Why Does Communication Fail?

photo of men having conversation

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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.

activity adult barbecue bbq

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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

nature red forest leaves

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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.

brown wooden bridge in the forest

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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. 

Finding Kindness in Treatment: Landa Harrison

Landa Harrison, NCC, LPC, is the newest addition to our therapist family at Pittsburgh Psychotherapy Associates. Below, you can get to know what makes Landa such a fantastic and knowledgable therapist who practices with mindfulness and kindness.

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

Committed to improving the human condition.

What makes you smile? Why? 

Watching children being kind to each other makes me smile.  It gives me hope that the future can be  better than the present.

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

I read The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  It was recommended to me at a previous job where I was working with young women of color involved in the justice system.  It opened my eyes to a type of systemic adversity I had not previously been exposed to and raised my awareness and sensitivity to this issue.

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

The most interesting place I have traveled to is Vietnam.  I have been doing consulting work to prevent sex trafficking in Asia and provided trauma training to staff working there.  The buildings, the language, the food, and the incredible bustle of foot traffic, cars, tut-tuts, and vendors crowding the streets was like something out of  a movie for a girl who grew up in Ohio and transplanted in Pittsburgh.

What is the word you use most often? 

Love.  I am grateful that I have people in my life who hear me tell them every day that I love them and also say it back!

What was the funniest thing you have ever experienced? 

I was in a grocery store with a friend and her toddler, who was in a phase where he had been listening to children’s music.  His mom popped on a Ray Charles song just for a little variety.  Apparently, the 3 year old was a fan.  While sitting in the shopping cart, he started banging on the handle and singing “I’ve got a woman, way over town…ohhhh yeahhhh” at the top of his lungs.   The whole store turned and stared, then burst into laughter.

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

I was on a plan to New York, recently, and struck up a conversation with my seat mate, who was on her bachelorette party. We had a great chat about our upcoming plans in the city and learned that we would be on the same return flight. When we were de-planing, she asked if I had a seat assignment, yet. When I told her what it was, she moved her seat so that we could sit together and share pics and stories about our weekend. It was a small thing from a complete stranger, but it made the world feel a little smaller and more connected for me that day.

For an appointment with Landa, call PPA today at 412.367.0575 or click here to schedule an appointment.

Back to School: Shifting the Parental Focus

back to school conceptual creativity cube

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by Alissa Klugh, MS, LPC

Do you have children who are going back to school? If so, you know how difficult it can be to adjust and readjust your family’s lives to the new schedule, new people, and new setting(s). But what is the best way to do all of this? Are there really fool-proof ways to avoid the difficult situations that arise? Is there some special technique out there that you have been missing all of these years, as a parent? The answer to that is, “No,” but there are some tips, which you may find helpful during this stressful time of year.

