Finding Joy in the New: Welcome Brenda Cappy Gruhn

Please join me in welcoming Brenda Cappy Gruhn, NCC, LPC to the practice! Brenda comes with an array of experience in helping children, teens, and their families grow and make positive change. Below are some inquiries, answered by Brenda so that you can get to know her better.

What makes you smile? Why?  

I love to smile, so I do it often!  There are a lot of things that make me smile, but I would have to say baby animals, especially baby pandas and baby elephants, always make me smile!  Their cute personalities that show through their interactions with their surroundings are the best at making me belly laugh!

What was the most interesting place you have traveled? Why? 

I loved going to Italy, particularly Cinque Terra, a series of five fishing villages on the Mediterranean.  The villages are built on sea cliffs and the beautiful colors of the homes, the relaxed lifestyle (there are no cars in the little towns!), the warm, welcoming people and the feelings of being in another century are amazing to me!  

What is a small act of kindness you experienced and will never forget?

As a school counselor, many students often made cards for me.  Some of my very favorite ones were the ones thanking me for helping in some way.  One time a student wrote on a school-wide kindness wall, “Thank you for everything you do, even though most of it goes unnoticed.” It meant SO MUCH to me to have a fifth-grade boy notice my hard work and be brave enough to write it to me where all of the other students in the school would see it.  I felt very appreciated that day!

If you could be an insect, which would you be?

A lady bug.  I think they are the cutest of all the insects!

What was the last movie you saw? Thoughts on it?

I recently watched the original “Pete’s Dragon” by Disney. I had remembered that I loved it as a little kid, but really didn’t recall much more about it.  I absolutely loved it!  All of the songs came back to me as if I had just heard them and the story about true friendship and needing others is both poignant and magical. 

What is the most recent photo saved to your phone? Why did you take the photo?

A photo of my family from a recent get together.  We are all spread out across the world and we have the greatest times when we get together.  I took and kept the photo to remind myself to keep in touch with them, no matter how busy life gets!

Coffee or tea?


If you could have dinner with anyone, whether they are dead or alive, who would it be?

         My Grandmother.  She was the most caring, genuine person I have ever met.  I miss her all of the time and I would love a chance to have one more dinner with her and share some stories, laughs and hugs!

If Brenda’s responses spark an interest in change for you and you would like to make an appointment with her, please call 412-367-0575 or click here.

The Silence behind Mental Health

by Alissa Klugh, MS, LPC

Why do we stay so quiet about mental health? Why do so many people have such a hard time admitting when they need help? Why do we like to act as though everything is “okay” when it clearly is not? While we sit back and play pretend, hundreds of thousands of individuals suffer from the symptoms of mental health diagnoses. In accordance with World Mental Health Day 2018, I found it appropriate to blog about the silence behind mental health.

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I want to continue to bring awareness to the topic of mental health and the silence behind it. Being a clinician of many years, and, let’s face it, a human being, first, I have seen, first-hand how some people treat mental health needs. I’ve seen people pretend like they are “fine.” I’ve seen people come to treatment and refuse to let their insurance company cover the costs because they do not want “anybody to know” that they are seeking treatment. I’ve seen multiple people come in because “my mom wants me here” or “my husband thinks I need to talk to someone.” But what happens so less often is people being truly open to and about seeking assistance.

Finding someone to talk to does not make a person any less of a person. And, no, I am not “just saying this because [I am] a therapist.” I am saying this because we are each people, first. No matter what the problem, what the diagnosis, what the symptoms are, we are human beings with those challenges happening, not the challenge, then the human being.

I’m talking about person-first language here, and if we want to become a “woke” society, then we need to start speaking in this way. We want people to know us, not our diagnosis, and until we start to speak and think in this manner, we are going to continue our stigmas. We need to think of people as humans, as individuals, before we start to identify their symptoms and what they’re going through. We matter. Our lives matter. What we are making of our lives and what arises in our lives, comes after.

