June, 2013 

June is National Effective Communications Month

Have you ever found yourself feeling that others are not realy hearing what you are trying to say? This is a common problem as most listeners are so busy assuming they know what you are going to say and so engrossed in what they want to say that little energy is invested in actually listening. This is why reflective listening can be very helpful. When you find yourself needing to be heard you can assure the listener that you will give them a chance to speak after you have been heard and that you are asking that both of you use the following Reflective Listening technique to improve your communication:

  • Summarize what you think the speaker is saying to you.
  • Include any requests, desires or wants the speaker mentions.
  • Leave yourself out of the process.
  • Ask yourself if the speaker used any feeling words to describe how they are feeling. If they did not identify a feeling word, try to imagine what they are feeling. Use it in your reflection.


  • When you reflect, you are not saying that you agree or disagree with what is being said.
  • Do not add to or take away from what the speaker is saying.
  • Do not fall into the trap of trying to solve the problem, just reflect it.
  • Also, pay attention to tone when you are speaking as it has been shown that in communication the tone of voice carried more of the meaning than the words.

Effective communication is crucial in all relationships including family, friends, on the job and with co-parents as well as while going through a divorce process.

Loretta A. Gephart, M.A., Licensed Psychologist, Collaborative Divorce Coach

Teen Dating Violence 
How do you know if your boyfriend/girlfriend is abusive?  When does love and concern cross the line to the need for power and control in a relationship? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen dating violence is defined as "physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship, as well as stalking.  It can occur in person or electronically and may occur between a current or former dating partner, between partners of the opposite sex as well as same-sex couples." Other statistics state that girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence. Violent behavior can start as early as age 11 and continue into the 20's. Domestic violence can continue well into adulthood for some people. Other research (Liz Claiborne, Inc. Teen Research Unlimited, 2008) shows that only 24% of parents are aware of a child in their child's peer group who have experienced emotional abuse by a partner, but 40% of children know a peer who has experienced it.
Many times when teens (or tweens, those between the ages of 11 - 14) are beginning to date, their boyfriend or girlfriend is calling, texting, asking where you are, or who you are with. These are seen as signs of caring and love.  If your boyfriend/girlfriend is attentive and wants to know how you are and what you are doing, that is fine.  But if the questions becomes "inquisitions" and he/she wants a detailed report on what you are doing and who you are with, that is problematic.  Other signs that your relationship may be abusive are your partner accuses you of lying, doesn't trust you, gets upset when you talk to other guys/girls, or wants to isolate you from others - doesn't want you spending time with friends, or even in some cases, family. It is also abusive if you when you want to stop dating or want to break up your boyfriend/girlfriend, says "I'll kill or hurt myself if you break up with me". 
Abuse can include:
  • physical: hitting, pushing, biting, grabbing, shoving, kicking, hair pulling, or tripping
  • emotional:  manipulating you by using the "silent treatment", mind games and brainwashing
  • verbal:  name calling, criticizing, humiliating you or putting you down in front of others
  • intimidation: jealousy, invading your personal space, possessiveness or making threats
  • destruction of your property
  • control: making all of the decisions, dictating rules, as "I'm in charge"
  • sexual abuse:  continuing to make sexual advances toward you when you've said, "No", uncomfortable touching, making you do things you aren't comfortable with and rape 

An abusive relationship is often referred to as a "cycle of violence" because the violence tends to go in a circular pattern.  First there is an "incident" where any type of abuse occurs. Then the "tension building phase": the abuser starts to get angry; abuse may begin; victim feels the need to calm the abuser; there is a breakdown in communication, and the victim feels like he/she is "walking on egg shells". The third stage in the cycle is "making up":  the abuser expresses sorrow and remorse; says it will never happen again; may also blame the victim (you made me hit you); or deny any abuse occurred. The final stage is "calm": the abuser may act like nothing happened; physical abuse may not be taking place; abuser may give gifts to the victim; and, the victim may hope that the abuse is over.


For many teens, as well as adults, it is hard to acknowledge that abuse is happening.  It doesn't usually occur right away at the beginning of dating. And by the time you realize this isn't the way you think a relationship is supposed to be, you are "stuck".  Many victims by this time feel guilty that they "let" this happen to them, that they really care about the other person, have lowered self esteem, are not ready to leave the relationship, may believe the abuse is their fault, and may also not realize that what they are experiencing is abuse.

The first step in getting out of an abusive relationship is realizing that you have the RIGHT to be treated with respect and not be harmed physically or emotionally by another person. Then you need to make sure you are safe, don't isolate yourself from friends and family, and tell a trusted adult, e.g., your parents, another relative, your school counselor.  Do not let feelings of embarrassment or guilt keep you from seeking help.  You did not ask for this to happen to you!  It's also important for adults you know to help protect you from your abuser.  It is NOT a sign of weakness to ask for help.  Unfortunately, many teens under age 18 cannot obtain Protection from Abuse orders (PFA's).  Teen help lines and crisis centers can  be a resource to help you end the cycle of violence. 


