Psychologist Gerald A. Solfanelli


June 30, 2003


The power of belief

Dear Editor:


Your Thursday article on luck suggests that “luck is something you do.” I often tell my patients that what we focus upon tends to become our reality, because we will likely do things, both consciously and unconsciously, consistent with that focus, in order to help make it happen. By sharing the following story, I hope your readers may be helped to find what they are looking for.


Recently, my 6 year-old son, Nicholas, told me that he wanted to find a four-leaf clover, because he had heard that they bring you good luck. Unable to find one quickly, he became frustrated and discouraged. I tried to explain to him that four-leaf clovers are special because they are rare and difficult to find. I assured him that if he really wants to find a four-leaf clover that he needs to really “believe” and “know” that he can. I helped emphasize to him that as you “feel it to be true,” you can and will do things and allow things to happen, in order to help you find your clover.


I had actually first suggested to him what seemingly defeats my son’s initial intent: I told Nicholas that we could see whether we could find a four-leaf clover on the Internet. We found one on Ebay. After a couple of dollars and a few days, Nicholas had his four-leaf clover from New Zealand. After receiving it, however, he looked at me and said: “But, Daddy, I want to find my own four-leaf clover” (which, of course, is the whole point). After again getting frustrated while looking in our Moosic front yard, that is when I told Nicholas about the power of his own belief.


Since that time, almost without even seemingly trying, he has literally found at least two dozen four-leaf clovers.




Gerald A. Solfanelli



September 11, 1998, Scranton Times "letter-to-the-editor"...


Dear Times Editor:


As a local psychologist and parent, I applaud your recent three-part series on drug abuse. The negative impact of abuse, which originates with the addict, slowly permeates into his or her family and ultimately throughout the community. Your efforts to educate our community, regarding these consequences, are critical in initiating positive change.


The tangible losses associated with addiction are often readily apparent. Crime and the eventual losses of health, jobs, family, friends, and money are only the manifestations of a more intangible loss, which is likely the real culpret behind abuse: loss of one’s self through the insidious and consistent detachment of one’s feelings through addiction.


Feelings serve the useful purpose of guiding one in better understanding oneself. The avoidance of feelings (particularly through addiction) robs oneslf of the valuable, directional information which feelings can afford. A “gut instinct”, for example, can be viewed as a crystalizaiton of all of one’s life experiences into a single guiding feeling. Nobody can be consciously aware of every life experience, as it may relate to a presenting concern. One can, however, benefit from one’s guiding feeling.


Addiction has the real potential to dull this and other types of valuable feelings, which can ultimately, further alienate the addict from him or herself and others, leading to confusion, poor direction, and despair. This cycle can continue to create a pattern which can lead to the more tangible aforementioned losses. Education (whether through the media, therapy, or the like) is key to breaking this pattern and changing ultimate despair into real hope for the future.





Gerald A. Solfanelli, M.S.






April 9, 1998

Re: April 6th Tribune editorial


Dear Tribune Editor:


As a local psychologist and member of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Psychological Association executive council, I was dismayed by your recent editorial by San Francisco Examiner columnist, Stephanie Salter. Ms. Salter’s editorial seemed more of a sales pitch for Canadian psychologist Tana Dineen’s new book, rather than a forum for public good. The article dismissed the very positive impact that psychology plays in the lives of millions of people who undergo therapy. Ms Salter distorted many of the common misunderstandings about counseling.


As suggested in Salter’s article, however, some psychologists can, in fact, be too directive in their style. Psychologists who are well trained and experienced, balance this approach with a recognition of the importance of allowing themselves to be more of a facilitator to help their clients help themselves. As humans, we do have an innate capacity toward health. Physically, for example, if we cut ourselves, we heal. Sometimes, however, if there exists an infection, the cut will likely fester, continuing to cause problems, until the wound is cleaned. Therapy can be considered a way to help clean festering “emotional wounds,” which are contributing to present concerns. Ms. Salter states that psychologist Dineen believes that people “ and large get over (horrendous things)...It may be awful for a long time. Some people may stay upset forever, but not a lot.” I also agree that we are a species that is fairly resilient. Therapy is a deliberate way, however, to facilitate our resiliency, in order to allow positive change to occur sooner, rather than later.


