Building the Valley: Hyde Park counselor opens new therapy practice in Leechburg

May 14—Amy Halter of Hyde Park is on a mission to break down stereotypes about mental health and to provide accessibility to those living rurally who may face challenges

seeking professional treatment.

Halter, 50, opened Balance and Grow Counseling Center in February at 152 Market St. in Leechburg.

She said that since opening, she has been busy accepting new clients. She scheduled six new appointments during a recent one-week period.

"That's a lot for just starting," Halter said.

According to a 2022 report published by Mental Health America, more than 50 million Americans experience some type of mental illness.

Halter chose Leechburg for her new practice for several reasons, most of which is to fill what she says is a critical need.

"Some areas are oversaturated with mental health practices — like the Greensburg area. I started to do some research in Armstrong County and realized there was a need here in Leechburg," Halter said.

A "care desert" is an area where people have less access to in-person health

care that includes mental health, pharmacy and nursing homes.

Care deserts are more prevalent in rural areas, where about one-fifth of the U.S. population lives.

In Pennsylvania, more than 20% of people looking for mental health treatment options find it inaccessible or difficult to obtain because of a shortage of mental health providers, among other reasons such as an inability to pay for mental health care and inadequate or no insurance, according to the MHA report.

The state lacks access to mental health care providers, with Pennsylvania reporting 179 mental health care

professionals per 100,000 people — below the national average of 214 providers per 100,000, according to a report by the Hospital and Health System Association of

Pennsylvania.

"I think rural counties do not attract many private practices," Halter said.

"The ones that are here are full or have a waiting list."

Halter said she always gravitated toward the mental health profession and has been a certified counselor for 20 years.

She grew up in Apollo and graduated from Apollo-Ridge High School in 1991.

She is a licensed trauma therapist with 16 specialties, a certified Pennsylvania school counselor, a temporary faculty member in the psychology department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is working on her dissertation to earn a doctorate in counselor education and supervision.

Her dissertation is on caregivers' experiences while caring for loved ones diagnosed with cancer and the impact of counseling.

Halter recommends that a person in need should see a therapist weekly, but each situation dictates how long a client should stay involved in therapy, she said.

"It's my belief that individuals know themselves better than anyone," she said.

"You are the expert. I see therapy as a collaboration between you and myself."

Leechburg Area School

District middle and high school guidance counselor Corrin Linkes said Halter reached out to the district a few weeks ago, offering information on her private practice.

Linkes said the next closest resource for the community is the Family Counseling Center of Armstrong County in Gilpin.

"We're fortunate that we can have additional mental health support in our community," Linkes said.

"The fact that this location is one to which some people can walk is tremendous. That greatly increases the accessibility and, hopefully, the likelihood that some will seek mental health support."

Halter offers a free 15-minute consultation to potential clients 5 and older.

For those on the fence about seeking mental health treatment, Halter offers this advice: "That's OK. You don't have to come to counseling with 'big issues.' Counseling is a safe space to talk about everyday life, work, family, emotions and other topics. My advice — give it a chance — you might not like it, but if you do, it will change your life."

Halter's therapeutic focus is on issues such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, autism, trauma, self-esteem, stress, relationships and parenting.

"I know life can be overwhelming and balancing all the tasks that are placed on you in such a busy world. In sessions, I like to focus on life balance and how we can work together to manage stress, anxiety and other concerns," Halter said.

When not counseling others, Halter enjoys all things Harry Potter, walking, reading, family time and spending moments with her dogs and cats.

For more information, call 724-609-3033 or email balance

andgrowcounselingcenter@gmail.com.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joyce by email at jhanz@triblive.com or via Twitter .