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If I Had a Hammer


If I Had a Hammer


If I Had a Hammer

Posted on by Jill Harp
If I Had a Hammer: Reflections of a Board Retreat

It’s a bit of a pun to have a board retreat and one result is this creation, an intricately arranged set of silver and gold nails installed on–you guessed it–a board. But stay with me! Our recent exercise in bringing together the board of directors and the executive leadership team of Samaritan Counseling Center went far beyond tabletop games. In fact, this sculpture, and the exercise of building it, is interpreted in a very meaningful way: One vertical nail stands tall in the center, representative of our mission, to help connect mind and spirit so individuals, families, organizations, and communities thrive. There are two gold board-of-director nails that are horizontally oriented to support multiple interlocking silver nails, all of which represent our leadership and operations staff. The arrangement would collapse if any one role is abandoned.

This keynote presentation was given by Bob Johnson, the president and CEO of Solihten Institute (formerly known as The Samaritan Institute). He was invited to our retreat to help us address the significant growth in our Center since the last 5-year strategic plan was developed in 2015, including:

  • In 2015, our Center had 1,000 clients and 7,419 completed counseling sessions; in 2018, that number had grown to 1,470 clients and 9,947 sessions.
  • During the 2015/16 school year, 1,010 students were screened as part of Connected Community Wellness Screen and 227 were referred to services; in the 2017/18 school year, 6,460 were screened and 642 were referred.

During this same period of time, a new leadership team formed and fresh talent came to our board of directors. Together, our group began to thoughtfully consider our individual roles in the context of the Samaritan Counseling Center of the next 50 years.

I mention 50 years because our founders established what has become Samaritan Counseling Center in the Fox Cities in 1970. The year 2020 is meaningful to us and the people we serve because we will not only mark this half-century milestone, but choose and place new stones into our future path. As we’ve expanded our geographic footprint, community collaborations, youth wellness screenings, Spanish-language counseling services, and staff, we know big decisions will be studied and built into the next strategic plan. It’s a good thing we are handy with a hammer and nails.

Blog by Rosangela Berbert, MSE, NCC, LPC

Executive director Rosangela (pronounced hoe-SAN-gel-ah) Berbert is a licensed professional counselor. She has been on staff at Samaritan since 2005.

Reclaim Your Life in the Midst of Depression, Anxiety

Recently my outlook on life has been great—but it doesn’t always feel that way. Since my diagnosis of major depression and anxiety at age 18, not every day is the same, and I’m not the same every day. Early in my mental health counseling nearly 15 years ago, I was also contending with an unsupportive family. When I explained to my mother what I was learning about myself; she didn’t receive it well, nor did she offer help or affirmation. As a result, I was forced to rely on myself to find solutions and make more progress. I became my own advocate.

If you are currently struggling with your mental wellness, it may feel as if you’ve lost control over your ability to speak up for what you need. Giving yourself permission and reclaiming your control will give you back the hope you need to be whole again. You can get better—and you deserve to get better.

Each time I find myself down at the bottom, I bring myself up through counseling, medication, yoga, running, light therapy, adult coloring books, books, movies, music and my very supportive husband and select friends. It took time, persistence, and practice to become a strong advocate for myself, but doing so has made it possible for me to have a rich and rewarding life.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Blog by Melissa Laughlin Holtz, BS, SW-IT

Melissa Laughlin Holtz is a case manager with the Connected Community Wellness Screen Program and the Hortonville Areas School District (E3).




When You Have the Winter Blues

In the midst of our long cold slog toward spring, you may be experiencing the winter blues. The winter blues, a term that can mean seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is defined by clinical psychologists and medical doctors in different ways. Some experts see the condition as purely psychological, while others believe depression is linked to inflammation in the body. The brain is complex and there’s a lot we don’t know, but there are some things we can infer based on available research:

  • SAD is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons; it begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.
  • If you have one bad winter and bounce back, you’re probably feeling the normal ups and downs of life. However, if you experience more severe symptoms of depression during the fall and winter months for two or more years in a row, you may want to ask your doctor about SAD.
  • SAD symptoms to watch for are carbohydrate and sugar cravings, digestive problems, changes in appetite or weight, weight gain, trouble focusing, noticeable drop in energy, tendency to sleep a lot, sleep disturbances, social withdrawal, persistent sadness, irritability, feelings of worthlessness, thoughts or attempts to harm yourself, lack of motivation, drop in energy, noticeable fatigue, and physical pains, including headaches and joint pains.
  • Specific causes of SAD remain unknown, yet several factors may come into play, including your biological clock (circadian rhythm), serotonin levels, melatonin levels, family history, having major depression or bipolar disorder, and living far from the equator.
  • If this sounds like you, please know it’s not your fault. People who don’t live with depression often think you can just decide to be happy. However, behind the scenes, there are brain chemicals and hormones that make you feel this way.