Anyway, back to the silence behind mental health: How do we help others become more aware? How do we help people going through rough spots in their lives feel less ‘alone?’ How do we get people to talk more openly about their lives to trusting individuals? How do we support people in making changes? Here are some ideas, below:

  1. Be Compassionate: If you know someone who is going through a tough time, show them you care. This could be done as easily as letting them know you’re there to listen, even if you do not necessarily know how to make it better. Tell your loved one that you are glad that they are confiding in you and that you support their choice to see someone, if that is what they choose to do.
  2. Be Understanding: Your loved one may be embarrassed, scared, and not understanding his-/herself with everything that is happening. Ask questions. Try to be open. Keep your negative judgements to yourself. Remember that the first step to someone getting the help they deserve is reaching out to someone. If you are that someone, try to show you get it. Ask for clarification. Paraphrase what they’re telling you. If you get it wrong, ask them to restate it so that you can understand.
  3. Be Encouraging: Tell your loved one that you are proud of them for opening up, seeking treatment, or just taking those first steps to getting what they need. If they hit another bump in the road, continue to share your pride for the hard work they are doing. Ask them if you can play a role in their change.
  4. Be Open: If you are going through a challenging time, yourself. Don’t be afraid to seek help and open up. You aren’t always going to be able to “shrug off” problems that arise. Sometimes they go deeper than what we like to believe. If we are open to finding what we need to move in the right direction, and we let others know the process, we are helping increase the awareness.
  5. Be Aware: When/If you see someone who may be going through a challenging time, let them know of potential resources that are available. Share your personal stories or stories of others. If someone is struggling, refer back to numbers 1-4. Your compassion, understanding, encouragement, and openness may be what someone needs to light their path to growth and change. Don’t be afraid to open your eyes and take action.

The fact remains that, despite my tips to help the silence of mental health, there are still people out there who may be looking for one small sign to get the assistance they need. If you think this is your sign, please take it. I want you to be able to feel the way you are supposed to feel. I want you to have an open and available heart. I want you to feel like you again. You deserve it. Your loved ones deserve it. Do it for you. Do it for your mother. Do it for your wife. Do it just to say you did. Help one another. Support one another. Be the compassionate, loving people you were put on this earth to be. Just because you “messed up” once (or many times) in your life does not mean that you do not deserve another chance. Let’s love one another and be helpers.

Get rid of the silence.

You are welcome to use these tips to benefit you, or find other resources and help to move you in the right direction. It is your freedom of choice. I encourage you to find what is right for you and your journey.

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If you or someone you know is in need of mental health services, please contact your local/county human services department, or search or SAMHSA for resources in your area. They will be able to point you in the right direction for the change you are seeking. If you are in the Pittsburgh, PA area and would like to schedule an appointment with one of the clinicians at Pittsburgh Psychotherapy Associates, you can click, here (please remember that PPA is not a facility for mental health emergencies).

Other resources include, but are not limited to: the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or the Crisis Text Line, text 741741 for assistance.

If you are in need of immediate assistance, go to your local emergency room or pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1 to get help. 

New Additions: Welcome Nicole Brown, MS, LPC

IMG_4063Please join PPA in welcoming Nicole Brown, MS, LPC to our team! We are excited to have her aboard and cannot wait for her new journey to begin with us. Below is a questionnaire about Nicole so that you can get to know her better and consider her as your next clinician.

How would you describe your work in a six word sentence?  

My work is an “eye opener”.

What makes you smile? Why? 

My children make me smile. I love to see their personalities develop over time. I love to see their interactions with others and their interest in exploring and learning new things.

What was the last book you read that had an impact? What were your thoughts on it?  

Lovely Bones. Makes me realize how much goes on in this world that I am unaware of. Scary! Very good book and easy to read. I would definitely read it again. It was able to show both sides of loss and grief and how it affects everyone involved.

What was the most interesting place you have traveled? Why? 

I’ve been to many states however, I would like to say that Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee would be the most interesting. Beautiful cities and lots to do.

What is the word you use most often?  


What was the funniest thing you have ever experienced?

I am not sure why but this is hard for me to answer. I have experienced funny things but cant really pinpoint one.

What is a small act of kindness you experienced and will never forget?

My grandmother gave a lady a pair of gloves. We entered Walmart to get a few things and she grabbed a pair of gloves. I didnt question why she was getting them but when we exited she handed them to a lady who was gathering money for the Salvation Army. It was very cold out and she didn’t have any gloves.

When did you first know you wanted to work in the helping field?

When I attended my first Psychology class. I loved the class and really connected with the content.

If you could be an insect, which would you be?

Butterfly. They are pretty and can fly.

What was the last movie you saw? Thoughts on it? 

The Greatest Showman. The movie wasn’t one of my favorites but I would watch it again. Beautiful love story, which I always love.

What is the most recent photo saved to your phone? Why did you take the photo? 

My children. I was trying to capture a moment that I love. We read in the evenings before bed. I know this wont last forever so I try to take these moments slowly.

Coffee or tea?