Within Salter’s editorial, Ms. Dineen practically suggests that no matter what we are faced with, we should just “get over it.” Usually that tactic is easier said than done. Talking with an objective other can offer a unique perspective conducive to emotional growth. When attempting to be supportive, unfortunately family and friends can often make inappropriate comments, like: “Forget it” or “Don’t worry about it.” Although well-intentioned, these statements serve to further alienate oneself from one’s feelings. One’s feeling s (both pleasant and unpleasant) serve the useful purpose of guiding one in better understanding oneself. It is the misunderstanding or avoidance of feelings that is often a catalyst to undermining our innate process, which helps us to be resilient in the first place.


Psychologists are trained professionals who rely on scientific method to understand human behavior. Applying these principles in the clinical setting allows for accurate assessment of presenting concerns and facilitation of personal growth. As with any health care field, these principles are based on averages, which may not always be applicable for everyone.


Salter quotes Dineen as believing that, in some way, psychologists want to “turn normal human reactions into pathology.” This belief is a baseless fear which serves to undermine the positive image psychology has generated over the years. Misunderstandings about therapy have kept many from seeking timely, effective care. Similar early misunderstandings, within the medical field, for example, had existed for years. I trust that the continued acceptance and appreciation of psychology will dispel any residual misunderstandings about its use and appropriateness.





Gerald A. Solfanelli, M.S.






The following is a January 26, 1999, Scranton Tribune editorial:


Dear Tribune Editor:


I am writing to you in response to your January 21st article about the proposed Old Forge methadone treatment clinic. I am a local psychologist who has worked for a Baltimore methadone treatment clinic. Since Heroin addiction spans all walks of life, effective treatment is valuable to our community. Based upon my experience, however, I believe that concerns about the proposed clinic are justified.


Within your article, Mr. Griffin states that methadone treatment “actually lowers crime.” It also has the real potential to raise certain types of crime. Most Heroin addicts, for example, are cross-addicted. Although methadone can help treat a heroin addiction, drug dealers can target those in treatment by offering a variety of other illicit drugs, as was the unfortunate scenario at the clinic I worked.


Opiates are exceedingly difficult from which to detox. Methadone is paramount to a synthetic opiate (basically without the euphoric effect). As such, detoxing from methadone is also very difficult, leading many to rely upon the methadone for most of their lives, despite the treatment approach’s original intent. If Pennsylvania law is similar to Maryland law, there also exists little administrative incentive to encourage graduation from methadone programs. I tend to side with Mr. Abrams’ notion of total abstinence in treatment.


Heroin addiction is admittedly unique, however, and a methadone program can work, as it no doubt does in many areas. If the proposed clinic is ultimately opened, safeguards need to be established to protect against the inherent risks, such as potential increased drug dealings and administrative profitability associated with long-term methadone treatment of addicts.





Gerald A. Solfanelli, M.S.





Philadelphia Inquirer



"Bystander effect"

I am writing to you regarding your recent headline: "Kids simply watch vicious attack" (Inquirer, Dec. 8). Your article detailed the story of a 13-year-old boy who was brutally attacked in Levittown, while about 15 kids watched without seeking help for the young victim. In light of heightened school violence, your headline unfortunately seems to insinuate that our country's youth are simply callous. I certainly do not condone the onlookers' inaction. I do hope to offer insight into their behavior.


What happened in Levittown is likely an example of what is termed the "bystander effect." Each witness looks at the other witnesses to see what they are going to do, assuming that the others will take responsibility. The sum result is total inaction. Ironically, the young Levittown victim had a better chance of getting help sooner if there were only one or two witnesses present. When there exist more than two witnesses, the social phenomenon of "diffusion of responsibility" brings about the bystander effect.