  1. Sticking to a Routine– Sure, being on a schedule is simple, right? Not exactly. You’re already busy enough, but to find time to make a schedule on top of trying to keep one – Who are we kidding? Think of the big picture. You already know all of the tasks that need done in a day with your children: time of school, extracurricular activities, homework, family time, etc., so work with your family on creating a schedule for all of this. Having your family work together on a schedule that works for everyone can be helpful. Or, you make the schedule, and get everyone’s feedback. Think Democracy. If your child does not want to take a Karate class, but loves to sing, don’t push the Karate that would have you at the classes three times per week. Look for singing lessons. If your work schedule does not allow for your child to attend a gymnastics class – talk with your child about your inability to get them there, and work with them on finding another location for classes. As far as sticking to a routine, demonstrating to your children that you are committed to it is going to teach your child about the importance of accountability. So, keep with the routine. Having a written schedule for your child to see and abide by is huge. It teaches them how to keep a schedule and the importance of doing what is expected. Add bath time and family time to your routine, as well. If you want your family to sit down at the table and have dinner together, make that a priority and stick with it. Your family will follow suit.
  2. Being Present– Who are we kidding, of course we have to be present to keep a routine, right? But being present is far beyond being physically available to take your children to the park. What is meant by “being present” is being cognizant, aware, and active in what is going on, in the moment. Set up a time to help your child with his/her homework. Ask about his/her school day. Share your daily experiences (within reason). If you are at that park with your children, don’t sit on the bench and read emails on your phone – go playon the playground with your children. Children remember moments – those times that your attention and engagement have left an impression on their lives. Your emails and texts can wait. Set boundaries for yourself and make time to be mindfully active in your family’s life.
  3. Being Mindful – When was the last time you were truly aware of what was happening around you? What was your child wearing when he/she left for school this morning? What was the last thing that he/she said to you? What was the last thing you said to him/her? Chances are, you don’t have answers to most of these questions. Let’s be honest, most of those questions do not “matter,” per se, but missing small moments does. Being mindful goes with #2, being present. If you are not active in what is happening around you, you are not being mindful of what is transpiring, before your eyes. Do one thing at a time, enjoy each bite when you eat, and observe your children and verbally respond to their actions. If you think something your child just did was insightful and creative, then TELL THEM about it, and why it was meaningful. Take small snapshots of how you are feeling throughout an experience; state to yourself “I am feeling joy right now.” And, if someone is around you – TELL THEM. We cannot assume that others are sharing the same emotional, physical, or social experience as us, and the best way to truly understand the situation, is to share it.
  4. Recognition of Feelings – Of course the therapist is going to make mention of feelings! Would we truly be therapists, if we did not? All joking aside, this coincides with the previous tip of being mindful. Has your child ever had an emotional response that you just don’t know how to handle? Well, here are a few thoughts on that: Allow your child(ren) to have his/her feelings so that they know that they are capable of managing them. If you constantly try to rescue your child, he/she may not learn to self-soothe. Self-sufficiency in emotional management is key in becoming well-adjusted in our society. Let’s face it, your child’s teacher or boss or supervisor is not going to come running to make sure your child is emotionally soothed when he/she has a deadline in place. Next, don’t try to rescue, fix, or talk your child out of his/her feelings. Your child is learning to experience and express emotion; having their parent(s) tell them that they are not supposed to feel a certain way, when they actually do feel that way, will only cause confusion and potentially shame for that emotional experience. Don’t forget: Validate their feelings. When your child is being emotional (in any way), you can say: “I can see you are feeling very ____ right now,” to demonstrate your ability to understand their emotions and connect, but this also gives them the opportunity to correct your perception of the situation, or perhaps they will then verbalize what it is that is making them feel that way. You can always provide your child options with ways to manage their strong emotions, but don’t forget, it is not up to you to resolve them. You are giving your child the space he/she needs to become a strong emotional being – emotional intelligence can go a long way and last a lifetime.
  5. Monitoring “Screen Time”– Ah, yes, screen time. The time spent on electronic devices (tv, tablet, cell phone, video games, computers, etc.). These devices are a blessing and a curse, all at once. They can grant us a few minutes of silence while our children are in the car, but they can also turn our children into addicted creatures who seek screen time and the instant gratification that can come with technology. Think of it this way: our society is briskly moving in the direction of having technology control most of what we do, why not try to put some boundaries on how much time our children spend in front of these devices? Remember that routine that was mentioned in #1? Well, this is where it comes into play. Don’t restrict your child from screen time, indefinitely, (unless that is what your family practices – then more power to ya!) but put a time in their schedule that allows some screen time, based off of how old your child is, or if he/she has completed some of the chores on his/her to do list, then allot some time for it. No matter what you choose, set limits for the amount of time your child is allowed to use it. We know that this might mean that the screen is no longer a “babysitter” for your child, and that can be tough, but, honestly, the best thing you can do for your child is to spend time with him/her. Make that time meaningful (see above). Our time on devices, connected to social media, etc., has been linked to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression and other social problems, such as poor communication habits. Although these are merely correlations, there has been enough evidence for us, as adults, to make attempts to help out our children by leading them down a path of understanding the importance of in-person interaction. Helping them feel connected and wanted is simple and can leave a huge impact.
  6. Staying Physically Active – Okay, who has time for the gym?!? Wait, you mean, you have too much other stuff going on that you cannot be physically active? This is no surprise. Our busy lives lead us down a sedentary path – maybe not because we want to choose this for ourselves, or our family, but because our lives are so hectic that adding something else to the calendar makes us cringe. There are some small tweaks that you can do to your everyday routines that can help keep you, your partner, and/or your children active. First, take the steps. I know that you carry a big purse (for all your parenting goodies) or a big satchel, but, take.the.stairs. This will increase your heart rate and help you rack up extra steps on that watch you wear (and despise every time you see that you did not meet your foot-to-pavement quota for the day). When you take your child to soccer, don’t just sit on the bleachers. Walk around the playing field. Remember when I mentioned being present, before? Well, here it is, again – play with your children on the playground. Do a quick online search for “activities that build” or “ice breaker activities” to find simple ways to add physical activity into your life. And, Bonus: these activities help build teamwork skills, communication, self-esteem, and physical/emotional awareness. Do it. Your family and your body will thank you later.
  7. Eating Healthy– I know, I know, it’s bad enough that I’m suggesting that you reduce your child’s screen time and am having you take the steps, as opposed to the elevator – don’t take away the candy bars, too! In all honesty, it’s not a bad idea to treat yourself, but it’s that pesky word “moderation” that I want to remind you of – remember that food pyramid that we used to use, when we were children? Well, it has changed to some other type of geometrical figure these days, but the basis is still the same: Try to fill your plate with color (veggies and fruit), and eat less of the bland colors (rice, bread, fats, etc.). Hydrate. Drink the water, skip the caffeine, soda, other drinks. Serve these types of food at dinner and don’t keep giving in to feeding your children those chicken tenders and fries that are so easy to cook (Remember: moderation). Again, your body will thank you for this, and bonus: chances are, you will be healthier, which means you’ll get to be a parent to your children longer.
  8. Completing Homework– So, maybe you have a child who loves school and, subsequently, completing their homework. If this is the case, I am impressed and encourage you to continue to support these positive behaviors and habits. On the other hand, if you dread completion of homework with your child, you are not alone. Here are a few tips for homework: First, set a time each day for your child to complete their work, when you are available to help (if needed). Let your child attempt the work, before you step in and lead. Next, don’t permit other reward activities before your child works on his/her homework. Use those activities as reinforcement for doing well on the homework (even if he/she had a hard time understanding the concepts). Mind your emotions. Teaching your child a concept that they are having a hard time picking up can be a challenge. If this is the case, take a quick break and return to the task after cooling down. This may also be a technique your child could use. Give feedback. When your child is doing well, tell them. Remind them that you are grateful for their creativity or are aware of how hard he/she is working. If you are concerned with how he/she is responding to you, tell them. Explain various ways that they can manage themselves during this time, and suggest small breaks. The best support a child can receive is from a parent who is attempting to understand their struggles and providing them with guidance on how to manage them. In addition to these tips, if your child is struggling with a subject and you are unable to assist (because, let’s face it, the way that they are being taught how to do their Mathematics these days looks a LOT different than when you were a child), then ask for extra help from the teacher. See if they have any tips that could help you, as the parent, guide and coach your child through their home lessons. If need be, try to set up your child with a tutor or student mentor. Most schools have this available to their students, and if not, there are typically student centers in the area that may be able to assist. Ask around and search the internet for options. You can do it, and so can your child.