Tea (cold preferably 🙂

What was your latest binge-watch show?

Grey’s Anatomy

What emotion do you think is most difficult to express?


How do you build trust in clients?

Listening and understanding the client. Develop an understanding of their likes and dislikes.

If you could have dinner with anyone, whether they are dead or alive, who would it be?

God. I would love to learn and grow more. I have a lot more to learn from that man 🙂

What is your favorite childhood memory? Why? 

Going camping with my family. It was something so simple but loved going

Did you have a role model when you were growing up? Who was it? Why?

My grandmother. She was strong minded and was super sweet to everyone, no matter how they treated her. My father-who always adapted to the situation. He was someone you can count on and was a good worker.


If you would like to schedule an appointment with Nicole, click here.

Change through Rehabilitation: Meet Andrea Bigenho

Please help us in welcoming Andrea Bigenho, CRC, LPC, to Pittsburgh Psychotherapy Associates, LLC. So you can get to know her better, we have included some questions and answers from Andrea.


How would you describe your work in a six word sentence?  

“I am honored to bear witness.”


What was the most interesting place you have traveled? Why?  

I found the Yucatán peninsula to have a fascinating array of biodiversity, and an extremely interesting cultural history.  I enjoyed traveling there and exploring the jungle, different marine habitats and the ancient ruins.  


What is a small act of kindness you experienced and will never forget?  


While in school, and during a particularly bad time in my life, I was having a moment of  tearfulness and overwhelm at a private spot on campus.  Through my tears I looked up to see a concerned woman standing next to me.  She asked me if I was okay, but before I answered she grabbed me and hugged me tight.  I cried in her arms for a moment before I thanked her and said that I would be okay.  Her kindness and concern and especially her just standing there holding me, a stranger, while I cried will forever stand out to me. 

When did you first know you wanted to work in the helping field?  

I have always known that my purpose was to help others.  I originally thought my calling was teaching, but have since recognized that I am more suited to individual and small group work with people who are experiencing difficulty.  Every year in this field has strengthened and confirmed my purpose of helping those who are struggling.    

What is the most recent photo saved to your phone? Why did you take the photo?  

I took a photo of a grouping of mushrooms and flora at the base of a tree in my yard.  I am always taking pictures of natural things because I find them to be the most beautiful things to behold.


What emotion do you think is most difficult to express? 

Anger seems to me to be the most difficult emotion for people to express.  I think this is in part due to our culture, and the ways in which we have been taught and socialized to express or repress anger.   It is also important to recognize that anger is most often an emotion that masks a deeper, negative core belief. 


If you would like to schedule an appointment with Andrea, please click here.

Why Does Communication Fail?

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By Alissa Klugh, MS, LPC

Communication is an interesting phenomenon, isn’t it? We’re meant to use it to share thoughts, ideas, and feelings to help us, yet it is a tool that can, unfortunately, tear us apart. When we are having relationship issues, once we look past the hurt and stop playing the blame game, the first place we look is at communication, and how it fix it. And what a great feat that is.

Be more open. Be direct. Let the other person know what you want. Don’t attack. Don’t raise your voice. Don’t shut down. So many rules.

What we fail to recognize is that communication is hard. Really hard, sometimes. Our emotions get in the way of truly sharing what it is we are thinking, oftentimes leaving us in a place of half-truths and omissions of our actual feelings. We’re left feeling unsatisfied with our conversations and don’t think we accomplished much.

So many individuals I’ve spoken with like to say that they are ‘great communicators’ and that they do not ‘let [their] feelings get the best of [them].’ Chances are, they’re wrong. Their emotions more than likely seep out in other ways. And that’s okay. As much as we, as a society, pride ourselves as being emotionless, sharing our emotional experience is actually one of the best ways to communicate.

It’s sad to think that we do not share because we think that we will look ‘weak’ or like the other person ‘won’ if we are actually honest about how we’re feeling. What type of world do we live in, if we cannot share our most raw and natural experiences with one another? Imagine a world based in truth and respect for one another.

And here is the truth about communication: We can be as open and direct as possible, but we cannot actually be successful at it if we do not have receptive listeners. I will say it again, in a different way, this time: Communication is reciprocal.

First, we must have those brave enough to indulge in the process of taking the initial step. The step of honesty and candidness. The initiator must be willing to be sincere enough to provide others with their vulnerabilities, and trust that those they are sharing with will reciprocate.

