Jumping Teens

How to Guide Teens Through Loss and Grief


Max Schwolert

I recently had the honor of talking to an intimate group of parents who where at a loss as to how to help their children cope with the loss of a friend, 17-year-old Max Schwolert, who died from complications of the flu during a holiday vacation. Those who knew Max, and those who never had the pleasure of meeting a Schwolert, had many questions. Only one being: “How can I help my child through this?”

As a parent or support person, you have the opportunity to gently guide your teenager in living with the loss, as I do not know one ever truly “gets over it.”

A loss of a friendship can be hard on a teenager, just as it can be on adults. It is important to validate your teen’s feelings of loss. In validating those feelings, you make it easier for him or her to share their stories about the friendship, the memories of happy and sad times. Bereaved children and teenagers will need ongoing attention, reassurance and support. It is not unusual for grief to resurface later on, even well after the death. This can happen as they move through different life milestones, and develop as individuals.

As a parent or support person, you have the opportunity to gently guide your teenager in living with the loss, as I do not know one ever truly “gets over it.” Many teenagers feel guilty because their friend died; yet they have a chance at life and graduation, and romance, and experiences, and even new friendships.

One thing that is very important for parents to know is: When your children are grieving and crying, your job is not to fix them. It is natural to want to make their crying stop, but this desire really is more about your pain because it hurts you to see your children cry. But, your job is not to make their pain go away, but to walk hand-in-hand with your child so they can learn to work through this pain. In other words, you have to honor your child’s feelings and allow them to have them so they can learn to process and express a range of emotions, and react in appropriate ways in emotional situations.

Parents also need to realize that, in your intention to fix them, you send the message that you don’t see them, and they therefore do not feel heard by you—this “not being seen and heard by you” can lead to a fight. This is because you have failed to understand your child’s real point and their thoughts or feelings underlying that point. I recommend you quit trying to fix your children and start communicating that you believe in them.

When your child is crying or upset and you don’t know what to do, stop and take a moment to reflect what you are seeing in your child. For example you could say, “You’re really angry. You want this to be over because this is really bothering you.” This will let your child know they are being heard and touched.

It’s also good to ask your children, “What do you need from me now?” Then, if your child just needs you to listen, they can say, “I just need you to listen.” Or if your child wants you to take some action, then they are able to tell you what action to take. This helps them feel like they have some control because death makes all of us feel out of control.

The bottom line is: Don’t fix your children. Instead help them learn how to feel and appropriately express their feelings. As parents, we can teach and guide our children to handle their emotions in ways that validates their feelings, while fostering healthy interactions with the world. In fact, emotional regulation is essential for children’s overall wellbeing.

Remember you’re the most important person to them as their parent and they just want you to walk with them on this journey.

On the flip side, it’s also okay for parents to cry and grieve in front of their children. While you may think you need to hide your pain from them, crying actually allows you to honor yourself and to feel your feelings. It’s okay to feel your pain because we all have to go through the struggle before we can come out on the other side.

The Struggle to Become a Butterfly 

There is a well-known story about a man who tried to help a butterfly out of its cocoon by slitting the cocoon open. The butterfly that emerged had small, unformed wings, and died soon after. What the man didn’t realize is the butterfly needed the struggle out of the cocoon to force the fluid into its wings; to stretch and open them so that the butterfly could fly. By trying to shortcut the process, the man had instead doomed the creature.

I use this story to illustrate that, while it’s hard to watch someone you love struggle, sometimes we need to learn to wait and let the process unfold on its own.


If God allowed us to go through life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as we could have been. We would never be able to fly.

How To Help Your Teens

  • Be honest and let them know what’s happening
  • Be willing to listen, and available to talk about whatever they need to talk about
  • Acknowledge the emotions they may be feeling—fear, sadness, anger
  • It can be helpful for parents, or other adults, to share their own feelings regarding the loss
  • Frequently reassure them they are safe, who is caring for them, and which adults they can trust to ask for further support
  • Keep routines and normal activities going as much as possible
  • Talk to them about grief – what it is, that it’s normal, that everyone is different
  • Avoid expectations of adult behavior – allow them to be the age and stage they are and encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings – give them ideas of things they could try, such as doing physical activities, writing, singing, listening to music, talking with friends, reading etc.
  • Allow questions and provide honest answers
  • Comfort them with hugs, cuddles, holding their hand, and by encouraging them
  • Speak calmly and gently to them – and be calm around them
  • Talk about death together; answer any questions they may have
  • Let them help in planning the funeral or something to remember the loss


Recognizing the symptoms is one way of helping your teenager deal with the loss such as: 

  • Teenagers can experience symptoms of depression and have angry outbursts.
  • They can also be at the opposite end of the spectrum by showing a lack of emotions and feeling numb.
  • There can be problems in school with failing grades or delinquent behaviors.
  • Further symptoms showing difficulty processing the loss might include personality changes, self-destructive behaviors (drinking, drugs, etc.), withdrawal and isolation, or even suicidal thoughts.

While this is not an all-inclusive list of symptoms, it does give you an idea of how hard the loss of an important relationship can be on a teenager. If you are concerned about any extreme reactions, or if you think the young person may have become depressed, contact your doctor or other trained adviser, such as a counselor, senior staff member from their school, social worker, community or youth worker or a local family support agency.

If you would like Dr. Kay Trotter to come talk to your group you can contact her at: 214-499-0396, Kay@KayTrotter.com or visit her web site http://www.KayTrotter.com

blessing kelly emery

I Offer This Blessing—To Bless The Wonderful Person So Worthy Of Love That YOU Are

As I sit here pondering the past year and reflecting on my life and the treasures bestowed to me and the ones yet to come, I find that I am grateful for it all. For the joys and for the sorrows, for without these experiences I would not be the person I am today. Through the losses in my life’s journey amidst the pain and tears I also was blessed to discover that the ONLY thing important in life is the relationships we have with each other—our connectedness with loved ones. Everything else is just stuff.