Help for SAD Sufferers

There are many ways to help you cope with SAD, like natural light therapy; artificial light therapy; cognitive behavioral therapy (AKA talk therapy); exercise; and supplements for brain support including vitamin D, SAM-e, 5-HTP, L-tryptophan, and St. John’s Wort.*

If the winter blues have got you down, reach out and ask for help from your health care provider, counselor, or therapist. There is light at the end of the tunnel—and you don’t have to wait until April to put the spring back in your step!

*If you are taking an anti-depressant, vitamins for depression, or other natural supplements for anxiety and depression, talk with your health care provider about what you are taking to avoid harmful drug interactions.

Blog by Melissa Laughlin Holtz, BS, SW-IT

Melissa Laughlin Holtz is a case manager with the Connected Community Wellness Screen Program and the Hortonville Areas School District (E3).




How to Help Teens with Holiday Pressures

Teenage people have a lot on their plates during the winter holiday season. School is in full swing, exams are looming, and there are extra activities and work obligations. Teens also live with one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood—they may still feel an attachment to youthful holiday magic while realizing the stress it can cause for their family’s financial and emotional health. Also, big family reunions can add an element of drama. That’s a lot to schedule, and an even bigger challenge to manage in a healthy, life-giving way.

Teens often show their stress with the onset of headaches or stomachaches; trouble sleeping; unusual moodiness, including tears for seemingly minor reasons; and withdrawal from friends, family, or school. As a caring adult in a teen’s life, when you see stress taking a toll, try to limit or adjust your teen’s commitments and create opportunities to relax and rediscover joy. Here are some things to try:

  • Emphasize routines and structure. Make structured holiday plans and communicate them to your young person. Have your teen help you bake, wrap presents, participate in family outings, or complete chores.
  • Prioritize healthy food and movement.  Plan at least one healthy meal for the family every day. Be sure your teen stays hydrated—sometimes bad moods or fatigue are simply caused by “wilting.” Invite your young person out for a short walk. Fresh air engenders conversation and a fresh perspective.
  • Schedule downtime. Allow enough time for your young person to decompress between holiday activities and obligations with a long shower, a good book, or their favorite Netflix series. Everyone needs time to recharge.
  • Get creative. Help your teen discover a creative outlet, whether it’s adult coloring books, building a bird house, cake decorating, or henna art. When humans create, they are naturally calmed and achieve a sense of mastery.
  • Check your attitude. Youth can subconsciously respond to the stress levels around them. Therefore, it is important that we be aware of and manage our own stress during the holiday season.

Courtney Pohlman, MA, LMFT, CSOTP, T4C is a therapist with Samaritan Counseling Center with special interest and expertise in marriage and family dynamics. She serves clients in New London and Menasha.

How to Help Teens with Hurt Feelings

Teens’ hurt feelings can spiral to extremes when they internalize the opinions of others. We can help them put the comments of other people in perspective, so they don’t take them personally and allow comments or remarks to weigh on their hearts and minds.


It helps to explain:

No matter how nice a person is or how they may keep to themselves, no one can control other people’s behaviors. What we can control is how we respond to the things other people say or do to us.

•It is better to thoughtfully respond to a comment instead of reacting to it. A response considers what responsibility we may have in the situation, whereas an in-the-moment reaction does not and can cause a vicious cycle of hurt feelings.

Teens and adults have a tendency to take things on as if it’s “our fault”. If another person has an issue (even if they direct it towards us), it’s not ours to take on even if they’re trying to tell us it is.

•Avoid getting drawn into an argument with a person who hurts your feelings; rather, consider whether he or she is trying to assign blame to someone else, or if the person lacks the skills to communicate constructively about what’s really going on.

The goal is to teach young people how to thoughtfully consider their part in the matter at hand. However, they don’t need to internalize the situation, carry it with them throughout the day, and let it bring down their mood.

Blog by Karen Aspenson

Karen Aspenson is a former clinician with the E3 program at Hortonville Area School District, where she provides youth mental health screening and referrals via Samaritan’s Connected Community Wellness Screen Program.


This blog references material first published by Sam Miller of Parenting Teenagers Academy.


Will You Give Up the “C” Word?

