Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is an important part of communication, especially when spouses are discussing emotions or conflict. If you are craving positive changes in your communication, start the journey by putting effort into becoming a better listener. This type of listening requires two levels of skill: intentional listening combined with intentional responding.

First, genuinely hear what the other person is saying through verbal and nonverbal exchange. A person’s words, tones, and volumes can say a lot, but that same person is simultaneously sending messages through body language, eye contact, and gestures. Remember, a good listener does not interrupt the speaker.

Second, choose to respond in ways which communicate that you have respectfully listened to the speaker. Those responses start as soon as the speaker begins; you show that you are listening by looking at the speaker and positioning your body so that the speaker has your full attention. You can also respond with words to show that you have heard the speaker.

Try using paraphrasing statements. You’ll be acting as a mirror, reflecting back what you have heard by using statements like:

  • I hear you saying that…
  • It sounds like you are feeling…
  • I get the impression that…

Try to learn more by using clarifying statements/questions such as:

  • Can you clarify what you meant about…
  • I’d like to hear more about your view on…
  • Would you please share an example of…
  • What was that experience like for you?
  • What are you feeling about that?

The key is this: wait to share your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences until it is your turn. Once the first speaker feels heard and understood, that person will be more likely to hear what you are about to say. Couples counseling is a great place to practice reflective listening with your spouse because you’ve got someone who can objectively walk you through the process.

At home, start by practicing these skills during less intense moments (such as when your spouse is telling you about a trip to the grocery store), then practice during moderately emotional moments (when your spouse is telling you about a stressful experience. Ultimately, reflective listening is one important part of healthy conflict resolution with your spouse. Here are some extra things to keep in mind:

Gottman Skills


Mental Health & The Church

Last night, we had our family portrait taken for our church’s directory. As we sat on the stools in our color-coordinated attire, surrounded by photos of other families in their sweaters and suit coats, I realized how deceiving this directory might be. I think it can be all too easy to hide real-life issues behind things like smiles and glamour shots, our talents and knowing the words to worship songs. I am grateful for my pastors, who are not afraid to talk about abuse, anxiety, sex trafficking, and other real-life issues from the pulpit, but I know there is room for more of these conversations in every congregation. We can spend so much time pouring energy into looking the way a church directory family should look that we miss out on checking our hearts and keeping them oriented toward Him. I’m not suggesting that we scrap church directories (they are very helpful for learning about the congregation, learning names of new folks, and finding out where to deliver casseroles). But I do feel like there should be a disclaimer– “Every single family pictured in this directory is imperfect. They might yell at each other, drive aggressively, deal with an illness you can’t see, or have a struggle you don’t know about. Each person pictured needs the same amount of Jesus and His grace.”

And then I was reminded that I’m not alone in that desire for authenticity.

Earlier this month, North Park Church graciously invited me to serve as the keynote speaker for their 2015 Women’s Retreat. I treasured spending part of the day with the scores of women who are eager to experience trust, transparency, and truth. The topic they had planned was “Staying Safe in the Storms of Life,” and I love how beautifully they started some mental health conversations, especially in their small groups. I’d like to highlight a few things that I think we can all take away from their retreat:

  1. You are not alone. The first part of my presentation was focused on deciphering myth from truth. Take a look at these NAMI statistics. With one in four American adults experiencing mental illness each year, it would be ludicrous to expect that our churches would be immune to things like depression, abuse, anxiety, schizophrenia, and addiction. I think it is easy to fall into a hole where we believe that we can (and should) have it all together. This is especially dangerous in our churches because we need to be humble enough to serve those around us and humble enough to ask for help. Everybody’s got something– normal is just a setting on your dryer.
  2. There is great need for mental health conversations in our churches. At the NPC Retreat, I spent some time highlighting anxiety, depression, and grief. Remember how 1 in 4 Americans experience mental illness each year? Now take a look at this recent data collected by LifeWay Research (you can download the full research by clicking here). Of the 1,000 pastors included in this research, almost two-thirds of them report that they rarely or never speak to their congregation about mental illness, even though 23% of the pastors reported personal struggles with mental illness. With odds like those, it’s important that churches recruit qualified individuals to start conversations, field tough questions, and help congregants find the additional help they need. My hope is that spiritual leaders and mental health leaders will join forces to serve congregations with love and quality. Together, we can #endthestigma
  3. There is hope. Luckily, in the moments when we are too tattered and beaten to cook or meet or pray, there are people who can help. Talk to someone in your community who can help you find someone to pray with you, cook for you, or take the kids so you can have a break. There are things you can do to take care of yourself during life’s storms and to love others in the middle of their storms. If you need some ideas, talk to your counselor, ask your church leaders, check out these resources, or contact me. Ultimately, He is our anchor in the midst of these storms, and we love because He loved us first. [Hebrews 6:19 “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure…”]