Hopefully, you were able to find some ideas that could work for you and your family in this passage. Remember, these tips and tricks are suggestions that may help you in management of the back-to-school mayhem. There are many other ideas and options available, and you are free to choose what does and does not work for you. Best wishes in this school year’s endeavors!

abc books chalk chalkboard

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Alissa Klugh is a clinician who has worked with children and their families for over 12 years. Alissa brings a lighthearted perspective, mixed with her experience, to deliver a realistic approach that she works hard to demonstrate to the families with whom she has worked.  Alissa will continue to post blogs with a therapeutic spin on this page. Stay tuned for her next post. 

Welcome Alissa Klugh

Unsplash Photo By Chris Lawton

It is with great enthusiasm that Pittsburgh Psychotherapy Associates welcomes the latest member to its family, Alissa Klugh, LPC. Alissa brings with her the same spirit of personal growth and mind/body development for all ages that encapsulates the mission of PghPsych. Get to know a bit more about Alissa by reading her Q/A.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Thoughtful, Intuitive, and Reliable

What was the last book you read? Thoughts on it?

The last book I read was “You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” – by Jen Sincero. The book was rather intriguing and took a different spin on manifestation. The content caught my attention, much like the book title, and helped provide a great outlook on change: how to love the things that you are unable to change and change the things you don’t love.

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

The last movie that I viewed was the newest version of “The Beauty and the Beast.” This is a classic Disney movie (and a favorite of mine as a kid) and I knew that I had to see the latest version. The movie was done well, as a remake, and touched on all of the original ideas, emotions, and thrills of the original.

If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be and why?

If I could meet someone who is living or dead, I would probably choose my grandfather, who passed away before I was born. My mother spoke so highly of how he influenced her life, and being able to experience just a fraction of that would be fulfilling.

What was the funniest thing you have ever experienced?