If you have a friend who is being victimized by dating violence, he/she needs your support and needs you to believe him/her when they tell you what is happening. Your friend needs you to listen without judging and to help him/her get the help they need by encouraging them to talk to a parent, guidance counselor or other adult.


Please remember - abuse is NEVER okay.


Mary Jeanne Hoover, MSW, LCSW
Addressing Relationship Problems:  Enhancing Intimacy and Satisfaction

I've met many caring people who routinely stand up for and try to protect those they love.  Unfortunately, these same crusaders for the rights of others, sometimes stumble when it comes to advocating for their own needs.  They will explain that they have trouble saying "No" to loved ones.  I often hear these clients say things like: "I give and give - but no one gives back to me. I feel taken for granted."  Or, "People seem to walk all over me."  These clients are surprised when I suggest that they might benefit from assertiveness skills training.

Assertive communication involves clearly expressing one's feelings in a respectful manner and standing up for one's rights and needs, without violating the rights of others.  Assertive communication can be contrasted with aggressive communication which tends to be disrespectful and violates the rights of others (e.g., criticizing; blaming; frequent interrupting; using "you" statements; hostile nonverbal communication - eye rolling, aggressive tone of voice; etc.).  People who utilize passive communication avoid expressing their opinions or feelings, protecting their rights, and identifying their needs.  Passive individuals do not respond directly to hurtful or anger-inducing situations.  Rather, they allow frustration and resentment to build - and then may be prone to explosive outbursts which seem out of proportion to the triggering event.  Passive-aggressive communication appears passive on the surface, but the person is really acting out anger in subtle or indirect ways (e.g., smile when they are angry; use sarcasm; deny there is a problem; appear cooperative while purposely doing things to annoy or disrupt; or use subtle sabotage to get even).

Assertive communication is important because unaddressed relationship problems can lead to dissatisfaction and resentment - and lingering resentment can destroy positive, loving feelings.  There are many reasons why people might find it challenging to communicate in an assertive manner.  People with low self-esteem may not view their needs or rights as important as those of others.  Some individuals have difficulty coping with conflict and will do all they can to avoid situations that might lead to disagreement.  Still others fear that if they are assertive, it might cause others to dislike them or to become angry with them.  (If this were to happen, it is a red flag - suggesting more about the friend or partner than it does about the person who is communicating in a respectful, assertive way).  Finally, some people are led astray by their understanding hearts.  These individuals will excuse the hurtful behavior of others because they believe they understand the cause (e.g., "He was cranky and said those hurtful things because he hasn't been feeling well and didn't get enough sleep last night.").  While it is helpful to understand what led to the thoughtless or disrespectful behavior, it is important to keep in mind that there is NO EXCUSE for treating others poorly.  People are responsible for their behavior (e.g., I can be angry and choose to express my anger constructively rather than name-calling or acting out my anger in a hurtful manner). 

Despite the benefits of doing so, many people shudder at the thought of confronting interpersonal problems head-on.  This may be because some people have misperceptions about "confrontation."  Unfortunately, the word "confrontation" tends to be viewed negatively - and brings to mind images of aggressive communication and conflict.  In reality, healthy confrontation involves positive, constructive communication which leads to greater intimacy, understanding, and trust. 

If you are interested in learning assertiveness skills in order to build greater intimacy in your friendships or romantic partnerships, contact NHPA. 

Christine Rosignoli, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist

If you are interested in any of our services please call 724-759-7500 today.

Lori Gephart, M.A.
President / Licensed Psychologist / Collaborative Coach
North Hills Psychological Associates, Inc.
In This Issue
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NHPA Clinical Staff
Loretta A. Gephart, M.A.
Marc J. Ranalli, M.S.
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Stephanie Kim Phillips, Psy.D.  
Kristi L. Musick, Ph.D.
Lisa A. Aaron, Psy.D.
Shelley Thacher, LCSW
Gail Ludwig, RN, LCSW, ACS  
Laura P. Walsh, LPC, CRC
Mary Koch Ruiz, LPC
Christine P. Rosignoli, Ph.D.
Julie Zubryd, M.A., L.P.C.
Mary Jeanne Hoover, LCSW 
Heidi Stelzig, M.S.Ed., LPC
Stephen G. Huegel, Ph.D.
Mindy Heher, Ph.D.
Thomas Koloc, LPC, NCC
Nicolene Zapach, M.A.
Neha Pandit, Ph.D., LPC
Braden Ambrose, M.S., LPC
Sally G. Hoyle, Ph.D.
Jennifer Croyle, PsyD., LPC
Michelle Metz-Foley, NCC, LPC


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