“Crazy Hair Day” at school.  “Crazy Daze Sale” at the mall.  “Crazy fast cars” on the Avenue.  “Crazy people” living at the homeless shelter.  “That’s crazy!”  If you pay attention, you’ll be amazed at how frequently you hear these comments.  Perhaps you’ll even catch yourself saying it.  So what?

According to my Google search ( of the word “crazy,” it is used as an adjective: “mentally deranged, especially as manifested in a wild or aggressive way.”  It is used as an adverb: “extremely enthusiastic.” And it is used as a noun: “a mentally deranged person.”

The deinstitutionalization movement of the 1960’s failed to live up to its promise of moving individuals living with mental illnesses out of institutions and into community-based, supported residential environments.  Instead, the community-based residences never materialized, and people were left with nowhere to go.  They ended up in jails, prisons, hospitals, city parks and dumpsters.  “Mentally deranged” people became more visible to the general public and referring to them as “crazy” was common.

So what?  The answer is STIGMA.  Continuing my Google search, “stigma” is a noun: “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”  A mark of disgrace.  Associated with a person.  It’s easy to see how a person who can be stained by a mark of disgrace is not likely to openly speak about the source of that mark, and this is especially true of individuals who experience symptoms of mental illness.  It’s a secret people learn to keep.  Like any secret, it’s a dangerous (and deadly) one.

Stigma is blamed for the reluctance of individuals who experience symptoms of mental illness to tell anyone what they are going through.  A 13-year old begins hearing voices from the lamp—who will they tell?  A 20-year old feels so worthless that ending their life becomes a real solution—who will they tell?  A 75-year old man has lost his partner and his friends, and his children don’t visit; he sees no point in living—who will he tell?

Words matter.  Those who serve individuals who live with biological brain disorders, commonly referred to as mental illnesses, have a duty to advocate for the just and respectful treatment for those they serve.  Consider yourself challenged to pay attention to what you say and what you hear, and challenge others to do the same.  Try using one of the many, many other words that describe what you want to say.  You’ll likely find it a wild and outrageous and unique and silly and irrational and outlandish and ridiculous and peculiar experience!

Karen J. Aspenson, MSW, CAPSW, is a former clinician with the Wellness Screen program. She serves students in the Hortonville Area School District through the E3 program. E3 is a comprehensive school-based mental health services collaborative that combines mental health education, support, screening and treatment.

Five Steps to Manage Anger

Anger has a reputation as a “bad” emotion that people try to avoid. Anger can certainly be uncomfortable to feel and is often accompanied by a strong urge to “do something” about it.

This urge to act, and not the emotion itself, is where anger can get us in trouble. Acting on anger with aggression can be damaging to relationships, finances and our bodies.

Here are some tips to channel that strong emotion into healthier communication and activities.

  1. Take a “time out.” Athletes, for example, take time outs from the game when it’s high pressure to think clearly and make a plan to respond to the stress.
  2. Distract yourself with something calming. You might listen to music while you take a drive to combine the “time out” concept with distraction. A time out is less effective if you spend that time out focusing on what caused your anger, so make time for pleasant distractions until you feel calm enough to analyze the situation.
  3. When you are ready to come back and reflect, separate the event that triggered the anger from the meaning you derive from it. For example, think “I was cut off in traffic” versus “That guy cut me off and disrespected me.”
  4. Anger is a secondary emotion. It often comes after a different, unpleasant emotion. Self-reflect on your hidden emotions. Did you feel disrespected? Scared? Embarrassed? By coping with and resolving these feelings, we often alleviate our anger as well.
  5. Find a trusted person and talk about what you’ve learned during your self-reflection. Start with the words “I feel…” and then insert the feeling you’ve discovered was under your anger. An example: “I felt disrespected when I was cut off in traffic this morning. I felt scared that there would be an accident or that I wouldn’t get to work on time.”

One final tip on anger: When times are tough, we do what we practice! If you typically cope with anger with an aggressive distraction like hitting a punching bag, throwing things, and breaking things, research shows that this is most likely how you’ll deal with struggle –  even when there isn’t a safe or legal place to do so. If you’d like to change the way you handle anger, try practicing these tips during times of low anger so that it will come easier to you during times of high stress and anger.

Courtney Pohlman, MA, LMFT, CSOTP, T4C, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She uses a systematic approach to grow and heal families, couples and individuals recovering from trauma, anger, domestic violence and other struggles.