Next, the listeners must take a stance of objectivity. A part where they are not responding from a place of judgment, but a place of acceptance. We might not like what we are hearing sometimes, but if someone is going to be brave enough to give you their pure self, you must be acquiescent enough to hear them out, completely.

When the initial communicator is giving their input and perspective, the listener must find out if they are even interpreting the message correctly. We are asking the listener to be active in their listening skills. Ask questions to gain insight and not be afraid to be wrong, because the listener might be. You’re giving the initiator the opportunity to help you understand. Once you’re on the same page with understanding, you might then ask if you can give your ideas or observations. This then gives the initiator the opportunity to give you the same respect by asking you questions and making sure they understand you. At this point is when true conversation happens.

Here’s another novel idea: while you’re wrapped up in your reciprocal conversation of gaining insights and understanding, include how the situation, hearing about the experience, or your initial impressions make you feel. Use emotion words. Go another step further and guess how the other person might be feeling. Again, this is their opportunity to let you know if you are spot on with how they are digesting the situation.

People feel heard. People feel understood. People feel supported. Isn’t this what we’re all seeking when it comes to communication and relationships?

So, if you’re looking to improve your communication with your loved one, your colleague, your friend, whomever it may be, please take the time to see what happens in your conversations. Take an inside look at how you listen, how your share, how you emote. These are key indicators in figuring out if your communication is effective.

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One more thing. This blog did not touch on communication via social medium, text, or email. I’m going to hit on that difference, another time, so keep checking back for that insight.


Alissa Klugh is a clinician who attempts to encourage the use of communication in working with others. Her perspectives, here, are from her own clinical practice and personal experience. As always, there are varying ideas behind the information shared on this page. As the reader, you are free to adopt the information in this blog, or to come up with your own varying perspectives about communication.

If you would like to schedule an appointment with Alissa, you can begin by clicking, here.

An Open Letter to the Loved Ones of My Clients

By: Alissa Klugh, MS, LPC


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It’s not very often that I get to address the loved ones of my clients because so many things hold me back: confidentiality, lack of contact, inability to share without a release of information, all that super serious stuff. But, I am taking this opportunity to do so, now, because I can address all the loved ones, at once.

I want to share something with you about relationships, because your loved one comes to me on a weekly of bi-weekly basis and shares some of their most difficult moments with me. I understand that these may be situations you know about, in full detail, and other times, not at all. I am privy to the most impactful moments in your loved one’s life, and for that I am grateful.

To the loved ones of my clients:

Your loved one is likely here because of you.

Okay, don’t take that in the wrong way, please. What I mean is: Most of the individuals who walk through my door, first start therapy because their loved one (mothers, spouses, brothers, or children, etc) have asked them to do so. You ask this of your loved one because you have noticed that something is not “right” or things seem “off” with them, and you want to help them get “better.” Well, I appreciate the push that got your loved on through the door.

From a therapist’s viewpoint, when therapy is about someone else, progress does not always get where we want it to be. I can only hope that, at some point in time, the therapy starts to be about my clients, in their eyes, where they are seeking their own answers and understanding the importance of their self-growth. And I am a vessel which sits alongside your loved one, as they discover that growth. It is a beautiful process.

Therapy is not about fixing people.

I have a hard time when I have had loved ones tell me that they want me to “fix what is wrong” with my client. I want you to know that my role in therapy is not to fix but to understand what is going on, both now and previously, that has contributed to this point in time. I listen. I give perspective. I show empathy. I encourage new ideas. I show respect and admiration for change. I help people find their own answers and see characteristics and qualities within themselves that they have never seen before. I assist in providing hopefulness. I cannot make anyone do anything. It is all about freedom of choice. I shed a new light on the future, but that is 100% done due to the hard work that your loved one puts in, each week.

Being on the outside is challenging.

While your loved one goes off to therapy, you are being asked to sit at home (or in the waiting room) and hope that your loved one is in good hands. I can assure you that your loved one is in the hands of someone who is grateful for their presence and their return. Each day, when your loved one comes through my door, we each have our own responsibility. Mine is to be open, actively listen, to provide a safe environment for sharing, and to attempt to provide insights, while your loved ones share, gain new perspective, and potentially make progress. Where does this leave you, the loved one(s)?…

I ask this of you, loved ones of my clients:

Continue to support them. Show them the love they deserve. Don’t give them a hard time because their progress is not where you think it should be. Progress is relative and it is not necessarily quantifiable. It is something that takes time – sometimes steps forward, then backward, before finding the true direction they are meant to head.