Understanding the existence of this phenomenon can help bystanders break free from its effects. Additionally, if one finds oneself in the role of the victim, for example, needing medical assistance following a car accident, one should attempt to single out a particular bystander, by pointing to this one witness and requesting their singular assistance.



Gerald A. Solfanelli

Dummore, Pa.





January 10, 2000


Dear Editor:


As an organization, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Psychological Association applauds the Surgeon General’s recently released report on mental health. Comprised of local psychologists committed to the advancement of psychology as a science, a profession, and as a means of promoting human welfare, N.E.P.P.A. is optimistic that Dr. Satcher’s report will help dispel misunderstandings about mental health and mental illness, allowing more sufferers to find effective relief.


A growing recognition of the fact that "mental health is fundamental to a person’s overall health, indispensable to personal well-being and instrumental to leading a balanced and productive life" likely contributes to the fact that about 15% of our country’s population now use some form of mental health services in any given year. Nonetheless, despite effective treatments, according to Dr. Satcher’s report, "nearly half of all Americans who have a severe mental illness fail to seek treatment". The fact that nearly one in five Americans are affected by a mental disorder, reinforces the understanding that "few Americans are untouched by mental illness", whether directly or indirectly.


Mental illnesses range from clinical anxiety and depression to Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. Anxiety disorders, the most common form of mental illness, affect more than 10% of Americans yearly. Almost 25% of Americans will suffer an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. In May, N.E.P.P.A. will join thousands of sites throughout the country, in order to offer free, local anxiety screenings, as part of National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day. N.E.P.P.A. will also participate in next month’s National Eating Disorders Screening Day.


For more information about N.A.D.S.D., N.E.D.S.D., as well as a complete on-line copy of the Surgeon General’s 500 page mental health publication, feel free to visit N.E.P.P.A.’s new website at:




Gerald A. Solfanelli, M.S.

NEPPA Treasurer





February 5, 2000


Dear Editor:


Eating disorders, often spurred by images of shockingly skinning but successful actresses and models, destroy physical health and can kill. Fifteen percent of young women have disordered eating, which can lead to a full-blown eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is our country’s single-most deadly psychological disorder.


It is important to notice the potential warning signs of eating disorders. Does your daughter constantly compare herself to ultra-thin TV stars like Calista Flockhart and Sarah Michelle Geller? Is your son an athlete who is an exercise addict, working out even when he feels sick or tired? Do they weigh themselves daily? Do they count calories, skip meals, or avoid eating with others?


Try to convey to those about whom you are concerned to "Strive to be a role model, not a supermodel. How you look is not who you are." If the obsession with food, weight and body size has hijacked one’s mind so that one cannot think of anything else, it is time to seek help. There is much more to feel, think and do other than measuring oneself against an impossible ideal.


During Eating Disorders Awareness Week, February 14 - 18, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Psychological Association will be a local participant in the National eating Disorders Screening Project. NEDSP provides participants with a written screening questionnaire, educational information, one-on-one interviews with clinicians, and referrals. All screenings are free and anonymous. For additional information, visit NEPPA’s website, at:, or call the NEDSP toll-free hotline, at:1-800-405-9100.





Gerald A. Solfanelli, M.S.

NEPPA Treasurer




September 25, 2001


Dear Editor:


As the one-month anniversary of the horrific events of September 11th approaches, I would like to emphasize that some of your readers may discover that their initial grief is continuing and even worsening. They may continue to experience persistent feelings of sadness and tearfulness, irritability, a loss of pleasure in usual activities, changes in sleep and / or appetite, and difficulties concentrating. If these symptoms deepen, the initial grief may become clinical depression.


October 11th happens to mark the 11th annual National Depression Screening Day (NDSD), a free, anonymous depression screening and public education program. NDSD, a nationwide effort, has long been planned for October 11th, and by chance now falls one month to the date of the terrorist attacks. It is an opportunity for sufferers who might otherwise be timid about discussing their concerns or symptoms to do so without feeling pressured.