So, with this in mind I “Send Blessings Out Into The Universe With Your Name…….I offer this Blessing—for you. My hope is that you will embrace and “recognize your infinite good which is part of the very fabric of the universe.” I also pray that you send out blessings wherever  you go and these beautiful words on the gentle art of blessing written by Pierre Pradervand is a wonderful example of how to bless others in your everyday life. – Dr. Kay Trotter

Be sure to also watch this beautiful video “The Gentle Art of Blessing” where  Janes Joy brings Pierre’s words to life with music and wonderful photo’s http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WegAgepCYfo

“The Simple Art of Blessing” by Pierre Pradervand 

On awakening, bless your day as it is already overflowing with an abundance of goods that show your blessings. For bless means to recognize the infinite good which is part of the very fabric of the universe. He expects us to sign a manifest.

People crossing the street, on the bus, at your place of work, bless them all. The peace of your blessing will be the companion of their way and will have a discreet fragrance light their way. Bless those you encounter in their health, their work, their joy, their relationship to God, to themselves and others. Bless them in their abundance and their finances. Bless them in every way conceivable, because such blessings not only sow the seeds of healing but one day, like so many flowers burst forth with joy in the arid areas of your life.

blessing sunflowerAs you walk, bless your village or city, those who govern and its teachers, its nurses and street sweepers, its priests and prostitutes. At the very moment someone expresses any aggression, anger or lack of kindness towards you, respond with a blessing silent. Bless them totally, sincerely, joyfully, for such blessings are a shield that protects you from the ignorance of their misdeeds, and diverts the arrow that is sent to you.

To bless means to wish and want unconditionally, totally and unreservedly good unlimited – for others and the events of life – drawing on sources deepest and most intimate of your being. This means reverence and awe with a total look that is always a gift from the Creator and that whatever appearances. One that is supported by your blessing is set apart, consecrated the world.

orchrid blessBless everything and everyone, without discrimination, is the ultimate form of giving, because those you bless will never know from where does this sudden ray of sunshine broke through the clouds of their skies, and you will rarely witnessed in this light their lives.

When, in your day, some unexpected upsets you you as far as your plans, burst into blessing, because life is going to teach you a lesson, even if the cut may seem bitter. For this event you believe to be undesirable if you have in fact created, in order to learn the lesson that you escape if you hesitate to bless him. Events are blessings hidden and cohorts of angels follow their footsteps.

To bless means to recognize beauty everywhere hidden from material eyes. This is to enable the universal law of attraction, from the depths of the universe, will bring into your life exactly what you need in the moment to grow, grow, and fill the cup of your joy.

When you pass a prison, bless its people in their innocence and their freedom, their goodness, their pure essence and unconditional forgiveness. Because we can only prisoner of the image we have of ourselves, and a free man can walk without chains in the courtyard of a prison, as well as citizens of a free country may be trapped when fear lurks in their minds.

blessing ButterflyWhen you pass a hospital, bless its patients in the fullness of their health, because even in their suffering and disease, this fullness is just waiting to be discovered. And when you see someone crying or seemingly broken by life, bless it in its vitality and joy for the senses do not show that the inverse of the splendor and ultimate perfection that only the inner eye can perceive .

It is impossible to bless and judge at the same time. Then hold in the desire to bless you as an incessant inner resonance and as a perpetual silent prayer for you and those are the peacemakers, and one day, you will discover all the face of God.

 – Pierre Pradervand

PS And above all, do not forget to bless this wonderful person, totally beautiful in its true nature, and so worthy of love that YOU are.


If you would like Dr. Kay Trotter to come talk to your group you can contact her at: 214-499-0396, Kay@KayTrotter.com or visit her web site http://www.KayTrotter.com

Child in crisis

Create a Sense of Safety After a Crisis

When reeling in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting, many children are easily overwhelmed with fear. In response to a crisis some children react with severe emotional responses — fear, grief, post-traumatic stress. Moreover, such experiences and other events that threaten a child’s sense of worth and well-being can produce intense personal distress.

Until things calm down after yesterdays school shooting, it will be normal for your child to show signs of worry and fear. They may have trouble eating or sleeping.

Two weeks from now, if your child still isn’t eating or sleeping normally, or shows other warning signs such as extreme irritability, melancholy, lethargy and reluctance toward or fear of activities he or she once enjoyed, call your pediatrician or seek counseling for your child.


Provide Caring and Support – Listen to your child’s concerns and answer their questions in direct, factual, age-appropriate ways. (Be careful of giving TOO MUCH information, especially with younger children.)

Children around 5 and younger don’t need to know. Very young children will only recently have mastered the skills of walking and talking, and they may not be able to express their anxieties and fears. Although you may think they are too young to understand what is happening, even very young children can absorb frightening events from the news or from conversations they overhear. Don’t let them watch news stories while they’re in the room. Wait for them to ask about what happened. If they don’t ask, continue business as usual.

Older children are likely to ask questions. You can initiate a conversation by saying, “I know you’re hearing and seeing a lot about what happened at the school in Connecticut. How does this make you feel?” Or select pictures in a book or ask the children to draw pictures to express feelings. Then talk about the pictures. Take the lead from the child as to how much they need to talk about and know about the situation. Keep answers to questions simple, giving only what is needed.

Listen to comments of children as they play. Are there clues here that need further conversation?

When there is a situation outside of the home that is frightening, limit the amount of news your children watch or listen to. You don’t need to hide what’s happening in the world from your children, but neither do they have to be exposed to constant stories that fuel their fears. Children may have trouble distinguishing between TV shows that blow up buildings, and the factual news reports of a tragic event. Explain, “Yes, this really did happen. It is a sad time, but we will come through it.”

Realize that extra stresses may heighten normal daily stresses. Your children might normally be able to handle a failed test or teasing, but be understanding that they may respond with anger or bad behavior to stress that normally wouldn’t rattle them. Reassure them that you just expect them to do their best.

Two main questions children are likely to think about, whether they actually ask them or not, are: “Could this happen to me or to someone I love?” Remember that a young child cannot understand, “We just have to trust in God.” They trust in parents, and parents are supposed to protect them. So, while the answers are never easy, again try to keep them simple. “We don’t expect this to ever happen to you or anyone you love. You are always loved and have a loving circle of family and friends.” People sometimes choose to do bad things.”

