About Mary


My name is Mary and I teach empathy and active listening skills, and their application to crisis intervention, suicide intervention, and other unique situations. I also conduct personal development training (focusing on self-care, managing stress at work, and preventing burnout) for those who regularly use these skills on the job. Over the past six years, my trainees have included crisis hotline workers, peer mentors, counselors, social workers, law enforcement officers, and military personnel. My passion for this work comes from seeing the application of these skills consistently facilitate deep connections that lead to real change. My own experience of using the skills, both in the context of crisis work and in my personal life, has been nothing short of transformative. Additionally, I have found that the people who seek out this kind of training are some of the most thoughtful, curious, and inspiring folks I have met!


After graduating in 2001 from the University of Pittsburgh with a B.S. in Psychology, I spent five years working in the Behavioral Medicine Research Group. My duties as a research specialist and project coordinator included diagnostic screenings with potential research participants. These in-depth interviews often addressed dark times in the participants' lives and on a couple of occasions revealed suicidal ideation. I felt that I needed more training to better respond to those occurrences, so I began the process to become a volunteer at Contact Pittsburgh, a crisis and suicide hotline.

I completed the intensive crisis line specialist training in the Fall of 2002, which introduced me to the concept of meeting people where they are, and trained me in basic active listening and crisis intervention skills. Going on the lines and taking my first few calls, one of which was a suicide call, was utterly frightening. However, over the next year I began to relax into my skills and find my voice on the phones. I also found some direction and decided to pursue a Master's degree with the Behavioral and Community Sciences department at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health. While working full-time and going to school part-time, I continued to volunteer with Contact and deepened my involvement when I was asked to be a Senior Worker (an on-call volunteer who supports crisis line specialists and deploys emergency services) and to assist with training new volunteers.

In 2006, there was an opening on Contact Pittsburgh's small staff. I took a big breath, a giant leap, and was hired as the program director for the 24-hour crisis and suicide hotline in July. The four years I spent in that role were a wild ride (and the time commitment ultimately had me putting my Masters work on hold). In the beginning, I was surprised to find how many volunteers on the hotline were scared to ask callers about suicide. My first efforts, therefore, were to develop a continuing education curriculum to address gaps in current volunteers' skills and confidence and to revamp the basic training to better prepare new volunteers. We joined the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network, which gave us the tools to further bring our operations in line with best practices. I had the great priviledge of becoming a LivingWorks ASIST trainer, earning the title of Master Trainer, and serving on the NSPL's workgroup to devolp guidelines for follow-up protocols with callers considering suicide.

In June 2010, nearing the end of my first pregnancy, I made the difficult decision to resign from my position as the program director at Contact. I returned to the phone lines as a volunteer (and to the pagers as a Senior Worker!) until I gave birth to my daughter, and I had planned to continue assisting with the volunteer and community training programs. Sadly, Contact Pittsburgh closed their doors in September 2010 and the organization was dissolved. While we had made great strides in providing professional services to the community in my four years on staff, we continued to struggle (as many volunteer-based hotlines do) with funding and adequate staffing of the lines.

After taking some time to adjust to motherhood (another wild ride!), I returned to work on my Master's degree and I returned to some of the most rewarding parts of my last job: being a suicide intervention resource to my community and training others in the skills of empathy and active listening and their applications.