During this time, it is important for you to stay active. Encourage your loved one to share with you their progress, what they’re learning and discovering about themselves, and how you can assist. Sometimes they may be hesitant to share, and other times, they may be incredibly open; remember that this is okay, either way. Sharing with the therapist is hard enough, so expecting them to delve back into their therapy session can be a challenge. Don’t push. They may not have the words, right now. If they want to share, then let them know that you will be there to listen, when (and if) they are ready.

Your role: show your gratitude. Let them know that you are proud of their return to therapy and inform them when you notice little changes. Tell them you are proud of them. Encourage the positive movements that you observe, tell them that you care. Ask them how you can better show your support. They will more than likely have that answer for you.

Don’t forget, you may start to see your loved one doing different things that you may not understand. Perhaps he/she has started to communicate with you differently, going against your typical expectations. Guess what? This might be them trying to take steps toward their progress. I ask you to inquire about these differences in a supportive way. Making change is incredibly difficult, and if your loved one does not have your support, then they may not continue to try to make adjustments to better their lives. To better your life, together.

Keeping a supportive stance can be difficult when you are unsure of their direction of treatment. I encourage you, please do not mock their progress by asking the dreaded question, “Oh did your therapisttell you to say that?” The answer to that is ‘maybe.’ Whether it be something that the therapist suggested or an item that they discovered on their own, the answer for you, as the loved one, is not to make comments that could make your loved one feel worse, as though they should not try new things, or like he/she should feel any certain way about their new attempts at growth.

Remember: everyone grows differently and at a different pace.

Each step is a step in the right direction, and your help and support in being “there” for your loved one is key. Compassion, empathy, and involvement are so crucial from the loved one’s perspective. I only have an hour each week with your loved one, so my safe space and empathy can only go so far. I appreciate that I get to spend that time with your loved one, to challenge them, support growth and change, and to be the listening ear that they need while they work through each difficult moment. And I also appreciate you, loved one of my clients. Please remember that.

After my time with my clients, it’s their loved ones who spend the majority of time with them. Make this time worthwhile. Care for them. Love them. Support them. Show them the compassion that they deserve for making such a difficult decision to change. I may start the process, but it is up to the client and their loved ones to maintain the change.



Alissa Klugh, MS, LPC

This open letter is a way in which Alissa is sharing important insights to the loved ones of clients through perspectives she has gained throughout her experience. Everyone experiences therapy, differently. Keep in mind that you, your loved one, and many others can have varying perspectives on the therapeutic process. This letter is, in no way, written to a specific client, but rather a general understanding that Alissa would like others to take into consideration about participating in treatment and does not necessarily reflect the perspectives of other individuals in the practice.

If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Alissa, or another therapist in the practice, please click on our appointment page, here.

Recreating Yourself: No Vacation Needed

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By Lauren Heaton, MS, CAADC, LPC

As I sit in our living room and look around at the photos from the past, I cannot be anything but grateful for the power of change. Change is all around us. It’s in our daily routines, as well as the way in which we view the world. The person I am today is not the same person I was a year ago, and how incredibly thankful I am for that.

Change forces us to either embrace the reality of something new or stay stuck in an existence that no longer benefits us. Change allows us to grow stronger and more aware of the people we want to be, or it allows us to recognize everything we dislike about the surrounding world. The power is truly ours.

I feel incredibly blessed for change, both in my personal life and my professional one. I have been given the opportunity to build a life from which I do not need a vacation. My question for you is: What does that look like for your life?

If you are looking back a year from now, what would you have wished that you had started? What opportunities have you had in the past that you would have never considered doing? What goals have you always wanted to accomplish that you felt, for one reason or another, it was just not the “right time?”

Step away from what you are reading for a moment, look into the mirror, and tell yourself: “It is time.” Starting right now, you have the incredible opportunity to make a change.

A very wise mentor once told me, “You have to become comfortable in the uncomfortable.” What is making you uncomfortable today that needs to change? What do you need to do in your own life to create an environment where you never want to leave it, even for a vacation?

Take a few moments and jot down a few ideas for yourself. What does the word ‘change’ mean to you? What are three things in your life for which you are grateful? Lastly, what are you going to do for your own well-being in the next 24 hours?

If we begin to make small conscious changes in our lives, also known as ‘self-care steps,’ transformation begins to occur without any real effort. So, I challenge you to take that first step toward a life in which you will never need a vacation.

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Lauren Heaton brings great perspective to how we can refocus and change our lives for the better. She has helped hundreds of individuals and couples move toward positive change, growth, and wellness.