Although most may experience eventual relief without intervention, untreated and persistent symptoms of depression typically do not simply alleviate by themselves, but continue over time. Unfortunately, less than half of those with clinical depression receive appropriate treatment, despite the fact that more than 80% of depressed people improve within several months, once treatment is begun.


Locally, several registered locations, including my Dunmore office, will again participate as a NDSD screening site. If you or someone you love may be suffering from untreated depression, I urge you to call for additional information about a nearby screening site: 343-6838, or visit:




Gerald A. Solfanelli, M.S. 



Novemeber, 2001 (APA Monitor):

Repositioning Psychology in the Mass Media

I read with delight September's Monitor, which highlighted APA's collaboration with PBS on an upcoming film to be broadcast about adolescent girls. Positive visibility is imperative for the future of psychology. What good are our professional services if few fully understand what it is that we offer?

Twenty-first-century media are the most efficient means to disseminate good information to the masses. Until now, I believe that we have ineffectively used this powerful resource. It was not until as recently as about 12 years ago, for example, that psychologists were even ethically permitted to broaden the spectrum of advertisement of their services.

As a result, I believe that APA, and our profession as a whole, is mostly to blame for the many public misunderstandings which persist about psychology and psychotherapy. Other medical professions seem to have found the positive balance that helps create a tactful visibility beneficial to both their respective professions and overall public welfare.

I trust that the PBS collaboration is a start in the right direction of helping psychology achieve the same balance. My hope is that unlike last year's work with MTV, APA's collaborative role (and not just the message itself) will be more prominently highlighted on PBS. If not, we need to view our profession's propensity for reticence as a potential shortcoming that needs to be changed, lest we become lost in the sea of media clutter.


Gerald A. Solfanelli

Dunmore Psychologist 




Scranton Tribune (July 29, 2004)


Raze bridge, lift therapy


Editor: When I first heard that Pennsylvania installed "emergency call boxes" on the Freedom Bridge, in order to deter jumpers, I thought that the nearly $30,000 could be better spent upon local depression education programs.


Depression is an often misunderstood medical condition, which can be terminal, as evidenced by the degree of despair which those unfortunate sufferers must have felt. Although the vast majority of those with depression do not commit suicide, those that do act are most likely clinically depressed. Depression is a very treatable condition. Unfortunately, most sufferers do not seek appropriate treatment.


When I also heard that even more money was now allocated to install safety fencing, I began to question the viability of the bridge itself. Aside from its beauty as a local landmark, what practical value does it offer? It is my understanding that the original intent of the bridge was to connect traffic to another part of the turnpike, which was supposed to extend to Binghamton.


Decades later, the turnpike continues only to extend as far as Clarks Summit. In essence, the expansive structure serves only to carry limited traffic from one side of State Street to the other. Is it worth the substantial annual maintenance costs, and the lives, to continue to keep the bridge?


Couldn't that part of the turnpike interchange, for example, be redesigned to simply begin and end on one side of State Street? By the time the original plans to extend the turnpike beyond Clarks Summit are deemed feasible, if ever, it would be a likely time to replace also the entire bridge.


I implore the planning committee to consider using the money saved in maintenance and fencing costs, to remove the bridge. Perhaps the money from recycling the bridge's steel could be used toward local depression education programs, in memory of those who died a sad, tragic death.




Gerald A. Solfanelli

Psychologist, Dunmore




September 27, 2004


Dear Editor:


In light of yet another tragic suicide from Clarks Summit’s Freedom Bridge, I would like to share the following:


• Nearly 15% of depressed people, within our community, will

likely commit suicide.


• Depressive disorders affect 9.5% of our adult population.


• Most depression sufferers are untreated or ineffectively treated.


• Effective treatments do exist for clinical depression.