Be careful what you say in front of children. Keep your emotions in check. If we are lamenting the state of the world and saying things like “I’m afraid to go anywhere anymore,” children will start to feel the world is indeed a scary place.

Expressing Feelings – Provide opportunities for your child to express their feelings. Use toys, puppets, books, music, water play, play dough, painting, and puzzles (creating order out of chaos). Let your child know that you have some of the same feelings they have. Be honest about your feelings, but temper them. Encourage your child to communicate their thoughts and feelings. But balance is again the key: Don’t let the talk escalate and overwhelm children.

Provide Opportunities for Meaningful Participation – Help your child come up with ways they can address the crisis themselves: i.e., raising money, sending cards and letters, forming a Peace Club. Participation gives children a sense of purpose and competence in their own lives and a belief that they can make a positive impact on their own lives and influence and change the lives of others – their peers, family and community.

Increase Prosocial Bonding – Provide your child with positive activities to do together that give them a sense of purpose and mastery in the situation.   Through mastery – a child develops self-efficacy by mastering their environment and learning that what he/she does makes a difference in the world.

Set Clear, Consistent Boundaries – Strike a balance between addressing concerns and getting back to a normal schedule. Boundaries are important to children because they give clear messages about what’s expected. Children need the safety of familiar rules and routines.

Set and Communicate High Expectations – Express your certainty that your child can cope with the situation and faith in their strength and inner resources.  When children have clear, consistent boundaries and high expectations, the are more likely they are to grow up healthy, because boundaries and expectations provide children with the support they need.


In a crisis, children have similar feelings to adults. They often show their feelings in actions rather than words.

1–4 years: Thumb-sucking, bedwetting, fear of the dark, clinging to parents, nightmares, not sleeping or broken sleep, loss of bladder or bowel control, speech or feeding problems, fear of being left alone, irritable, fretful

5–10 years: Aggression, confusion, competing for attention, avoiding school, nightmares, poor concentration, tummy aches, headaches, fear of the dark, fear of being hurt or left alone

11–13 years: Changes in appetite, broken sleep, antisocial behavior, school problems, anxiety, aches and pains, skin problems, fear of losing friends and family, acting as if it hasn’t happened.

14–18 years: Physical problems (rashes, bowel problems, asthma attacks, headaches), changes in appetite and sleep, lack of interest in things they usually enjoy, lack of energy, antisocial behavior, poor concentration, guilt. Some of these are part of the ups and downs of this age too.

For more information on crisis response and counseling, check out these resources:

How parents can help children through traumatic events

Roles Play Therapist plays Post-Disaster Engagement and Empowerment of Survivor

The Teachers Role When Tragedy Strikes

Here are resources that I find helpful for talking to children about violence and death: 

The American Academy of Pediatrics on School Shootings

University of Minnesota on Talking to Kids About Violence Against Kids

National Association of School Psychologists on Talking to Children About Violence

What I consider to be one of the best articles on talking to children about death (by Hospice)

Explaining the news to our kids from Common Sense Media.

If you would like Dr. Kay Trotter to come talk to your group you can contact her at: Kay@KayTrotter.com214-499-0396, or visit her web site http://www.KayTrotter.com.

Dr Trotter also post regularly in her FaceBook fan page http://www.facebook.com/DrKaySudekumTrotter.


Help your child develop an inner locus of control

Encouragement vs Praise

What’s the difference? And why does it matter in my parenting?

lynn3Guest Author: Child Specialist Lynn Louise Wonders is the Founder of Marietta Counseling for Children & Adults. In 2007 Lynn saw the need in the community for a counseling center that was child-friendly, with a primary focus on providing play therapy services for children as well as counseling services for teens, adults and couples and Marietta Counseling opened doors January 2008. Lynn served as Owner and Director of Therapy Services until 2012 and now serves as Consultant to Owner Cecelia Myers and provides play therapy supervision on-site to therapists at Marietta Counseling working toward RPT.  Lynn now has a solo private practice in East Cobb on Lower Roswell Rd. called Wonders Counseling Services, LLC where she provides therapy services, yoga and meditation instruction and professional training

QUESTION: I don’t get it. I keep seeing snip-its in magazines about how we should not say “good girl” or “good job” to our kids. I thought we were supposed to be helping them feel good about themselves as parents.

ANSWER: I like to help parents be very clear about their vision and purpose when considering how they interact with their children. We want kids to develop an intrinsic sense of worth and value rather than be dependent on extrinsic sources to boost their self esteem. More simply said, we want children to feel good about themselves from their own conclusions rather than be addicted to having their parents and teachers tell them how good they are. So, I recommend parents remove the words “good” and “bad” from their vocabulary to begin. I teach parents how to encourage and reflect rather than review and rate. Praise focuses on the product while encouragement focuses on the effort.  

Consider this scenario: Your child brings you a drawing she’s been working on at the dining room table and she says with a big smile on her face, “Mommy, look!” If you say, “Sweetie, that is beautiful! Good job!” you have just reviewed and rated your daughter’s product. If alternatively you say, “You spent a lot of time working on this. Look at all the colors you chose to use. I can tell by the smile on your face that you are very proud,” then you are reflecting the emotion (pride and pleasure with her own effort) she is presenting, reflecting back your observation of the effort she put forth and encouraging her to continue to work hard and to feel proud of herself.

Try telling your child, “Thank you for helping with the dishes. That was very helpful,” instead of, “Good job.” Next time your son takes out the garbage without having to be asked you might say, “You noticed the garbage can was getting full and you chose to bag it up and take it out without anyone asking you to. You’re realizing this is your house too and pitching in shows that you care about keeping things nice around here.”

An occasional pat on the back and “good job” is not at all ill-advised. In fact, every once in a while some praise in healthy doses can be a nice peppering of positive reinforcement. Day in and day out, however, parents are going to see a more lasting positive result, higher levels of self esteem, more motivation and initiative in your kids if you provide reflective encouragement rather than ratings and reviews.