I’m not sure what the funniest thing is that I have ever experienced. I am someone who truly enjoys laughter and having fun. I would say it would be a mixture of seeing comedy shows, both live and on television, and/or my own interactions with my friends and family. I have had times where my friends and I laughed so hard that we cried, virtually over nothing, so pinpointing that is not exactly easy for me. I enjoy putting creativity into practical jokes and quick wit. The bottom line: if it makes me laugh, then I’m happy.

What is your favorite art form and why?

Picking my favorite art form is difficult, since the basis of my life has been led through art. I am a huge fan of painting anything in nature and using hand-lettering to create something beautiful. I also grew up as a dancer, so finding emotional movement through physical and musical forms brings warmth to my heart. Finding any way to express oneself through art is an amazing way to demonstrate what it is that we are thinking, feeling, and experiencing.

If you are looking to make positive changes in your life, we can help! Please give us a call at 412-367-0575 or email us at admin@pghpsychotherapy.com to schedule an appointment with Alissa.

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The Eagle

Title of Painting: Eagle Fishing on Lake Malawi
Painter: John Cyril Harrison

Written by Zaithwa Gwaza

The painting above is set in Lake Malawi; it’s the ninth largest lake in the world and the third largest lake in Africa.

Firstly, what attracts me to this painting is the eagle and its hard work and patience to be able to catch a fish in the lake; this is an incredible skill that eagles possess. Eagles are phenomenal birds, they work hard. When I look at this painting, it tells me that in life, discipline is very important. The eagle is a very disciplined bird, it has good vision and surely stays focused on what it wants – this is a life lesson to me.

Prior to coming to America, I was told by many people back home that I have to stay focused on my primary objective of being in the US; which is to work hard in my studies to be able to get my undergraduate degree. This is something that this painting reminds me of, the eagle is a bird, and the fish is always in water, therefore to be able to catch a fish requires intense focus. And, that is exactly what I need to do while I’m in the US; primarily focus on my studies. Additionally, it isn’t easy for the eagle to catch the fish, however, the eagle is still determined catch fish so that it can have food to eat. “No pain, no gain” is a philosophy that has been used since life on the world begun, and that also applies for the eagle.

Eagles have as many as a million light-sensitive sensory cells per square millimeter of retina; this is five times the amount allotted to the average. Their vision is incredible; that also speaks to me. In life, it’s important to have a vision for your life. For example, in my life, my single mother has worked hard and sacrificed so much for my happiness and well-being, therefore I envision myself being able to spoil my mother in the future and to help develop my local community back home (in terms of giving some people the opportunity to go to good schools). However, achieving this won’t be easy, so I need to stay focused and implement smaller goals in order to achieve this life goal. The eagle has good vision however if it doesn’t use this skill well, it won’t be able to get its prey. Therefore, that also applies to my life, I have been given the opportunity to come to the US, however, the ball is in my court, it’s my decision to work hard and to be able to sow plenty in the future.

Moreover, the background of the painting also communicates to me; it shows how the weather is about to change, from a bright cloudy day to a dark cloudy day. It reminds me of the sudden change that occurred in my life when I was 9 years old; my father passed away – life took a whole new turn. And, things like this can’t be anticipated. However, for me my father’s death is probably one of the things I’m thankful for; obviously, it’s not like I wanted him dead or anything, no, that’s not my point. The point I’m trying to make is that through my father’s death I was able to learn from it and I am what I am because of all my experiences, so I’m thankful to God for every single thing that has happened in my life. I was able to appreciate my family more, but also able to use this experience to comfort and help those around me. Everything that happens in our life to make us stronger, and in the end, it all works out for our good. Just like in the painting, despite, the weather changing, but this also can benefit the other parts of nature, such as crops.

Additionally, dark clouds aren’t always going be there forever, the clear clouds will come out again. That’s how life is, we all go through painful circumstances, but pain helps us grow. So, the background speaks to me about being positive, life isn’t easy; it was actually never meant to be easy. It’s important to be positive, yes, I will admit, it’s easier said than done, however, it’s always important to try look at the brighter things of life while accepting whatever hurdle is there. I’m thankful for everything I have, my life, family and even the fact that I was able to having a mother that didn’t ever give up on me. Lest I forget, I’m also very thankful I was able to come to the US to complete my undergraduate studies.


Zaithwa Gwaza is a student at Robert Morris University where he majors in economics. Among his many goals Zaithwa wants to own a family farm and launch a start-up business in his hometown of Malawi, East Africa. He one day hopes to use his earnings from these endeavors to help others pay for school.