Courtney enjoys walking with clients on their healing journey, offering new perspectives, support, flexibility, humor, empathy and positivity. She believes passionately that we are always making new bonds and creating families.

Courtney is trained in many therapeutic methods, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). She serves clients age 5 and up in our New London and Menasha locations.

3 Steps to Ongoing Calm and Peace

Posted on by Jill Harp

Photo courtesy of Pat Mahoney.

“Deep breathing is a mental health life hack that any person can use anytime, anywhere. It helps reset our stress response (also known as the sympathetic nervous system) when we feel frightened, angry, or just plain overwhelmed,” says Samaritan Counseling Center therapist Leah Szemborski.

“Deep breathing doesn’t cost anything, it’s easy, and everyone can do it. Give it a try!” Leah says.

Leah’s 3 Steps to Ongoing Calm and Peace

  • Hold breath while you count to four.
  • Slowly breathe out as you completely empty your lungs.
  • Repeat.

“By deep breathing you may find that this little trick will help you stay more calm and peaceful throughout your day. Happy breathing!”

Leah is a new counselor at Samaritan Counseling Center with over 13 years of experience. She has a down-to-earth counseling style that helps people feel at ease. Leah sees clients for a variety of concerns including abuse, trauma, grief and loss, self-esteem, spirituality, parenting, marriage, among many others. Leah works with clients ages 0-99 at the Menasha and Oshkosh offices.

Learn more about Leah on Our Therapist page.


Make Time For Grief

Posted on by Jill Harp

Samaritan Counseling Center therapist Hannah Keesler shares a therapy strategy she uses with clients regularly to help them cope with grief.

“Grief takes time. Easier said than allowed,” says Samaritan Counseling Center therapist Hannah Keesler.

“Grief is painful, exhausting, isolating, and enraging. Often, we want to feel better and get back to “normal” as quickly as possible. However, grief can become complicated when we deny it, ignore it, or try to convince ourselves we are fine,” Hannah says.

“Allowing time for grief is one of the best ways to cultivate healing. One simple strategy I suggest my clients implement daily is “grief time.” The idea is to set aside time daily to grieve,” she shares.

“We do this with several activities in our day already including hygiene, eating, sleeping, and checking the mail. When we set aside time for something and prioritize it, it is less intrusive during other parts of our day,” Hannah suggests.

When you don’t have your lunch planned and you start to feel hungry at 11 AM, with no food in sight, you will begin to feel anxious and your mind will fixate on eating, Hannah explains.

Whereas if you have a plan for lunch, she says you can easily toss the thought and hungry feeling aside and return to your task at hand.

Hannah’s Steps To Implementing Daily Grief Time:

  1. Pick a time of day that you can consistently be present for grief.
  2. Choose the length of time (1 hour, 30 minutes, 15 minutes).
  3. During grief time choose something that will allow yourself to process the grief. (Ideas: writing, looking at pictures, walking, contemplating favorite memories, praying, talking with someone, or writing a letter to the deceased loved one.)
  4. While processing the grief, give permission to all and any emotions that occur.
  5. Once grief time is over, bring your activity to a close and remind yourself that you will return to this tomorrow.
  6. As thoughts/memories/feelings of grief surface throughout your day, remind yourself that you will think/feel/process it at the next grief time.


Hannah Keesler has been with Samaritan Counseling Center since 2013. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and AODA (Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse) Counselor. Hannah currently sees clients ages 7 and up at our Menasha and UW-Fox Valley locations. Learn more about Hannah.


Samaritan Receives Award For Work in Oshkosh Schools

Posted on by Jill Harp

Oshkosh Area School District recently awarded Samaritan Counseling Center with the “Friend of Education” award recognizing individuals and corporations for their support and personal involvement of public schools.

The award recognized Samaritan’s partnership within the District providing the inaugural 2017-18 emotional screening program Rise Up and their previous years of Wellness Screen.

“With your assistance, we’ve been able to identify countless students who may have been struggling socially and/or emotionally and direct them toward appropriate services and supports…Without the service you provide, many of our students wouldn’t receive the mental health support they need…Your organization deserves to be recognized…,” Superintendent of Schools Stan Mack said in a letter.

Samaritan’s Executive Director Rosangela Berbert (on the left) and Wellness Screen Program Director Jen Parsons (middle)  accepted the award earlier this month.

Without the Samaritan Counseling Center wellness screen team or  founding and current partners, along with collaborating school districts, our work would not be possible. Thank you!

If you would like become a a partner in providing this program to your students, or if you would like to donate to its cause please contact Wellness Screen Program Director Jen Parsons.