You can read more about Lynn’s counseling center and the services they offer at http://www.mariettacounseling.com

CBEIP Horses

Equine Interactive Professional Certification

Both equine interactive mental heath professionals and equine interactive education professionals need to be able demonstrate competent level of training, education and experience in providing equine interactive services. The Certification Board for Equine Interactive Professions Certification is the flagship certification safeguarding the public of the practitioners qualifications to offer equine interactive therapy and services.

Benefits of Certification Board for Equine Interactive Professions CBEIP Certification 

Professional Distinction – Certification provides documented evidence of examination by an independent certifying organization and demonstrates high level of knowledge about the specialized field of equine assisted interaction.

Certification is identified by the public as signifying professionalism, specialized training and knowledge in the field of equine assisted interaction.

As work with equines in mental health and education becomes more readily identifiable by the public, credentials such as the CEIP will assist professionals to establish their credibility.

Commercial General Liability Insurance – Coverage with Markel Insurance Company is available to Certified Equine Interaction Professionals whether they own, lease, use their own facility, or are independent contractors traveling to other locations to practice equine assisted therapy or education.

Cristina Rennie MA RCCI – This Certification  shows clients that professionals are wanting to hold high standards in the work and therefore gives people more information about the field and the qualifications a person has… related to informed consent, scope of practice and ethics. – Cristina Rennie MA RCC , BC Canada, www.shamrockcounselling.com

Ann Alden, MA, CEIP-ED – I took this exam when it was first offered and have renewed it once already. I highly recommend it because it is independent of any model or organization. Instead it is independently tested in a way that allows the applicant to demonstrate their knowledge, experience and competence in providing equine-human interactions. I missed a few questions primarily because I have been out of graduate school so long I think. I would personally much prefer to send someone to a practitioner who has this type of certification than one that is limited to one model or type of approach to working with horses to help people. I took the test at a small aviation center near the Tucson airport and was given 2 hours to finish it, more than I needed. – Ann Alden, MA, CEIP-ED, PATH International Certified Instructor and Equine Specialist in Mental, Health and Learning., Sonoita, AZ, Www.borderlandscenter.com

CBEIP Certification – Study Guide

By Barbara Rector

In answer to questions on what to study for the domains of competency covered in the CBEIP exam. Here are some ideas that will help as you prepare to take the exam. The administrative and horses questions specific to experiential education and/or mental health is best done from my perspective through review of your common sense practices offering your services with the help of horses.

There undoubtedly are cultural influences imbedded in the questions just as there are different ways of keeping horses humanely depending on your area of the country or world.

Best to review the Adult D level Pony Cub curriculum or your favorite book that offers basic skills of horsemanship information. http://tinyurl.com/a4tkpto

Watch the videos on line of the horse behaviors put out by Penn State at The New Bolton Center.

Review the Standards and Safety Guidelines, just read as if a novel of: PATH Intl, ACRIP or the Pony Club.

Review your particular basic text used when studying experiential education and/or mental health. There are several good suggestions from the CBEIP Handbook in the References list located at the back.

I urge everyone who meets the qualifications for sitting the exam to have a go at it. Don’t worry about passing. You may miss a number of the questions and still pass, (80% is required to pass), and you can take the test over until a passing grade is achieved.

If you don’t understand a question or believe there is no good answer, make note of it. Write your rational for your answer and send it to the CBEIP Board to pass along to the Question Developers. It may be that the question requires re-wording or clarification with better references, in which case you may not lose points for an incorrect answer.

Barbara Rector MA, CEIP-ED,
Adventures In Awareness™

To find out more about CBEIP Certification please go to their web site http://www.cbeip.com

Therapy dogs

What training does my dog need to become a animal assisted therapy dog?

This question was asked recently on an animal assisted therapy list serve that I belong to:

“I am looking for ideas and suggestions for what type of training I should acquire for me and my puppy so that he can be used as a therapy dog.  My goal is to use him in therapy sessions with my clients. “

Because Animal Assisted Therapy is relatively new and exploding in the mental health field this, type of question is asked often. Along with similar questions as: What training is needed to incorporate horses into the therapy arena? But, that’s a horse of a different color and needs its own posting. This post will share some of the wonderful and much-needed answers that this question generated – I hope you find it valuable.

Dr. Taylor and Eli

Dr. Carlene Taylor is the Clinical Director at LightHorse, a non-profit organization striving to guide people towards healing of the body, mind, and spirit through a partnership between humans and animals. Dr. Taylor works with her Portuguese Water Dog, Eli, in the treatment of children and families.


Dr. Carlene Taylor – I have trained my third office therapy dog. My first was a Dalmatian I had when I was in grad school and we did the best we could. The second was an English Mastiff who I used a systematix training from 5 weeks old, and my current dog, Eli, is 2-years-old and just completed a very rigorous process. He is my best trained yet. All total, I’ve had a K9 partner for more than 15 years.

Here is what I do:

Buy the book “How to raise a puppy you can live with”

  • Read it cover-to-cover and have a professional perform temperament testing so you know what you are working with
  • Pursue basic puppy obedience in GROUP lessons
  • Take every opportunity to socialize your pup
  • Graduate from puppy school and do intermediate training with a group trainer.
  • At a year or 18 months (maybe 2), when the dog has begun to show some signs of beginning to mature, pursue AKC Canine Good Citizen training to test.
  • Finally, I finished Eli off with Delta Society’s Pet Partners training and testing.

Eli, my therapy dog, can do anything and go anywhere without incident.  In the process of completing this training, our relationship deepened and we learned how to work together.

I have three books I live by: Dr. Cynthia Chandler’s Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling, Aubry Fine’s Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy and Temple Grandin’s Animals Make us Human

This is what I do: in addition to being very particular to follow the developmental milestones outlined in the puppy training book during the first two years,  I make very sure Eli gets what he needs in terms of socialization, dog play times and the balanced relationship of respect and responsiveness to my authority. In the office, I hold him accountable to basic behavioral limits but let him be free to relate to clients without my interference.