• Depression is our community’s second leading cause of disability


• The 14th annual National Depression Screening Day is being held

Thursday, October 7th.


Some of the symptoms of clinical depression may include: persistent sadness, feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, and appetite / sleep disturbances.


For additional information, anyone can call 1-800-520-6373, or visit:




Gerald A. Solfanelli, M.S.

Dunmore Psychologist




July 31, 2005



The Times-Tribune

149 Penn Avenue

Scranton, PA 18503


Dear Editor:


I am writing in response to Chris Kelly's recent editorial, "Apathy fuels 'tyranny of low expectations.' His excellent commentary identifies the true culprit of irresponsible government, namely -- "we the people." Yes, there certainly exists governmental abuses, however, they could not persist, if we did not enable them, via apathy.


I believe that the psychological concept of "learned helplessness" explains the existence of what Mr. Kelly refers to as "tyranny of low expectations." The following example embodies the nature of this phenomenon. Young circus elephants have often been trained to keep them from escaping, by tying them to a post, while they are still very young. After countless, fruitless attempts to free themselves, the baby elephants believe that they cannot escape. Eventually, even as strong, adult elephants, they will not attempt to flee. The elephants have leaned to be helpless, despite their new reality.


Not unlike other animals, humans can learn to be helpless. Unlike most other animals, however, we have the unique intellectual capacity to understand the nature of our limitations, in order to rise above them.


What we focus upon tends to become our experience. If we believe, for example, that responsible government is only a "pipe dream," then we will allow things to happen and do things consistent with manifesting only irresponsible government. Similar to the elephant, it is vital that we realize that feeling powerless does not necessarily mean that we are powerless. We do have choices.


For more information about our elected officials, I encourage your readers to visit:




Gerald A. Solfanelli, M.S.

Dunmore Psychologist



April 6, 2006


Anxiety Skews Scores

Editor: I am writing as a follow-up to your article about the recent handling of the statewide PSSAs. Current governmental changes have apparently heightened the importance of public school students’ performance on these standardized tests. Success is now tied to greater administrative financial incentives.

Because these yearly exams are administered to students as young as eight, my concern rests upon the potential over-emphasis of their importance, due to the new incentives. Such over-emphasis can backfire, also creating needless anxieties within the young students.

It would not surprise me if the upcoming test results proved somewhat disappointing. I make this claim based upon a fundamental learning principle called “state dependent memory.” Basically, one tends to more easily recall information when one is in the same emotional state when tested, as when one learned the material.

One cannot generally study for the PSSAs. Before the next series of exams, therefore, the best recommendation for future testees, parents and administrators is to get a good night’s sleep and just relax.

Gerald A. Solfanelli

Dunmore Psychologist

May 11, 2007 Scranton Times


Balance coverage


Editor: Regarding your May 4 editorial concerning equity for mental health insurance coverage: Despite the politically conservative climate within which we live, it is reassuring to read about your progressive health care ideas.


I wholeheartedly agree with your notion that it is vitally important for there to be a fair balance between physical and emotional medical health care coverage. More than a decade ago Dr. Herbert Benson, of the Harvard Medical School, even emphasized the fact that “60 to 90 percent of [doctor-patient] visits are prompted by conditions related to stress.”


We seem to live in a culture within which we are indoctrinated with the idea that medication is the answer to our health care problems. Although medications can certainly be quite beneficial, most people do not realize that many clinical studies indicate that specific meditations, for example, have the potential to lower blood pressure better than lifestyle modification and medication.


Counseling or psychotherapy are proven and effective treatments for a wide range of medical problems, including stress, depression, high blood pressure, insomnia, drug addiction and pain management. The unparalleled benefit of the combination of mental and physical health therapies is unquestionable. Although many insurances also offer coverage for psychotherapy, the inequality within and across coverage plans absolutely needs to be resolved.


