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By the Way: “Feeling Free” to be your best self

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She’s a warrior in her field, helping those diagnosed with mental health issues. At the same time she’s hoping to conquer the stigma surrounding the illness.

Amie Allanson-Dundon, who lives in Springfield Township, has devoted her life to working with troubled patients. She is Network Director of Clinical Therapy Services in the St. Luke’s University Health Network psychiatry department.

Now, deeply disturbed by the effect pandemic restrictions and isolation have had on children, she’s written a book.

“It was on my bucket list,” she admitted, and during the pandemic when normal activities stopped dead she found time to write it.

“The pandemic really shut kids down,” she said. “One in five children have mental health issues. There was no level of interaction. They were sitting alone, trying to learn and dealing with all the social media and the laundry being aired over chats.”

A light, easy read for a very heavy subject, her book is titled “Feeling Free.” Its message, she said, “is as important for adults as it is for children” and she believes people of all ages can benefit from reading it.

The book is about sharing anxieties and talking to friends, parents or other grown-ups about those thoughts. The main character, Max, discovers he will feel better if he shares his worries as he walks and talks with others.

“You’re only as sick as your secrets. You don’t have to keep them,” Allanson-Dundon said.

Her book is only 26 pages long, but each page packs a wallop as it deals with a separate issue and Max learns to unload the heavy burdens he carries. The cover design by Ben Marchal and charming illustrations match the upbeat mood of the book’s message.

Allanson-Dundon said, “I fell in love with psychology as an undergrad.” She went to Muhlenberg College and got her master’s degree at Villanova University. She is a licensed psychotherapist and certified forensic addiction specialist who worked directly with heroin addicts in Philadelphia before joining St. Luke’s.

“I got to see them get better,” she said. “That was my high.”

Now she works on a different level, overseeing 100 therapists and maintaining a clinical psychotherapy caseload in addition to her administrative duties.

On the personal side, she is married to a machinist, is a mother and a stepmother. Often at her side is Sadie, a Bernese Mountain Dog. Sadie, a certified therapy dog, accompanies her to the hospital.

Although concerned about the stigma surrounding mental health issues Allanson-Dundon said she is beginning to see more people seeking help for themselves and their children.

She noted among those were some of the medical personnel who themselves suffered through tragic, painful days in the hospital as COVID took its dreadful toll, and they lost patient after patient.

“The doctors came to us for help then and I’ve noticed now when some of them have other issues they’re more likely to seek help,” she said. “On the upside, people in general are paying more attention to mental health. The stigma is going away.”

Therapy is hard work, she said. “People shy away from talking about things that make them uncomfortable, but they need to talk about that uncomfortable stuff.”

She said she’d like to see her book in “schools, in pediatrician’s offices — all the places parents talk to kids.” She hopes her book will help “people of all ages be the best version of themselves possible.”

“Feeling Free” was published by RoseDog Books of Pittsburgh. It is a hardcover with a retail price of $33. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, but be aware there is another book with the same title.

Kathryn Finegan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Durham. She can be reached at kathyclark817@gmail.com.


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