There is a workbook I have worked on with colleague, The Therapy Dog Primer.  We have considered doing a 2-day workshop for those who might want to learn the field.  How many of you would go?  What would you be willing/able to pay for a CEU class that prepared you to communicate with and train your dog to enter the field?

Contact Dr. Carlene Taylor at TaylorLightHorse, Inc.www.lighthorse.org, www.drcarlene.com or carlene@drcarlene.com

Christi Dudzik and Paddy

Christi Dudzik is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and owner of the company, Healing Paws, Inc., which provides therapy handler-animal training for volunteers and professionals and provides facility therapy animal programming. She has been a Pet Partners teammate to multiple dogs since 1993 and is a Master Pet Partners Handler and Evaluator Instructor.


Christi Dudzik – I’d like to address your question regarding therapy team training, evaluation, registration. Hands down, without a doubt, you want to pursue Pet Partners® Therapy Animal Program. Their program is the gold standard in the industry. Their’s is a standards-based program, with a strong sense of accountability.

Their evaluation truly evaluates both ends of the leash.  They want to see how you, the handler, will be proactive and supportive of your pup, and want to see impulse control, response to your commands, and how much your pup appears to be enjoying the interactions with the evaluator and evaluation volunteers.

The evaluation is divided into vignettes, so that it flows as naturally as possible, and looks like a real-life visit in a health care setting. Their reason for the evaluation being focused on health care settings is that, if the team is prepared for working with such fragile and somewhat unpredictable people and situations, they will be ready to visit in other settings. Also, every two years, in order to maintain current Pet Partners team registration, you and your pup will need to go through the evaluation again.

The team evaluation is one step in their process. You, the handler, also need to either go through a workshop or complete their online course, and then there is the veterinarian check, and other paperwork in the registration packet to complete. It is a well thought out process that takes more time than with other registering organizations.

One other thing, there is a different mind-set between “using” our therapy dogs and “working with” them. “Working with” indicates team work. “Using” indicates it is all about the dog. I have been a registered teammate to dogs since 1993.

Contact Christi Dudzik, MC, LMHC, cwdudzik@healingpaws.com, (425) 488-3061 or www.healingpaws.com

Rise VanFleet is a Psychologist, 
Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor, 
Certified Dog Behavior Consultant
 who has practiced for nearly 40 years. Her specialties are in traumatic events, chronic medical illness, strengthening parent-child relationships (esp. Filial Therapy), and Animal Assisted Play Therapy. She is the author of dozens of books, manuals, chapters, and articles on play therapy, Filial Therapy, AAPT, and canine behavior.


Risë VanFleet – This is such an important question!

Be really sure that if you go to training classes that you use positive methods, not compulsion methods with your puppy/dog. You have to be quite careful about this, as some force-oriented trainers are selling their work or their equipment using very misleading information. I have an article on my website about finding a good trainer near you (www.playfulpooch.org, under Resources). I’ve included there some questions you can ask and what answers to listen for. For therapy work, it’s incredibly important to use positive approaches because they build your own relationship with the dog and provide the right type of model for any clients that you work with. (Just on my short list: anything that includes electrical shocks or “taps” or prongs, or chokes, or poking the dog are not okay, and there are excellent positive training options available.)

  1. Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society) and TDI are both reputable programs, but the ACA insurance consideration would be an important one. TDI has a policy statement now that prohibits anyone certified through them to NOT certify with anyone else, which means that people seeking a further credential for therapy work, such as my more specialized certification in Animal Assisted Play Therapy, cannot do so. So that depends on what your own goals might be. When it comes to insurance, you’ll want to look into both professional liability insurance as well as general business liability insurance (which is for scratches, bites, dog knocks child down, etc.). I believe another person posted about this.
  2. The other response about socializing the dog and also watching out for the fear periods is very good!
  3. For you or anyone with puppies, there are a couple free booklets available by Dr. Ian Dunbar, available as downloads at www.dogstardaily.com, under Downloads.
  4. The book’s suggestions so far are excellent as well. I’ll add my own: Play Therapy with Kids & Canines, for those of you who work with children and have an interest in child-dog play interventions to meet therapeutic goals (it won the 2008 Dog Writers Association of America award for best of all therapy and service dog books for that year).
  5. For those with interests in working with children, teens, and families with children, I have an online course called “Introduction to Animal Assisted Play Therapy,” which offers 10 CE credits and includes information about the involvement of both dogs and horses. I’m just now finishing up another online course on Canine Communication for therapy work – how to recognize, read, and understand canine body language, one of the really critical skills that I think all of us therapists need to develop. By early 2013, I hope to have another online course available on Canine Behavior and Training. These are not intended to substitute for the actual work we need to be doing daily with our dogs, but to provide some guidance about the different methods and options. More info is at www.risevanfleet.com, where you can click to see the current Online Course as well as visit my Playful Pooch Program, where the live trainings are described (one is scheduled in PA for June 2013) and there are also some articles about AAPT, involving dogs and horses, etc.
  6.  Probably the best overall book about dog training, in my opinion, is Jean Donaldson’s Culture Clash. It reviews basic behaviorism in a non-trivial way, and applies everything to dogs. There are other excellent books as well.

I’m glad to try to answer further questions. Once I started involving one of my dogs in my play therapy work with children and families nearly 10 years ago, I realized how much more I had to learn, and have been involved in learning to train dogs using positive, relationship-building approaches and also canine behavior consultation work ever since. The nice thing is that learning all of this stuff adds to the fun you can have with your dog, and it’s all relevant to the therapeutic work most of us do, too.

I forgot to say earlier – I know that Pet Partners (Delta) advocates for positive training and does not permit or condone the use of prong, choke, or e-collars either (that is likely true of TDI as well).

I had one further thought that might be of interest to this group. On Facebook, I have a multidisciplinary group called Animal Assisted Play Therapy, and it is open to anyone who is interested in having discussions about the world of AAT, dog training and behavior, etc. It’s a very nice group, and we have therapists, dog trainers, veterinarians, writers, and others as part of the group.