Gerald A. Solfanelli

May 10, 2008
Dear Editor:
I am writing as a follow-up to the latest news reports that the Department of Defense now encourages troops to seek psychological counseling, having recently eased its policy on disclosure mandates. I applaud this initiative, especially since about one in eight of our American soldiers are reportedly returning from Iraq, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As treatment, the Department of Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs Practice Guidelines have also placed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in the highest category, recommended for all trauma populations, at all times.
EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that assists patients in resolving disturbing memories. It is imperative that any lingering misconceptions surrounding its efficacy be dispelled, in order that more soldiers are afforded the opportunity to alleviate their suffering, by applying this remarkable therapeutic approach.
As a Pennsylvania psychologist, I have been using this form of therapy, since 1995. Most of the concerns, about EMDR, seem to have been centered upon the notion that there existed little evidence for its use as one of psychotherapy's "empirically supported treatments." In so much as it is vital that no health care provider do patient harm, my question is to consider the harm that could occur, however, if EMDR is not offered as a timely treatment option.
Throughout the years, it has been my experience that EMDR seems to help patients make a link between what they "know" to what they "feel." This "break-through" is invaluable, especially with the trauma patient who is finally able to resolve their torment. Numerous studies also appear to support this same contention that EMDR offers a protocol and treatment approach that is efficacious, time efficient, and particularly indicated when dealing with patients with trauma-based issues, like many of our young soldiers.
Gerald A. Solfanelli, M.S.
June 6, 2008
Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to the disheartening headline that shocked local and national media observers. A recently released surveillance video depicted a tragic hit-and-run scene, wherein witnesses seemingly ignored the elderly Hartford pedestrian, who lay motionless in the middle of the busy street. The report appears to insinuate that our society has become callous to its brethren. Although I certainly do not condone the onlookers' inaction, I do hope to offer insight into their questionable behavior.

What happened in Hartford is likely an example of what is termed the "bystander effect." Each witness, perhaps confused and aghast at what they just evidenced, look at the other witnesses to see what they are going to do, assuming that the others will take responsibility. The sum result is total inaction. Ironically, this man likely had a better chance of getting help sooner, if there were only one or two witnesses present. When there exist more than two witnesses, the social phenomenon of "diffusion of responsibility" can bring about the bystander effect.

Understanding the existence of this phenomenon can help future bystanders break free from its effects. Additionally, if one finds oneself in the role of the victim, one should attempt to single out a particular bystander, by pointing to the one witness and requesting their singular assistance. Although the severity of his injuries certainly prevented this victim from making any requests, it is somewhat reassuring that at least some of the witnesses, in this case, did phone 911.


Gerald A. Solfanelli, M.S.

June 6, 2009

Smoking to Blame

Dear Scranton Times Editor:

I read with great interest your recent article lamenting the new state law which will require the costly installation of sprinklers for all new townhouses and private homes. Although well intentioned, I agree that this law is misguided. The fact remains that according to the World Health Organization, the number one cause of worldwide deaths from residential home fires is actually attributable to cigarette smoking.


Gerald A. Solfanelli


April 23, 2010

Amish Lifestyle Clue to Happiness

Editor: According to the former president of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Martin Seligman, "our economy is rapidly changing from a money economy to a satisfaction economy."

Well before Dr. Seligman's observation, however, the Amish seem to have understood the importance of this emphasis. The Amish lifestyle represents a subculture within American society that is the antithesis of capitalism. Amazingly, it is suggested that their departure from Americana actually contributes to their overall level of happiness.

In recent years, author Jonah Lehrer has highlighted that the Amish's rates of depression are more than tenfold lower than the rest of the American population. The Amish appear to place more emphasis upon the depth, quality and nature of their relationships.

Within the Amish community, for example, if a neighbor's roof is damaged in a storm, the community is likely to arrive the next day to volunteer its assistance with the repairs. Sadly, within American society, many people do not even know their neighbors. Perhaps a simple restructuring of priorities can help Americans to find their happiness within a distressed economy.

Gerald A. Solfanelli, M.S.

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