So what’s next? I hope to see similar conversations pop up in churches all over our area: women’s retreats, men’s retreats, youth retreats, Sunday schools, sermons, seminars. My goal is that we start these conversations and that they never end. May our churches be so filled with love and grace that people do not feel shunned or marginalized for not being “normal” enough. Perhaps we will create mental health prayer walls and ministries to meet the emotional needs of our congregations. Ultimately, I hope people will receive the quality mental health care they need and deserve without fear of stigma or rejection, especially in their churches.

If you would like to meet with me and discuss how I could bring similar discussions to your church, you can start now by contacting me here.


We missed out on an hour of sleep this weekend (even more than that for some Pittsburghers, since the Pens played an awesome game in L.A. on the same night we had to spring ahead). Those 60 minutes can mean a lot to those of us who appreciate sleep and the energy it brings, and this loss reminded me of the importance of balance in my life.

People are a lot like ATMs. If we are frequently making withdrawals without making deposits, we’ll be in big trouble and end up paying more in the long run. Similarly, if we don’t invest in our intellectual, spiritual, emotional, social, and physical selves, we will be depleted and exhausted.

To be clear, I don’t believe that perfect balance is attainable, let alone maintainable. New parents don’t get as much sleep as they desire, which depletes physical resources. Someone quarantined with the flu misses out on social interactions for a while. When winter weather calls for cancellation of church services, we miss out on spiritual deposits. With all of the things life brings, it is important to stay tethered to something to remind us of the importance of whole-being wellness.


I keep a copy of this chart in the front of my journal to remind myself that I am made up of parts, all of which must be nurtured in order to feel well. I share this with clients to learn about their self-care routines and habits. Now I’m sharing it with you! As I list some examples of each, think about balance in your own life. Make a list of the ways you already take care of yourself in each area. And remember, one life task might meet more than one need! (For example, taking a class at the gym might be both physical and social.)

Intellectual. We all need mental stimulation and challenge. Active students meet this need naturally as they fulfill the demands of their institutions. Some people have jobs that fill up this part of the pie. Others find ways to build intellectual time into their lives: puzzles, sudoku, cards, planning the family calendar, balancing the checkbook. Anything strategic taps into our intellectual selves.

Spiritual. Some spiritual investments are communal: religious services, meetings, retreats. Others are more personal or private: prayer, meditation, study, research. Whatever your spiritual background, it is important to make time to think about where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’d like to go next. Find people you trust, ask difficult questions, have deep conversations, and seek accountability.

Emotional. Counseling, journaling, talking to a friend, doing something artistic, going to a movie that makes you laugh (or cry): all of these things can be helpful for processing and getting perspective on our emotions. Feeling emotionally exhausted for an extended period of time is a sign that there may be deeper things to consider. A trusted counselor can help you process forgiveness, shed light on past secrets, and talk about things that may have been weighing you down for a long time.

Social. This area is often a reflection of how introverted or extroverted you are. For some people, parties are energizing. For others, large groups of people are exhausting. Both approaches can be healthy, but it is important to know what is most helpful for you. Do you prefer large parties and loud concerts or lunch with a friend and writing notes to loved ones? It is important to try things outside your comfort zone, but please find ways that you can engage with your community without draining all of your energy.

Physical. Sleeping, eating, and getting physical activity are the three main aspects of physical self-care. I also encourage my clients to find ways to experience safe physical touch every day if possible: hugs from friends, massages, physical therapy, cuddling with pets, holding hands with a loved one.

Now take a look at your list. Which area is your strongest? Which is your weakest? What are some things you can do to strengthen your weak spots? If you’re in a season where balancing each area isn’t realistic, where will you find your hope and strength?

Snowy Reminders

I craved a white Christmas, but the snow waited until January to arrive (which is par for the course in Pittsburgh). Now that it’s here, I am reminded of how good snow is for my soul. It brings brightness to the Western PA winters, and gives the ground time to rest and prepare for spring. Although it is easy to get frustrated when I’m shoveling or trying to get through a snowy commute, I try to intentionally remind myself of a few things. I hope they’ll bless you, too!

1- Our Creator is creative. Have you looked a snowflake lately? I mean, really looked? The unique, intricate details of snowflakes remind me that we have a lot of individuality to celebrate. You are different from your spouse, siblings, coworkers, and friends. Instead of allowing our differences to divide us, we can choose to allow them to point us to the Creator of the variations.