One of the things that we started there (but need to pick back up with) is a collection of YouTube dog training videos that show some simple and dog-friendly methods to teach various things.

If you’d like to join that group, too, you can either just go to the group itself (Animal Assisted Play Therapy) and ask to join, or you can send me a friend request along with a private message indicating that you’d like to join that group, and I’ll add you myself. It’s a closed group so not everyone can see everything we’re talking about (and to keep spammers out if possible), but I accept anyone who has a legitimate interest.

Contact Rise VanFleet by visiting her website for more great animal assisted therapy articles and resources. 

Terry Abell, LMHC has used animal assisted therapy primarily with at-risk youth for over 10 years and training interns from a variety of fields (such as Social Work, Counseling, Art Therapy, Child Dev., etc.) to utilize animals in therapy. Terry is a Certified Counseling Supervisor, Delta Pet Partner and teaches at Florida State University multicultural Center in Tallahassee, Fla.


Terry Abble – I would strongly suggest a basic puppy obedience class, it will help you understand how to train him and give him practice in focusing w/distractions. It’s also a good time to take him out and start widely socializing him. I took my first therapy dog to festivals, to restaurants where we could sit outside, to street fairs, etc., anywhere we could meet and greet people and to get him used to folks wanting to come up and pet him and talk to him. My default position is having him sit with his back to me, almost on my feet, when he meets new people. That way he is secure, can’t have kids coming from behind to grab his tail, etc. and I can control their access to him. Learning to take treats from strangers (with your permission) is a good skill to have. He is old enough to sit, down, wait, etc. to earn the treats. I think impulse control is pretty important for puppies to learn from the get go, especially ones who will be used in therapy.

It is important to know your dog well, and watch for signs of being over-faced with too much stimuli, especially when they go through the “fear phase” of development. Reducing exposure to whatever is stressing him and gradually reintroducing later is important. I think having some positive crate training will give him a place to go if he feels the need for a time out and just an overall good skill for any dog to have (not advocating long stretches in a crate, I might add, especially for a doodle.)

Patricia McConnell is a very good canine behaviorist, you may want to check out some of her writings.

Contact Terry Abell at: tabell@FSU.EDU

Jamie Neff  – I have worked with and trained dogs, horses, etc. for a long time and I recommend you take your pup ASAP. Take him to outings and anywhere to get him accustomed to people and traveling. The more your dog is around people and their special needs, the more accustomed he will become to them.

Not only does your pup need to interact with people, but you will find he will gravitate toward people with specific needs and will want to avoid people with other special needs. This is ok! They do not teach you these things in the “formal” trainings. I have been training animals for about 10 years. I have learned that all animals will gravitate toward people with different things going on. They have a specialty, so-to-speak. I have a dog that gets terrified and hides under the desk when people hallucinate in my office. I also have a dog that refuses to participate in nursing home ventures because she becomes too overwhelmed (she sniffs out people with pain, and the nursing home is just too much.)

So, start now “listening” to your pup. Encourage him to be curious and interact! He will teach you a wealth of information. And, by starting early around people and in training basic obedience, there is no need for formal training and extensive tricks unless your facility requires a certificate of completion for legal reasons. Instead, at our farm, we require all our volunteers to spend so much time in the herd or pack taking notes of how they communicate to each other. This is essential to training your dog, llama, sheep, horse, etc.

I would like to add some thoughts to the one who discussed desensitizing and socializing. We, too, rescue many of our pups and give them a purpose at the farm, in nursing homes, in the counseling practice, etc. However, I do not suggest adopting an adult dog and then going through the desensitizing process as outlined. There are many dogs with PTSD that become more fearful. It takes and experienced person with a lot of patience to adopt pets and then incorporate them into the public settings. The dog needs to learn he can trust you before you can begin desensitizing and socializing him. This is a must!!! Otherwise, he will become more fearful. Additionally, as you are patiently and carefully desensitizing  and socializing your adopted dog, tell others of any issues he has so they can be forewarned to any behavioral problems.  Adopting a dog is wonderful, but you have to be sensitive to its needs, challenges, fears, and encourage them often. Allowing them opportunities to build trust with you and be curious will enable them to grow in confidence. And, if the dog has been abused, it requires even more time and patience. The adopted pup is just as amazing as a new pup, and just as helpful and loving and nurturing! But, an adopted dog (or even pup) requires more patience to build trust and break down barriers before the trusting process can begin. You can’t skip this process or you hurt the true potential of your relationship with your dog.

Contact Jamie Neff: www.precioushelpers.org or e-mail jamie@precioushelpers.org or call 967-2865

How Parents Can Help Children Through Traumatic Events

By Rise VanFleet Guest Blogger. Rise VanFleet, PhD, RPT-S, CDBC
Child/Family Psychologist
Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor
Certified Dog Behavior Consultant
In practice for nearly 40 years, with specialties in traumatic events, chronic medical illness, strenghening parent-child relationships (esp. Filial Therapy), and Animal Assisted Play Therapy. Author of dozens of books, manuals, chapters, and articles on play therapy, Filial Therapy, AAPT, and canine behavior.

Too often our world is shaken by traumatic events such as natural disasters (e.g., tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods), war, school and community violence, acts of terrorism, accidents, housefires, life-threatening illness, separations, loss of a pet, kidnappings, and so on. Such events can leave all of us feeling helpless, and children may be particularly reactive to events that make them feel unsafe. Children who are directly exposed to such events can become traumatized, and the emotional impact of trauma can last a very long time if it goes unnoticed. Some children are exposed to trauma indirectly through sensationalized or repetitive newscasts or by hearing and seeing others‘ emotional reactions, and there’s evidence that children can be traumatized by this indirect contact with trauma as well. It’s important that parents have information about trauma, its impact on children, and how to help their children understand and cope with these events.

When something traumatic occurs, it’s important to give children an honest but simple explanation of what happened. They are bound to hear about it through television, schoolmates, or overheard adult conversations, so it’s best if their parents or primary caregivers play an active role in helping them understand the event. It’s also important to reassure children that you, their parents, will do everything you can to keep them safe. Some children blame themselves when bad things happen, so parents need to tell them firmly that it’s not their fault.

