally, we may only see darkness. We may have to look harder for the color, for the goodness.

3.      Be present with our emotions. Jen Perry shared wisdom from Gabor Maté who states that one of the needs of humans as they are developing is the space to feel the full range of human emotions fully. Unfortunately, most of us are not given this space. As a result, we become fearful of our feelings and of other people’s feelings. When someone is expressing strong emotion we view it as a problem to fix, instead of an experience to experience. Efforts to silence our emotions can manifest in our bodies, in the form of headaches, pain, fatigue, and agitation. If we could feel safe to feel ours and others emotions fully, we could accompany each other on this journey with compassion instead of exhaustion. As we feel safe and soften, allowing ourselves to ride the wave of emotion, it is a wave: it rises, crescendos, falls again. By being present with whatever feelings arise within us, without working to stop that flow, we find a new freedom, a release, a relief, a freer inhale and exhale. Jack Kornfield in A Path with Heart writes: “What we find as we listen to the songs of our rage or fear, loneliness or longing, is that they do not stay forever. Rage turns into sorrow; sorrow turns into tears; tears may fall for a long time, but then the sun comes out. A memory of old loss sings to us; our body shakes and relives the moment of loss; then the armoring around that loss gradually softens; and in the midst of the song of tremendous grieving, the pain of that loss finally finds release.”


4.      One moment at a time. Resiliency Center practitioner Therese Daniels shares, “Thinking about how to help the whole world is extremely overwhelming and not possible. One moment, one person, one situation at a time. That’s what is possible. One small thing can create ripples that affect so many people. We can show up for ourselves and our people. Spread love, show love. If we think small, bigger things will happen, eventually.”

5.      Boundaries. Brittiney George reminds us that when we truly honor our needs and energy, our ability to be with, sit with, and hold space for others increases . Our ability to experience gratitude and joy does too. Begin by asking ourselves, “What do I have the capacity for that is sustainable for me?” Listen to the answer that arises. Honor that boundary.

6.      Connect to the goodness in humanity. Focus on acts of kindness. Read stories of heroism that emerge. We were moved by the story of the mothers in Poland leaving strollers at the train station for all the mothers arriving from Ukraine, the firefighters in New Jersey gathering firefighting uniforms, hats, and boots to send overseas, and the reporters risking their lives to tell the truth.

7.      Care, not Carry. It is also important to remember that while we can care deeply, we don’t have to carry what we care about. We can be with others without feeling responsible for them.

8.      Gratitude. We can find gratitude for the goodness in our own lives. And for life itself. Elizabeth Venart posted a daily gratitude post on Facebook for eighteen months. Some days featured seemingly trivial posts (catching that green arrow at the traffic light) while other days yielded more profound observations (reflecting on the kindness of a stranger, the beauty in nature, and the wisdom of a child). It not only helped improve her own outlook, but others responded that it uplifted their days as well. Seeing the old posts pop up on her Newsfeed still brings a smile. Of course, there is no need to make your reflections public. Keeping a daily gratitude journal of one to five things for which you are grateful can help shift your perspective and improve our mood. You could also experiment with writing down the positives from the day – moments of beauty, kind words spoken, favorite funny moments, a great line from a book you read, anything that uplifts or inspires. And why not include what you are looking forward to tomorrow? When we look for positives, we are likely to see more positives. What we garden (and water) grows.

Open-Heartedness in a Time of Heartbreak

by Elizabeth Venart

Facing my blank computer screen on March 7, 2022, I struggle to find words to adequately express my heartbreak at the devastation in Ukraine. I watch news reports of Russia violently invading, bombing buildings, destroying homes and neighborhoods, and sending millions of Ukrainian citizens fleeing their homeland. I watch footage of thousands escaping on foot and by train, with only a small backpack of possessions remaining from the life they cherished. I see the courage of those who stay, those who fight back, the leader who, despite the world’s estimation that he has only a fraction of the military resources of his attacker, stands up and demands his voice be heard and boundaries honored. I am awed too by the bravery of citizens in Russia who oppose their government’s actions, facing arrest, prison sentences of fifteen years, and worse.

As I watch news coverage from the comfort of my home, in my peaceful neighborhood, in a town free of explosions and terror, I am aware of my privilege. I recognize that we may be sitting on the precipice of a World War in which peace anywhere is potentially under threat. I also recognize that is not my experience in this moment. In this moment, I have the luxury of a relaxed in-breath and out-breath, the presence of my family members and pets, and the ability to reach loved ones over the phone and know they are safe. I can drive and travel unencumbered, and I know where I will rest my head to sleep at day’s end. I am acutely aware of these gifts of home and safety and peace – and sense more deeply the need not to take them for granted.  

Keeping our eyes and hearts open, our compassion intact can be some of the hardest work. Sometimes the cruelty and suffering we witness is so intense we may feel overtaken by anger and thoughts of vengeance. Or we may feel frozen in response to it. We may numb out, avoid the news, and avoid conversations for fear of hearing more news. We may become consumed in something rather mindless, like playing Wordle, Quordle, and Octordle (my favorite three distractions these days). We may tune out, shut down, pretend nothing is happening. It is natural to feel a whole host of emotions in response to suffering. It is also natural to experience these emotions in waves, rising and falling in our consciousness. 

It is painful to stand back and do nothing when our hearts feel the pull to help. If my nextdoor neighbor is struggling or has experienced a loss, I can sit with them. I can make a casserole. I can mow their lawn or clear the snow off their car. I want to help, to act, to do. But what can we do when the ones suffering are a continent away?

On a pragmatic level, there are some things we can do. We can participate in social and political activism – putting pressure on elected officials and corporations to impose sanctions and take actions that might have a positive impact. We can also make donations in support of humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. These actions do matter. (Resource links for sending aid to Ukraine appear later in the newsletter.)

Rather than succumb to a sense of futility about making a difference, we may seek an outlet for that inhibited desire. Maybe we organize a local food drive to help the homeless in our own community or volunteer for the Red Cross. Or maybe we channel that energy into training for a marathon, planning a family reunion, reconnecting with old friends. . . finding something we can do.

These are tumultuous times. Times of change, upheaval, fear, courage, heroism, and transformation. Many of us are only slowly re-emerging from a time of prolonged isolation. Connection is good for our souls. It provides a pathway through times of anguish. Invite opportunities for laughter among friends, meaningful conversation, sharing hugs and meals, reigniting our sense of community after two years of time apart. We can bolster one another.

In 1973, E.B. White responded to a despairing reader with the following letter of hope. While written in the context of that moment in history, the message's timeless and brought me some comfort. I hope his words will resonate with you as well.

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out. Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”

Elizabeth Venart is the Founder and the Director of The Resiliency Center and a Licensed Professional Counselor whose practice focuses on supporting Highly Sensitive Persons and other therapists (through counseling, clinical consultation and training). Her counseling and consulting work integrates EMDR Therapy and IFS to help people heal past trauma and experience transformational change. Her free offerings include  a weekly laughter yoga class, a monthly Rumi and Friends Spiritual Poetry Evening, and a monthly gathering for EMDR Therapists in the Greater Philadelphia area. To learn more, visit her website.