2- There’s even more beauty when we stick together. As wonderful as it can be to appreciate individual snowflakes, something beautiful happens as they’re quilted together to create a fresh blanket of snow. Before it is touched by any creature, it is smooth, sparkly, and peaceful. It insulates and holds water for the dormant plants. The snowy blankets remind me that unity serves a purpose; there are things we can only accomplish when we are unified. Bonding and togetherness are crucial, even on the coldest days.

3- We are forgiven. Isaiah 1:18 is a reminder that, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Jesus paid the price. (A great book to help you dive deeper into this wool metaphor–and many others–is Margaret Feinberg’s Scouting the Divine.)

4- It is important to make time to have fun. Warm up with a hot beverage. Build a snowman. Take a nap. Play a game. Cuddle with a pet. Winter can be a very difficult season, so it’s important to care for yourself in little ways. Aromatherapy and happy lights can be good additions to your routine, and having a trusted counselor can help you watch out for depression. (Of course, you should consult with your doctor to find out what works best for you.)

5- Let’s love our neighbors (and be loved by them). Snow, ice, cold, and darkness present countless opportunities each winter for us to love and be loved. Just like each snowflake has a unique beauty to offer, so do we. How can you love? Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk? Donate a meal? Share a hug? Offer a prayer? Love your neighbor. And what do you need? A warm place to stay? An encouraging word? Transportation? Allow someone to love you.

As frustrating as Winter can be, let’s choose to see it as a season of opportunity.

Disability Resources

Last month, I highlighted some of Pittsburgh’s crisis resources. I wanted to build onto that list, adding some disability resources for our area. Below you’ll find a list of some of the organizations who offer services available to Western Pennsylvanians. For more information, contact them using the information listed below each organization.

 PA 2-1-1

Phone: Dial 2-1-1


This is a great place to get started since it offers assistance for things like housing, utilities, and food. There are also great resources for military members, veterans, and their families.


ACCESS Paratransit

Address: 650 Smithfield Street, Centre City Tower, Suite 440, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Phone: (412) 562-5353


This transportation service is for individuals who are aging and/or dealing with disabilities.


Three Rivers Center for Independent Living (TRICIL)

Address: 900 Rebecca Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA  15221

Phone: (412) 371-7700


TRICIL offers information and referrals, peer support, transition services, independent living skills training, and advocacy. They also have a gym for people with disabilities as well as assistive technology and equipment.


UCP/CLASS (United Cerebral Palsy/ Community Living and Support Services)

Address: 1400 S. Braddock Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA   15218

Phone: (412) 683-7100 or (888) 954-2424


This organization offers attendant care services, community partners, vocational and residential support services, information and referrals, PA Assistant Technology Foundation, and a community services center.


Office of Vocational Rehabilitation

Address: 300 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA  15222

Phone: (412) 392-4950


This resource helps people with disabilities prepare for, find, and maintain employment. Services include: diagnostic services, vocational evaluation, counseling, training, assistive technology, placement assistance, and support services.


Working Order Program/ Volunteers of America

Address: 1650 Main Street, Pittsburgh, PA  15215

Phone: (412) 782-5344


This organization serves many purposes, particularly with transportation and employment.


Disability Options Network (DON)

Address: 1929 East Washington Street, Suite 1, New Castle, PA 16101


This organization serves western Pennsylvanians in a variety of ways including advocacy, support, referrals, and skills training.


Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living (TRIPIL)

Address: 69 East Beau Street, Washington, PA 15301

Phone: (724) 223-0160


This organization serves Washington, Greene, and Fayette Counties in a variety of ways including advocacy, community outreach, and an internet cafe.


Disability Rights Network

Address:429 Fourth Avenue, Suite 701, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: (412) 391-5225


This is a statewide organization aiming to protect and advocate for all Pennsylvanians with disabilities.


Casey Ball Support Services

Address: 7550 Saltsburg Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15235

Phone: (412) 793-0200; (844) 793-0200


This organization serves eligible adults with trained service coordinators, assessments, support plans, monitoring, and other services.


Accessible Dreams

Address: 69 East Beau Street. Washington, PA, 15301

Phone: (724) 223-5115


This organization provides services to modify current homes and delivery new homes for eligible persons with disabilities.


Uniquely the Same

Address: 217 Rush Valley Road, Monroeville, PA 15146

Phone: (412) 701-4432


This organization is, “assisting those affected by disability or economic disadvantage in order to improve the quality of life for all.”


Can you think of other organizations and services that belong on this list?

Leave their information in a comment below!