Caregivers should limit children’s exposure to newscasts about traumatic events. Broadcasts are geared toward adults, and children may not have the reasoning abilities or coping mechanisms to deal with repeated views of people crying, buildings on fire, and so on. Although children’s programs often portray violence, the emotional tone of the news conveys its “reality” and children and adolescents can become extremely frightened, whether or not they show it. You need not restrict their exposure entirely, but screen carefully what they do see!

Children who are roughly 3 to 12 years of age, given the opportunity, will often play out scenes from a traumatic event. Sometimes older children will, too. For example, following a car accident, parents might see their children playing out car crashes and rescues with their toys. When parents see this, they might worry that it’s damaging somehow for the child to play out the traumatic situation. Actually, it’s often just the opposite: it can help the child cope better. Just as we adults need to talk with others after experiencing something frightening, sad, or devastating, children need to play through their feelings and reactions to the trauma. It can be very beneficial if parents allow their children to play this way while showing acceptance of the child’s feelings. To stop such play can cut off the child’s primary means of coping. Of course, children should be distracted to some other activity if they are playing in ways that are actually dangerous to themselves or others, or if the child is becoming obviously upset by the play. If a child constantly plays out the traumatic event and seems unable to think about anything else, then limits should be set on the amount of time spent playing out the traumatic events. (If children’s play appears to be upsetting the child further or if they seem “obsessed” with their trauma play, parents should consider a consult with a mental health professional, as these behaviors might signal that the child is already traumatized. If children’s play appears robotic and the child seems “not there” while playing, a consult is warranted as well.)

It’s important to permit children to talk about their reactions to a traumatic event when they want to. Although such conversations can be difficult, especially if we’re experiencing our own reactions to the trauma, they do help all of us in the long run. One of the worst things we can do is say to our children, “Don’t play that way.” or “Don’t talk about it–it’s over–let’s get on with things.” Denial of the child’s reactions can lead to larger problems later. While it’s important to let children express themselves, including their feelings of anger, sadness, or helplessness, it’s also important to help them focus on the positive aspects of trauma situations.   In the wake of many disasters, there are many amazing, touching stories of selfless acts, heroic deeds, and the very best of human caring coming from the most horrible of conditions.  Although we see some of the worst of humanity after traumatic events, we also see vastly more of the very best.  It’s important for our children to hear about them because it adds to children‘s sense of security, connections to other people, and hope for the future.

The natural tendency of children to play out the things that are happening around them is their way of trying to understand. Because they are PLAYING, it feels safer to them, and this is very important. Too much TALKING about scary events can actually scare children more. Some talking is important to give children some basic information and to answer their questions, but it is through their play that children, especially those under 12, have a real opportunity to understand what is going on. Throughout the world, children in war zones are seen “playing war.” Children play doctor or medical scenes when they or someone in their family has been ill or hospitalized. Aid workers noticed that children directly affected by the Oklahoma City Bombing were playing with small plastic dogs sniffing around in piles of blocks, much as real dogs were used to find survivors in the actual rubble. After September 11, children throughout the world were reported to be playing scenes of planes hitting buildings, firefighters and rescue, buildings crashing down, and even funeral themes. A boy in the U.K. played scenes of police officers arresting “bad guys” after the terrorist bombing of the London Underground. A girl from New Orleans who had been moved to a shelter after Hurricane Katrina involved several other children in play where she was the “Mama Alligator” who was trying to save her babies (the other children) from the “Cane” (hurricane).

Long after a traumatic event has occurred, parents should remain alert to any signs of trauma in their children. When children are traumatized, the effects may occur much later than expected. Sometimes traumatized children look quite “normal” on the surface after the event, and then experience post-traumatic symptoms weeks, months, or even years later. It’s fine for parents to ask their children what they’re thinking and feeling about the event from time to time, and then really listen to what they say. On the other hand, it’s best not to “bombard” children with questions about how they’re feeling or to hold lengthy discussions with them, as this might actually raise the children’s anxiety levels. It’s good for parents to share their own feelings of fear, sadness, anger about an event because it helps children see that these reactions are normal and can provide good coping models. (A caution, though: be sure that you share your feelings simply and don’t elaborate to a point that could frighten the child further. Always reassure them that you’ll keep them safe.)

One of the most beneficial things for children after a traumatic event is for their day-to-day environment to return to “normal” as quickly as possible. Getting back to some sort of daily “routine” can help kids feel safer and keep the traumatic event from becoming the only focus of their lives. This can be challenging following some disasters, but working toward as normal an environment as possible under the circumstances can help. Parents can help children find a balance between playing/talking about the event and doing daily tasks and other types of activities.

When trauma has been caused by humans, as in terrorism, it is important for children and adults alike to remember that we gain strength from our human connections and that most people are good. Broad, angry statements about other ethnic groups can add to children’s sense of insecurity and promote prejudice and uninformed backlash effects. People throughout the world have struggled for a long time with our “differences,” and that struggle continues. Acts of terror are intended to divide us, and we can resist this and help our children feel much safer by teaching them that these bad deeds are the work of individuals (or small groups of individuals) and not of any broad ethnic, racial, religious, or other group.

Many children are quite resilient when dealing with traumatic events, but it’s good for parents to know what to look for when their child might be struggling. Here are some signs that your child might be experiencing post-traumatic problems:

  • anxious, “edgy”, nervous, agitated
  • difficulty concentrating
  • refuses to go to school; difficulty with schoolwork
  • becomes angry quickly
  • aggressive, either verbally or physically
  • nightmares, or repetitive nightmares
  • won’t sleep in his/her own bed; sleeps on floor or wants to sleep with parents
  • easily startled by noises or situations similar to the traumatic event
  • reverts to “younger-age” behaviors like bedwetting, nail biting, thumbsucking
  • won’t talk about what happened
  • talks excessively about what happened
  • becomes very dependent–clings to parents or other caretakers; fears separations
  • problems with friendships and siblings–seems aloof or argues
  • seems “different” than he/she did before; personality seems a bit different

Although these signs might be related to other things, if the signs persist, are intense, are different following the trauma, or if several occur for your child, it could be a sign of a traumatic reaction. If you or your children experience continuing distress that interferes with your day-to-day work, school, and family life, you might consider consulting with a therapist.  The sooner a post-traumatic reaction is determined and treated, the better the outcome is likely to be for the child (or adults, too). A qualified mental health professional can help the child and the parents.

