For the last 14 years, I’ve worked at Visitation Catholic School in Kansas City, Missouri, as a licensed clinical social worker and child, family and school psychotherapist.
I’m also certified as a play therapist and head the crisis intervention team for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
It’s fascinating and fulfilling work, and puts me in the privileged position of helping kids deal with a variety of issues. Last year, Philip, a third-grader, came to me crying over his mother’s struggle with terminal cancer.
“I’m only 10 and I’m a little boy and what am I supposed to do without my mother?” he said. He ran to me and we both sat there crying together.
For the next two years, through tears, storytelling, and play therapy, I helped him process his mother’s dying. He was well prepared when his mom finally passed away.
This school year, I had a partner in my ministry. Buddy, a therapy dog in training, came to Visitation last August as an experiment into whether and how he would affect children’s behavior. Previously, a teacher had brought her dog, Rusty, who seemed to help kids with autism, special needs or problems at home behave more appropriately. Buddy picked up where Rusty left off.
We dispatched Buddy to a little girl who needed support to read more confidently. He sat in her lap as she read to him, offering comfort but no criticism or judgment. Her reading improved.
Buddy helps me in crisis situations, such as the time students were faced with the sudden death of a young pastor in the diocese.
The children shared their feelings in a circle. Every time a child would begin to speak, Buddy went to that child, lay in front of him or her, and stayed until the child finished. Most of the time, the child petted Buddy, rubbed his ears, or hugged him while speaking. When the child finished, and another started, Buddy got up and went to that child.
Buddy and I have made a difference in children’s lives this year, and the experience has persuaded principals of other schools to seek therapy dogs for their students.