Play therapy can be very effective with traumatized children. The play gives them some “distance” from which to explore and deal with their feelings. Even teens and adults can benefit from treatments which involve play and art or other expressive interventions. Words can fail us when we experience intensely frightening events, and other means of expressing ourselves become necessary. Sometimes family play interventions can be very helpful. If you have questions or concerns about your child, contact a local mental health professional. Make sure that he or she has experience with trauma, and having a background in play therapy can be a big plus.

For information on finding play therapists who specialize in children please visit The Association for Play Therapy director at http://www.a4pt.org/directory.cfm.

Or contact your local and state psychological, social work, mental health counseling, crisis, medical, or school counseling associations or professionals can make referrals to adult therapists.

Please visit Rise VanFleet visit her web site “Family Enrichment & Play Therapy Center” for more great parenting articles and great resources. http://www.risevanfleet.com


Parenting Your Teenager

By Dore Quinn, MEd, LPC – Dore is a licensed professional counselor, who works with those who are striving to overcome depression, anxiety, effects of sexual and physical abuse, grief, marital and parenting issues. Dore uses many different counseling modalities including traditional talk therapy, expressive art therapy, experiential therapy and play therapy (for the young ones).

I have often heard parents with young children lament the time when their child turns into a teen. For some reason, many look on that time with dread (could it be, perhaps, that many are thinking back to when they were a teen?). I have found the teen years to be fun, and quite different from having small children. There are many things we as parents can do to build a relationship with our teen.

To me, it begins with learning to allow our children to be his or her own person within the rules of the home.  I have often thought of how much easier this whole parenting thing would be if each child came with his/her own manual, but we all know they don’t.

I remember before having my first child thinking, “Wow…we are going to have it so easy between my easy-going personality (which I have since learned isn’t so easy-going) and their dad’s easy-going personality (which really is easy-going)!”  Yes, those of you with kids know how UNTRUE and naïve that thought is because what I didn’t realize at that time is that each child comes with his/her own personality.

Our children are not combinations of us, nor where they meant to be.  It took me a few years to recognize that I was trying to turn my oldest into a “mini-Dore” because the way I thought was the right way to think or else I wouldn’t be thinking it, right?   And yes, we clashed quite a bit until I realized what I was doing.  As I was going about trying to make her into a mini-me, I completely overlooked her own person.  The message I was sending without intending is that there was something wrong with her.

So then what was my job?  I determined that my job as a parent was not to turn her into a mini-me, but to love her, protect her, and teach her right from wrong.  It’s also important to not expect our children to be like their siblings.

In order to have a good relationship with your teen, home needs to be a safe haven from the rest of the world.  A saying that I have repeated over and over (and my kids can recite it verbatim) is that not everyone on the planet is going to love them, but their family will ALWAYS love them!

A good way to foster a “Home is a safe haven” environment is to NOT ALLOW sarcasm and nastiness among siblings.  We need to be sure we aren’t engaging in it as well, whether it is with a spouse or with our children.

Another important component of building a relationship with your teen is to learn to laugh.  Don’t be afraid to play and be playful.  We don’t always know the impact that having fun in our homes will have.  During my son’s first year of college out-of-state, he posted the following status on Facebook:  “To either Mom or Dad…whoever sees this first:  I was on Facebook with my iTunes on shuffle and “Love Will Keep us Alive” by The Eagles came on and it made me think about how a while back at the Buckner house on Saturday nights we would open all of the windows and the front door and play music on Dad’s stereo and dance around the living room…I’m tired of growing up.”  I had no idea that fun times such as that would be important to my son.

Lighten up!  Discipline on a “lighter note.”  For example, when your teen asks to come home one hour after his 12 o’clock curfew, instead of going into a long lecture on obedience, say something such as, “So what I hear you saying is, “Mom, I REALLY want to come home at 11:00?”  This is a much less intense confrontation.  Another example would be my son and I were joking around on the way to school, and he said something that was over the line.  We were pulling up to the school and I said, “Sorry Mom….” And he completely ignored me.  After he took two steps towards the front door of the school, I rolled down the window and said, “That’s okay…as soon as you get to the door I’m going to shout out to you if you remembered to take your anti-diarrhea medicine this morning.”  I got a prompt apology without offense being taken.

Another way to build a relationship with your teen is to learn to criticize less.  There is a distinct difference between consequences and criticism.


“Gee, since you chose to come home after curfew, you chose to not go out tomorrow.”


“Did you EVEN stop to think I would worry about you?  You are so irresponsible and don’t care about anyone but yourself!”

Criticism doesn’t address the actual problem; it merely makes a global statement about the other person’s character.  The problem with criticisms is that it elicits defensiveness, and seldom results in behavior change.  Especially be careful to not nit-pick the small things.

An example of nit-picking the small things would be giving your teen a hard time because he/she got a “B” on a test instead of an “A”.  Nit-picking results in a teen believing they can never do anything right in the eyes of the parent, so why bother?  Eventually they give up and then there are bigger problems.

Building a relationship with your teen can result in many years of joy and can offset the tough times that are bound to come along with your kids growing up

Keys to Remember

  • Allowing your children to be themselves
  • Not allowing meanness at home, learning to laugh
  • Disciplining with a lighter touch
  • Criticizing less

These are just a few ways to achieve a meaningful and fun relationship with your teen.

If it seems like a daunting task, pick one area and work to make one small change.

Even one small change will impact your relationship and your family in a positive way!

You can contact Dore at: 214-499-0396, Dore@KayTrotter.com or visit our web site http://www.KayTrotter.com.